Silence Silence, as the title suggests, recites in the great part of the poem that represents the culture which has long taught the daughters to be silent. “‘Superior people never make long visits,'” as Moore’s father points out. In the poem Silence, Moore addresses when facing a father who manipulates the powers language confers, she needs to convert the powers to her own restraint on silence as her father recommends. This work has long been read as a sincere appreciation of a father’s dictum; however, critics have taken a different approach and perspective to the poem. Instead of a keen and sincere appreciation of her father’s statement, Moore, through Silence, rejects the father’s uses of language, which assume that behavioral superiority and all other power relationships are stable, and hints the desire for freedom of both expression and response.
During the 1920s women were taught to be silent and obedient; the same situation applied to Moore. The first sentence of the poem suggests an act of power upon Moore that the father assumes her silent, restrained submission. He intends to prevent the freedom of a two-way process of communication; however, Moore cleverly manipulates the father’s words in several ways. “My father used to say,” as Moore writes, implies that the father can no longer repeat this behavior of absolute control. Though she may appear to reverse the situation so that she comes to power, she does not show direct opposition to her father’s words. What she really rejects and opposes is the dominant, controlling uses of language that presuppose superiority and power. Through her poem, Moore speaks for any daughter or female who experiences the same situation, as it applies frequently.
From the second line up to the 12th line, Moore readdresses the audience what her father has recommended with direct quotation. As Emerson suggests, quoting means to borrow the authority of famous men along with their words. Though Moore’s habits of quotation build on Emerson’s, instead of borrowing for power and the assertion of individuality, Moore stresses the interconnectedness of all elements of the culture. Moore does not convey authority to her work as Emerson does; she alters the material that she has borrowed from her various sources, including newspapers, conversations, and books, in the process of incorporation substantially. “[H]ave to be shown Longfellow’s grave” gives a clear example of how Moore illustrates her point through a secondary historical figure (3).
Longfellow’s grave is an object of a quest; however, the quest for Longfellow’s grave does not go on long as the superior visitors can find the grave without aid. Moore’s father uses scenes such as Longfellow’s grave and grass flowers at Harvard to show his compelling advice and great care for his daughter. As Moore silently and restrainedly accepts the father’s words and his concept of restraint, the father uses a simile and model to illustrate his point of women silence.
Emerson, perhaps the most famous and respected scholar during this time, influences all the Americans greatly with his works such as “Self-Reliance.” Emerson’s doctrine of self-reliance, “[t]rust thyself,” makes possible her doctrine of self-conquering. “Self-reliant like the cat – that takes its prey to privacy, the mouse’s limp tail hanging like a shoelace from its mouth -” presents a morbid scenario of the mouse in the cat’s mouth (5-7). The use of the cat and mouse image in the poem is greatly effective in conveying the ideas that the predatory nature of interpretation and the unpleasant fact that the terms of existence forbid anyone’s relying on himself/herself solely.
By structuring the poem as a two-way process of communication, Moore establishes her moral firmness on response. In her poem, she emphasizes the “imperfect” character that carries diverse characteristics which differ from the conventional and traditional society and world; through the character she indirectly encourages an intervention or response as a structure of freedom. As the poem suggests, “they sometimes enjoy solitude, and can be robbed of speech by speech which has delighted them,” these lines present a stereotypical view of how women are supposed to behave in the society (8-10). Yet these controversial points were first thought as a genuine appreciation of her father’s valuable lessons as the traditional American society agreed on female silence. Moore, however, manipulates her father’s words and examines them in a different perspective and value.
“The deepest feeling always shows itself in silence; not in silence, but restraint” (11-12). Moore’s choice of words of using the superlatives again shows how the father feels about women silence and automatic obedience to male. One in her situation must refrain from any self-staging, as the father suggests that women should not merely show themselves in silence, but restraint. The word “restraint,” a strong limitation of freedom of speech, thus leaves room for Moore’s poetry to develop, not as silence, but as the poem and father displays, as restraint. Though the father’s authority seems to capture the theme and focus of his “speech,” Moore responds, finally, in her own language, rather than the manipulation of her father’s words, in the next two lines.
“Nor was he insincere in saying” exhibits itself not simply a double negative situation (13). As Moore becomes immune to the power of her father’s control over language, the “nor” marvelously arranges her attraction against the background of a deeper, inexpressible negative. “‘Make my house your inn'” shows the not only the care but most importantly the automatic assumption of his control and dominance over the daughter (13). Moore’s exquisite use and manipulation of double negative present a moot situation. Instead of the simple language, such as “he was sincere in saying,” Moore’s brilliant management makes the quote more of a question that a simple statement. “Inns are not residences” is probably the coup de grace in the poem.
The last line clearly says that when a daughter rests within the house of a father, she does not and perhaps cannot spiritually or practically “live” there. On the surface, the argument and controversy that Moore presents may seem purely accidental and spontaneous; however, Moore has set up the argument and conquering splendidly throughout the novel. In order to effectively present her point of view and address to women in the society, she must identify with him by continuing to quote his characteristic utterances. The conquering, on the other hand, requires a greater degree of difficulty as not only must she maintain her own difference through the flexible identifications, but she needs to preserve the perpendicularity without deconstructing the father’s love and passion toward her. Moore does not blatantly reject her father’s points, but instead she uses her metamorphic abilities to characterize her father’s strengths and her own fears in the last line.
Though the poem does not contain obvious rhyme scheme or meter, Moore’s witty arrangement and setup successfully demonstrate a desire of freedom of both expression and response as she speaks for women in her society. With manipulation, transformation, and metamorphism, Moore’s unusual format of the poem which consists all but two and a half lines of quotation lays out her argument efficiently. There is no better way of debating the tradition and stereotype of female silence than this poem through a series of quotations and response which depicts the relationship between a daughter and a father as Moore entirely reveals her moral and spiritual character.
Moore, Marianne. The Complete Poems of Marianne Moore. New York: The Macmillan Company/ The Viking Press, 1981 Altirei, Charles, Elizabeth Gregory, and Cristanne Miller. On “Silence”. 15 Mar. 2002 .