This is one of my favorites–and one I bet you never read before. Marianne Moore should be a lot more famous than she is, She was also a rabid baseball fan. Imagine a time when poets could be popular enough to garner press at a Yankees game! It’s a shame she’s been overshadowed by her male peers–but, unfortunately, that’s how it works. Poetry may be written for the masses, but it’s preserved by moribund academic institutions, where poets like Moore remain disrespected for their commercial popularity and still–alas–trivialized for being women by a surprisingly (overcompensate much?) patriarchal establishment. Still, this poem rocks:
He “Digesteth Harde Yron” by Marianne Moore
Although the aepyornis
or roc that lived in Madagascar, and
the moa are extinct,
the camel-sparrow, linked
with them in size–the large sparrow
Xenophon saw walking by a stream–was and is
a symbol of justice.
This bird watches his chicks with
a maternal concentration-and he’s
been mothering the eggs
at night six weeks–his legs
their only weapon of defense.
He is swifter than a horse; he has a foot hard
as a hoof; the leopard
is not more suspicious.How
could he, prized for plumes and eggs and young
used even as a riding-beast, respect men
hiding actor-like in ostrich skins, with the right hand
making the neck move as if alive
and from a bag the left hand strewing grain, that ostriches
might be decoyed and killed!Yes, this is he
whose plume was anciently
the plume of justice; he
whose comic duckling head on its
great neck revolves with compass-needle nervousness
when he stands guard,
in S-like foragings as he is
preening the down on his leaden-skinned back.
The egg piously shown
as Leda’s very own
from which Castor and Pollux hatched,
was an ostrich-egg.And what could have been more fit
for the Chinese lawn it
grazed on as a gift to an
emperor who admired strange birds, than this
one, who builds his mud-made
nest in dust yet will wade
in lake or sea till only the head shows.
. . . . . . .
Six hundred ostrich-brains served
at one banquet, the ostrich-plume-tipped tent
and desert spear, jewel-
gorgeous ugly egg-shell
goblets, eight pairs of ostriches
in harness, dramatize a meaning
always missed by the externalist.
The power of the visible
is the invisible; as even where
no tree of freedom grows,
so-called brute courage knows.
Heroism is exhausting, yet
it contradicts a greed that did not wisely spare
the harmless solitaire
or great auk in its grandeur;
unsolicitude having swallowed up
all giant birds but an alert gargantuan
little-winged, magnificently speedy running-bird.
This one remaining rebel
is the sparrow-camel.