Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“His Shield” uses nature as a model, as a provoking influence, to guide humans to make the right decisions. Moore suggests that people can find metaphors—and answers—for human problems by studying nature carefully. However, she goes beyond the physical to the metaphorical and the psychological. Perhaps, she muses, people can use a state of mind—in this case, humility—to foil their enemies. They can be “dull,” paradoxically relinquishing their freedom to keep it alive. They can become “dinosaur-skulled” to protect the brain and can use the brain to be humble.

Moore’s themes, though they typically start with a simple, obscure image, grow until they encompass a way of life, a way of living, that can protect and enlighten. Moore gave a hint at the meaning of “His Shield” when she spoke of humility in a speech she gave at the Grolier Club in 1948:Humility, indeed, is armor, for it realizes that it is impossible to be original, in the sense of doing something that has never been thought of before. Originality is in any case a by-product of sincerityof feeling that is honest and accordingly rejects anything that might cloud the impression.

“His Shield” could also be described as a sort of “metaphysical satire.” If satire pokes fun at the pompous, if it shows that a common way of dealing with life is false or egotistical, then “His Shield” is satirizing those who rely on weapons, verbal darts, and other offensive tactics to dominate others. Whether in actual warfare or in coffeehouse conversation, Moore admonishes people to put away armor, greed, and envy and to replace these ineffective tools with a humble approach. After all, since there is nothing new in nature, humans have little that is new. Therefore, perhaps they should stop measuring one another for greatness in life or imagination. Instead, Moore would have people put away their “measuring-rod” in order to be safe and free.