(Masterpieces of American Literature)

“The Jerboa” is a poem in two sections. In the first, Moore weaves together references to Egyptian art and the animals kept by Egypt’s royal courts. In the second, she juxtaposes those articles of opulent living with the jerboa, a tiny desert rat which uses natural powers of survival. These contrasting images illustrate one of Moore’s favorite themes: the value of the natural unity of form and function over the tendency of human cultures to perfect, transform, or possess nature, both in art and in life.

The opening stanza of the first section, “Too Much,” contains the word “contrive,” indicating that what follows will be unfavorable. Moore’s images describe an honest picture of wasteful and artificial luxury. A crafter in ancient Rome fashions an indeterminate shape, a “pine cone/ or fir-cone,” to serve as a fountain. Because Moore values precision, this indicates the first serious fault. This piece “passed for art” because it looked like something the ancient Egyptians would have liked for their courts.

The remaining fifteen stanzas describe the excesses of wealth, waste, and artificiality of the Egyptian pharaohs. They exploited animals by making them into possessions. They kept crocodiles and put baboons on the necks of giraffes to pick fruit.

They bred “dog-cats,” unnatural creatures, to chase other small animals. They viewed all nature as theirs: impalas, ostriches, cranes, and geese. They liked “small things” and made playthings of nests of eggs and carved bone. These people destroyed the grace and form of nature by parodying it, by elevating some animals to the status of gods and degrading others.

Meanwhile, they were insensitive to human life. Slaves built colossi, dying in the process. Drought plagued the poor. Amid...

(The entire section is 738 words.)

The Jerboa Bibliography

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Costello, Bonnie. Marianne Moore: Imaginary Possessions. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1981.

Hadas, Pamela White. Marianne Moore: Poet of Affection. Syracuse, N.Y.: Syracuse University Press, 1977.

Joyce, Elisabeth W. Cultural Critique and Abstraction: Marianne Moore and the Avant-Garde. Lewisburg, Pa.: Bucknell University Press, 1998.

Miller, Christine. Marianne Moore: Questions of Authority. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1995.

Molesworth, Charles. Marianne Moore: A Literary Life. New York: Atheneum, 1990.

Stamy, Cynthia. Marianne Moore and China: Orientalism and a Writing of America. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press, 1999.

Stapleton, Laurence. Marianne Moore: The Poet’s Advance. 1978. Reprint. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1999.

Tomlinson, Charles, ed. Marianne Moore: A Collection of Critical Essays. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1969.

Willis, Patricia C., ed. Marianne Moore. Hanover, N.H.: University Press of New England, 1999.