(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Moore wrote “In the Public Garden” for the 1958 Boston Arts Festival, where she read the poem to an audience of five thousand people. In it, she considers art both in its public function and as an expression of individuality. To emphasize the importance of artistic freedom, she arranges her ideas in a series of paradoxes.

The first stanza introduces the duality. The festival “for all” takes place near Harvard University, which has made “education individual.” Moore considers one individual, an “almost scriptural” taxicab driver who drove her to Cambridge. He wisely remarks: “They/ make some fine young men at Harvard.” This comment suggests the beauties of the landscape, but Moore disrupts the reader’s expectation by going backward from summer to spring to winter. She notes the weathervane with gold ball glittering atop Boston’s Faneuil Hall in summer. Spring brings pear blossoms, pin-oak leaves, and iris. Winter, instead of death or hibernation, exhibits snowdrops “that smell like/ violets.”

Moore next moves inside King’s Chapel to contemplate gratitude. She quotes a traditional southern hymn about work as praise of God. A chapel and a festival are alike; they both involve an exchange. The festival-goer expects to get art or inspiration in exchange for pay or attention. Instead, Moore cites some unexpected givings: black sturgeon eggs, a camel, and, even more unusual, silence. Silence is as precious as freedom....

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In the Public Garden 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.