What is an analysis of the last stanza of Moore's "What Are Years"?

The final stanza of Moore's "What Are Years" is a meditative conclusion to an iconoclastic poem about a fundamental paradox about existence. The poet's comparison between a man who comes finally to accept his limitations as a mere mortal and a bird who sings for the sheer joy of it is a celebration of the virtues of courage, perseverance, and creativity. The ending insists upon the redemptive power of feeling, despite the somber reality of death.

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Marianne Moore was a twentieth-century poet who wrote in the shadow of Emily Dickinson, one of the most innovative artists in the field of American literature. Like Dickinson, Moore uses unconventional punctuation and linear divisions to provide structure to her poetry. In "What Are Years," readers encounter a lack of...

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Marianne Moore was a twentieth-century poet who wrote in the shadow of Emily Dickinson, one of the most innovative artists in the field of American literature. Like Dickinson, Moore uses unconventional punctuation and linear divisions to provide structure to her poetry. In "What Are Years," readers encounter a lack of capital letters, numerous chopped-up lines and sentences, and even paragraphs beginning in the middle of a thought. The effect of these formal devices is myriad and must vary from reader to reader. However, it is undeniable that the overall effect us one of musicality: this poem reads like a song, perhaps the one warbled by Moore's bird, a metaphor for the poet herself.

One device that is central to an interpretation of the poem's final stanza is alliteration. Consider the repetition of consonant s sounds at the start of words in the final passage:

So he who strongly feels,
behaves. The very bird,
grown taller as he sings, steels
his form straight up. Though he is captive,
his mighty singing
says, satisfaction is a lowly
thing, how pure a thing is joy.
This is mortality,
this is eternity.

This alliteration creates the kind of hiss one might encounter when listening to a record. Moore was an artist who lived and worked in a vibrant artistic milieu. The figure of the "captive" bird she creates in this poem becomes an apt embodiment of the artist, who struggles to produce beauty amid life's limitations. Thus, the poem is an uplifting depiction of the triumph of art for art's sake. As the poem's speaker notes, "How pure a thing is joy."

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