“An Octopus” is a long, meditative, free-verse poem of 193 lines of varying length. Though meditative, it is not a reflective poem but one of active processes. Like many of Marianne Moore’s poems, the title runs immediately into the first line of the poem, thereby limiting any sense of positioning the poem or preparing the reader. The reader confronts a series of shifting possibilities as suggested by the first sentence: “An Octopus/ of ice.” This incomplete opening sentence establishes a metaphoric comparison that will be explored—but not fully or completely—in the poem.
The poem is a continuous shifting of perspectives, not on a single subject, but on the movement of analogies. Thus, after the poem’s description of Mount Rainier and its surrounding ice fields as an octopus and its tentacles, it quickly compounds the activity of description with questions of travel, of perception, the difficulty of art, and the appropriation of nature as an aesthetic object.
“An Octopus” resists division into component parts of a whole argument; however, there are implicit shifts of focus. These shifts may be briefly outlined in the following manner: The first thirteen lines displace the reader because the metaphoric comparison of the mountain to the octopus is suspended. Lines 14 to 22 counterbalance the first section, for they become increasingly descriptive. At line 23, Moore self-reflexively shifts, stating: “Completing a circle,/ you have...
(The entire section is 604 words.)