Themes and Meanings
Although a photograph of a slain soldier in Life magazine sparked the immediate compassion and the reaction Moore expressed in “In Distrust of Merits,” the poet, throughout her later years, frequently expressed her concern with moral issues in her poetry. When she was asked how she felt about this frequently anthologized poem, she responded that she believed that it expressed her deep and sincere emotion but that it was perhaps somewhat disjointed in form. However, it seems tenable that the form reflects the speaker’s feelings: When personal feelings do not conform with those of people with whom one usually agrees, the normal reaction is to feel cut off or disjointed.
The title expresses the feeling the persona explores in the poem. The word “distrust” sets up a rejection of trust in what is usually considered to have merit. The poem attempts to penetrate the positive veneer of society’s merits by looking beneath the surface to the reality. In World War II, for example, leaders such as Adolf Hitler and Mussolini were successful in their bids for power; however, beneath the merit of success lay the suffering Jews and the conquered Ethiopians. Such a “successful” leader is “the blind/ man who thinks he sees.” The same description is used in reference to those who give “false comfort” to a “disheartened” Job. These comforters suggest the apparent moral uprightness of those who are more concerned about external rectitude...
(The entire section is 513 words.)