Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 529

“The Pangolin” is a manifestation of Moore’s passion for observation and rendering what the Germans called the ding an sich (“the thing in itself”). She turned her keen eye to the pangolin for the purpose of creating a real anteater in an imaginary world. Above all, her aim is to provide the reader with such a rich and powerful description of this creature that it will become a living imaginary presence. Her training in biology and in the methods of science are put to excellent use, as stanza by stanza the pangolin takes on a more substantial existence.

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The poet’s frame of reference for bringing this creature to life is not rooted in biology alone, but rather in human culture. In the initial stanzas where Moore details the major characteristics of the pangolin, she makes three references to give the pangolin added dimension: In stanza 1, she refers to da Vinci; in stanza 3, to Thomas (the medieval smith); and in stanza 4, to the modern Spanish sculptor, Pablo Gargallo y Catalán.

These cultural references are part of a structure of meaning that evolves within the poem. Not content to rest with observation of the pangolin, Moore takes the reader on an imaginative flight into the consideration of the moral condition of humans. This transition occurs in the final four stanzas, in which the pangolin falls into the background and human behavior becomes Moore’s focus.

In stanza 6, she begins with the question of “grace.” Following her logic is no simple matter, but it appears that she asks why—given the fact that grace promises eternal salvation—those who developed the idea would confuse it with lesser meaning, such as a “kindly manner,” the period in which to repay debts, the cure for sins, or the stone mullions that are part of the architecture of a church ceiling?

Her answer is no answer, but an image of the “sail boat,” “the first machine,” followed by the image of pangolins that also move quietly and are “models of exactness.” These images are clues to the poetic and...

(The entire section contains 529 words.)

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