The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“The Pangolin” is a long, unrhymed, syllabic poem of ninety-eight lines in nine stanzas; eight stanzas have eleven lines and one has ten. The title refers to the class of animals known commonly as anteaters.

In the first half of the poem, Moore offers a rich and intense description of the anteater. She is fascinated by the armor plate, comparing the scaly covering to the layers of an artichoke with its tough, spiny leaves that protect a delicate and delectable inner meat. She focuses attention on the animal’s nocturnal habits, its night feeding, its walking on the edges of its hands to save its claws for digging. Nevertheless, for all its outer toughness, the anteater avoids fights; when threatened, it can wind itself around trees and curl up into a hard ball to protect itself against its enemies.

As day breaks, the pangolin withdraws into its nest of rocks, which it closes with earth from inside to shut out the light. In the third stanza, Moore pauses briefly to observe that both humans and pangolins have a splendor, an excellence, but in humans those qualities coexist with an innate vileness.

Returning to the anteater in stanza 4, Moore comments on the animal’s courage, manifested in a struggle with the dread driver ant, notorious for its warlike ferocity. Protected by its armor, the anteater attacks with both tongue and tail, an instrument of great power. If not threatened, the anteater will climb down from a tree;...

(The entire section is 481 words.)

Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“The Pangolin” appears to be a sprawling, formless unrhymed poem with widely varying line lengths, irregular meter, and little or no stanza pattern. Indeed, the poem does not appear to resemble traditional poetry. This impression, however, is part of its method and its charm. As a radical modernist poet, Moore utilizes a variety of visual, typological, auditory, and stylistic devices to give the appearance that her poem does not conform to traditional expectations regarding the look, sound, and content of poetry. A more critical look at the poem quickly dispels this impression, however; the apparent formlessness gives way to highly formal and traditional elements.

The largest element of form is the nine stanzas that are identified only by the two line spaces separating them. Otherwise, the stanzas flow into one another, as the last lines of each run into the next stanza. Each stanza has eleven lines (with one exception, the fifth stanza has ten lines) that follow an almost regular pattern of line lengths, measured by syllable count.

The dominant pattern of line lengths is established in the first stanza (9-14-9-17-12-11-15-8-5-9-9). Although this pattern is not exactly adhered to, Moore tries to stick closely to it from stanza to stanza. Thus, in stanza 2, the pattern is 9-15-8-16-13-12-13-8-4-10-10. She takes similar liberties throughout the remaining stanzas, perhaps because it was impossible to do otherwise in order to use the words she...

(The entire section is 534 words.)


(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

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.