“Poetry,” a poem Moore reworked several times, states her aesthetic beliefs. She published the first version in 1919, but in 1925 she stripped it from thirty lines to thirteen to comply with her principles of clarity and precision. In the Selected Poems of 1935, she returned it to the original. Then, in 1967, after she repudiated the syllabic verse she used in much of her poetry, she reduced it to the three lines that appear in The Complete Poems of Marianne Moore published that same year. (The original version appears in the “Notes” of that book.)

The poem is best known for the shocking first line, in which Moore states that she dislikes poetry. The remaining two lines of the 1967 version present some problems because she does not exemplify the word “genuine” after stating that there is “a place for the genuine” in poetry. In the original version, however, Moore illustrates precisely what poetry she repudiates and what poetry she admires.

Moore dislikes poetry that she calls “fiddle”—poetry written about stereotypical poetic subjects, such as nature, in high-sounding tones. Such works become so abstract, she says, that they cannot be understood. Poets who write this way, the “half-poets,” take standard opinions as truth, then embroider them with pretty or overly intellectual language. The result is that truth, the “genuine,” if it is there at all, becomes obscure.

What she admires...

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The poem begins with its speaker making a rather ironic statement about her distaste for poetry. The statement is...

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