The Elimination of Gender Roles and Expectations

The poems “Marriage” by Marianne Moore and “Home Burial” by Robert Frost demonstrate a clear separation between men and women. Equality between genders is a controversial issue today, but truly began to arise during the late 1800’s and early 1900’s when Modern American poetry was also on the rise. In these poems the social expectations, verbal conversations and even the written poetic structure of the poems all allude to a separation between the two genders. Many critics began to address the idea as to whether or not these works were intended to mock the idea of society’s inequalities or if they were demonstrating how they believed women should act, and be treated and viewed by society. The view of the poets can be clearly seen mirrored in these works. Whether it is their view on the unity of marriage or gender roles, it can be seen that the narrators of the works feel as though the expectations of both men and women are unjust and unfair. Moore takes the stance of whether or not woman can have and enjoy both marriage and independence, while Frost contemplates the idea of the “disturbed woman and the madman.” Both of Moore and Frost’s views are appropriately displayed within these texts through their writing style. While Moore chose to write “Marriage” in a more formal, lengthy and intelligent style, Frost chose to write “Home Burial” in a more story-like manner. Both poems seem to stress the idea of the inequalities between men and women. In “Marriage” it seems as though Moore believes that men have the upper hand in marriage, while Frost’s “Home Burial” seems to believe that women have the more dominant role in a relationship. The bigger issue that the poets seem to be trying to get across to their readers is that if society just eliminated the idea of gender roles and societal expectations, then there would be no conversation on what is right and wrong within the unity of marriage. If men and women did not feel as though they had to uphold a certain standard in order to be perceived as “appropriate” in the eyes of society, then the unity of marriage might be much more successful.

Marianne Moore’s “Marriage” is a lengthier poem containing main quotations and references. The entire poem contains a lot of history, which puts the poem into perspective about just how long these issues in the unity of marriage have been going on. The entire poem takes a stance on independence. The narrator in the poem, which is neither confirmed nor denied to be Moore herself, contemplates the idea of whether or not women can have and enjoy both marriage and freedom. Moore seems to believe that while the majority of people believe that marriage is a strain and she believes it to be a struggle. Marriage should not hold you back from your independence, it should support. While “Marriage” brings up the issues of marriages not being successful because they are blocking one from independence, Robert Frost’s “Home Burial” brings up the idea that maybe the inequalities of the marriage come from the unfair gender roles and expectations. This poem is written in a more story-like manner and is about a man and a woman who have lost their child. Throughout the duration of the poem the couple argues back and forth about the “proper” way to grieve over their loss. While the wife believes the man is being “selfish” and grieving in the wrong way, it seems as though the man feels like he is misunderstood. Whenever he does try to talk about how he feels he seems to get rejected by the woman. This back and forth between the two characters brings the up the issue of whether or not men and women can be truly happy within their marriage when there are society expectations or their gender roles that they must uphold. It is hard for the couple to please one another when they are too busy trying to please society first.

Many critics argue that Moore believed that men had the dominant role in a relationship, and because of this she had to choose between marriage and freedom. David Bergman states in his criticism “Marianne Moore and the Problem of ‘Marriage’” that ,

A woman must choose between two paths – the path of intelligence and usefulness or the path of wifely and motherly sacrifice. Each path is valuable and should be encouraged by society since each leads to social well-being, but the paths are mutually exclusive. The woman who attempts to raise children and pursue a career will in the end make a botch of both. (Bergman 142)

Bergman argues that Moore believes that a woman must choice one of two options; education or family. He argues that Moore believed both to be equally great in value, but because of societies expectations there is no way for a woman to do both at once. Bergman states that if a woman is to choose both she would only end up failing. He believes that Moore feels as though women are not capable of success in both fields at the one time. It could be argued that Moore actually does feel as though women can succeed in both fields, but the only reason she has yet to succeed in both are because of the societal barriers holding her back. This can be seen later in Bergman’s criticism when he states that, “she believed that women were equals – not superiors- of men, and needed merely the removal of barriers in order to show their true aptitude” (Bergman 144). The critic states here that Moore believes that if society would simply remove the barriers that separate men and woman than the genders could be viewed as equals. She does not believe that men are better than women, but that they are capable of all the same things.

Similar personal views can be seen reflected into Frost’s “Home Burial”. Frost’s views, like Moore’s, are about equality between the genders. But unlike Moore, Frost seems to argue that women are actually more dominant then men in marriage. Katherine Kearns argues in “The Place Is The Asylum” that Frost is playing with the idea of the “disturbed woman” and “mad man.” He states that Frost believed that women were powerful beings but they can only be truly powerful once they escape the “asylum,” also known as their household. Kearns states that, “The wife is in the process of leaving the house, crossing the threshold from marital asylum into freedom. The house is suffocating her” (Kearns 194). Kearns is discussing in this passage how Frost’s views have been demonstrated in “Home Burial”. The wife feels as though the only way she can be free of her wifely and motherly duties is to leave her house and begin a new life. The power of the decisions that are to be made within the marriage have been left up to the wife, leaving none for the husband. It could also be argued that the husband has just as much power because he can leave just as easily as the wife can. The fate of the relationship is in both of their hands, not just one. Even though the fate of the relationship relies on both partners, it seems as though Frost is posing the question of would either partner have to leave, if there were not societal expectation to pull them apart? The husband in “Home Burial” does not feel justified in leaving because he does not feel as though the wife did anything wrong, according to societal gender role expectations, but she has. She has denied the husband rights to his own feelings and she has denied him understanding because he is a man and she feels he must grieve a certain way. The woman has all the power in the relationship because it is the man that has “done wrong”, so it is acceptable for her to leave, whereas for him it is not.

An important issue that both poets faced was getting the issues to come across in the poems as something of great importance. Both writers realized that how they wrote their poems was just as important as what they were writing about. This is most likely why, unlike Frost, Moore wrote her poem in a more serious and conversational tone. In Heather White’s “Morals, Manners, and Marriage” she states that “if she was to be taken seriously as a critic it would be in the persuasive power of her speech, whether she was speaking… establishing oneself as a woman talking high culture” (White 493). By this White meant that according to Moore this was a male dominated society, there for she had to make it known that she was just as good as any male poet. This was best done through her conversational and powerful tone. She is arguing that Moore understood that the style in which she wrote was just as important as what she was writing about if she wanted her views to be taken seriously as a female writer. Moore knew that she was a talented writer, it was just a matter of getting everyone else to take her as seriously in her works as she believed she deserved to be.

On this basis I will then read “Marriage” to elucidate her understanding of conversational style as a response to her demands of herself to be rigorously and unapologetically true to her gift for invention as well as responsible for the clarity and moral force of her work. (White 490)

White argues that without Moore’s perfected writing style her points would never get across to her audience. The critic believes that it is with this style of writing that Moore stays true to her talents as a writer and this is what makes “Marriage” so popular in the movement for equality.

Frost took a different approach to grabbing his reader’s attentions. As an established and respected male poet he decided to take a more artistic stand when writing “Home Burial”. The meaning behind this text is slightly more difficult to discover and requires much more analytical analysis because unlike Moore, who clearly stated the point she was trying to make in her work, Frost’s argument can get easily lost within the playful story-like structure of “Home Burial”. Katherine Kearns’ “The Place and the Asylum” points out some of the symbols that help to shape Frost’s argument towards equality that are often missed due to their commonality in everyday life. They often get overlooked.

Their houses embody them so that symbolically every threshold is sexually charged; “cellar holes” become pits that represent female sexuality, birth, death, and the grave, and attics are minds filled with the bones of old lovers. Frost’s men can no more fulfill their women than they can fill the houses with life and children. (Kearns 191)

Kearns is explaining here how Frost uses the symbol of a house to describe how men cannot fulfill a woman’s needs. The death of the child in marriage represents the females lost sexuality and how because of this the man in the relationship is now inadequate for his wife/lover/mother.

Marianne Moore begins “Marriage” by comparing marriage to an “enterprise” (Anthology of Modern American Poetry 323). An enterprise is this case could be one of two things, “a project or undertaking, typically one that is difficult or requires effort,” (Dictionary.com) or “a business or company” (Dictionary.com). Both definitions set the tone for the entire poem. Whether Moore meant that marriage was a “project” that most struggled with, or that it is more of a business than a unity is unknown but both, in her eyes, are the true version of marriage. By using the term “enterprise,” no matter the real definition that Moore intended for it, it is clear that people are being deceived when they believe that marriage is the unity between two people that love one another and that once the vows have been said they can live “happily ever after”. This word sets the mood for the entirety of the poem because now the reader no longer sees marriage in such a happy light, they are much more skeptical. Moore then follows this up with the repetition of the word “one” (Anthology of Modern American Poetry 324), alluding to the fact that in a marriage there cannot be a two, that each person functions better singularly. In Andrew Epstein’s “Encyclopedia of American Poetry: The Twentieth Century” he argued that,

She feared [Moore] that marriage artificially binds two complex, changing, and often incompatible beings into a false and impossible unity. Furthermore, because of the power dynamics in a patriarchal society, Moore felt that such a bond can severely constrain a woman’s potential, particularly if the woman is a free thinking, creative artist.

Epstein is describing how Moore’s own personal feelings about women having to choose between motherly duties and individual freedom were projected into “Marriage”. She feels as though a marriage between a man and a woman holds the woman back from her true potential because once she is married she is expected to behave like a wife and a mother, not as an individual. This can be seen in the poem on lines 31-34,

“’I should like to be alone’;

to which the visitor replies,

‘I should like to be alone;

why not be alone together?’” (Anthology of Modern American Poetry 324)

Although the female wants to be alone, societal expectations are suggesting that the couple would be better off together. Notice that visitor replies that the two could be “alone together”. This statement contradicts itself, within a successful marriage neither of the two partners should ever feel nor truly be alone. It could be argued that the partners would feel alone while together because neither of the two are being truly recognized. In lines 83-86 she states that,

“forgetting that there is in woman

a quality of mind

which as an instinctive manifestation

is unsafe,” (Anthology of Modern American Poetry 326)

Here the narrator states that it is unsafe for one to forget that a woman is an individual with a powerful mind and the capability of doing everything that a man could do. Moore demonstrates how often time a woman can get lost within her marriage when she introduces the two lead roles of the poem. Epstein states that,

Moore quickly introduces two opposed archetypal beings, Eve and Adam, who dominate the poem and serve as vehicles for her ironic commentary on the battle of the sexes. Both are portrayed with a mixture of positive and negative terms: they are beautiful yet flawed, “alive with words” yet thoroughly narcissistic. At the center of the poem is a heated dialogue between this generic “He” and “She,” a vicious conversation that highlights the strife between the genders, in which Moore clearly critiques male domination and misogyny. (Epstein)

Moore saw men as the dominant ones in a relationship which is why she believed women were better off alone if they could not be viewed as equals. She takes a very bold stance by demonstrating this using Adam and Eve, two very well-known and looked up to figures in history. She uses these two to not only be understood by almost every reader of her poem, but to also make the reader question everything that they believe to be true about marriage. These two very iconic people set an example for marriage, one that Moore challenges in her poem. She states in marriage that

“Men are monopolists

of ‘stars, garters, buttons

and other shining baubles’-

unfit to be the guardians

of another person’s happiness” (Anthology of Modern American Poetry 329)

By this she means that a woman cannot rely on a man to be happy because they are often times too self-righteous. This can also be seen when she states that “he loves himself so much, / he can permit himself” (Anthology of Modern American Poetry 330). Since men are so self-centered, they cannot give their whole self to someone else. Due to this he loves himself more than he could ever love any woman or make her happy. Moore states that the men, or he in the novel will “stumble” over marriage (Anthology of Modern American Poetry 327) and because of this she also states that “’a wife is a coffin,’” (Anthology of Modern American Poetry 329). It could be argued that by this she means that Men do not understand marriage or how to make a woman truly happy. If a woman is not truly happy she mind as well be dead, this is why he compares being a wife to a coffin. The reason for this might be because of social expectations that he, as a husband, puts on her as a wife. He expects a wife to be patient, caring, tender and kind, but when she is not he does not get what he expected he feels that he is bound to this person that he does not know or understand. She demonstrates this in lines 184-185 when she states, “impatience is the mark of independence, / not of bondage” (Anthology of Modern American Poetry 328). This is a quote that Moore uses when talking about Dianna, who was impatient. She was viewed as someone who could not wed because of impatience, but in reality this was just a sign of independence and many people misconstrued that. All of these qualities are what drive a marriage apart. If society rid itself of its expectations and allowed room for women to excel both as a mother and in her independence then and only then can a marriage be truly successful. Moore closes off her poem by stating that in a marriage people are “opposed each to the other, not to unity,” (Anthology of Modern American Poetry 331).

Like Moore, Frost argues that the expectations of society take a toll on a relationship. Although it does not seem like Frost is completely arguing that he is “anti-marriage” it is clear that he is arguing that there is an inequality between men and women. Robert Faggen starts of his criticism, “Robert Frost and the Challenge of Darwin” by stating that, “the gender hierarchy of civilized and uncivilized, ordered and chaotic, male and female, becomes remarkably fluid” (Faggen). By this he means that there is a gender hierarchy in the poem. The poem alludes to the fact that in the house a woman is viewed as superior. But due to the gender roles that dictate who they are supposed to be and how they are supposed to act it does not matter how “chaotic” they get, it is second nature and becomes unconscious behavior. These gender expectations of grief are quickly put into place in the poem during lines 36-38, “He said twice over before he knew himself: / ’Can’t a man speak of his own child he’s lost?’ / ’Not you! … I don’t know rightly whether any man can.’” (Anthology of Modern American Poetry 113). Amy, the wife, is refusing to accept her husband’s ways of grieving, but then denies him the right to grieve the way she feels to be acceptable. Like Faggen argued, the gender roles have become so fluid that the husband feels he has to grieve in an a way that Amy believes to be “inconsiderate,” but also so fluid that even when he offers her the compassion and consideration she wants, she denies it to him. She states that a “no man” can grieve in that manner. It is repeated many times throughout the poem that, “A man can’t speak of his own child that’s dead.’” (Anthology of Modern American Poetry 114). This seems to be a common thing. This repetitive statement allows the reader to question that if a man cannot grieve in the same way as a woman, then what else can a man not do that a woman can? Faggen later states that,

Amy refuses to conform to manly and scientific conceptions of the limits of grief, and her war with her husband is an attempt to make the world conform to her standards and accept her authority… Her husband must realize that failure to meet her demands will result in the dissolution of the home and his concern for furthering his people.

This criticism furthers the idea of how and why the gender roles that society has set for the couple will only break apart their marriage. The demands of the wife are what place her as the superior in the eyes of the husband, because if he does not comply she has the power to put an end to their marriage. The narrator states that, “A man must partly give up being a man / With women-folk” (Anthology of Modern American Poetry 114). Just as much as Moore believes that a woman cannot truly be herself when tied down to a man, Frost believes that a man cannot truly be himself either. Neither partner can truly be themselves within a relationship due to the expectations that society has placed onto each gender. They cannot be true to themselves or each other while also pleasing themselves, each other and society.

While both poets seem to be proposing different arguments, their central theme is the same. With gender role expectations set upon relationships from society it is difficult for that relationship or marriage to thrive, grow and succeed. Women are constantly being held back from their freedom and education in order to be a wife and mother to please men, while the men are being held back from exposing their true feelings and paternal instincts while in a domestic environment. Since each partner within the relationship are being held back, the unity can never be true to itself because each person is not true to themselves. There should be no gender hierarchy or fluidity to the expectations. Each person should be allowed to live freely when in a relationship, marriage, or solitude without the pressures of society. It is clear that both poets believe that no person should have to choose one way of life. Every person is entitled to and should be both free and domestic.

Works Cited

Bergman, David. “Marianne Moore and the Problem of ‘Marriage’”. American Literature 60.2 (1988): 241–254. Web.

Epstein, Andrew. “Encyclopedia of American Poetry: The Twentieth Century.” Modern American Poetry. Routledge, 2001. Web. 20 Nov. 2015.

Faggen, Robert. “Robert Frost and the Challenge of Darwin.” Modern American Poetry. University of Michigan, 1997. Web. 20 Nov. 2015.

Kearns, Katherine. “”the Place Is the Asylum”: Women and Nature in Robert Frost’s Poetry”. American Literature 59.2 (1987): 190–210. Web.

Nelson, Cary. Anthology of Modern American Poetry. 2nd ed. Vol. 1. New York: Oxford UP, 2000. Print.

White, Heather Cass. “Morals, Manners, and “marriage”: Marianne Moore’s Art of Conversation”. Twentieth Century Literature 45.4 (1999): 488–510. Web.

Bishop and Moore: An Exploration of Magic Realism

In The Golden Bough, Sir James George Frazer argues that contemporary science, while evolving from magical and religious attempts to understand and control the natural world, eclipses these frameworks[1]. To Frazer “magic” in the 20th century “is a spurious system of natural law as well as a fallacious guide of conduct; it is a false science as well as an abortive art.”[2] Frazer had a significant impact on early modernism, particularly T.S. Eliot who claimed his work “has influenced our generation profoundly”[3]. The poetry of Marianne Moore and Elizabeth Bishop, in its precision and careful description of the natural world, has been characterized as reflective of a supposed modernist obsession with scientific ways of understanding the world. Paradoxically, both poets achieve a “mysterious”, otherworldly effect through their commitment to precision, in Moore’s writing this manifests itself mainly in an excessive use of defamiliarization, whereas Bishop’s also explores the dreamscape, linked with an existential anxiety. While some critics have looked into Torodov’s ‘fantastic’ literature and its relation to Moore, and others have examined the surrealist influences of Bishop, none have considered the possibility that their works exhibit qualities that are indicative of ‘magic/al realism’. While the term is often associated with the explicitly fantastical works of Latin American authors such as Garcia Marquez, in its initial iteration “magic realism” described “a way to uncover the mystery hidden in ordinary objects and everyday reality”[4] – a mode that is not confined to a specific time or place. In liberalizing and expanding the definition, critics such as William Spindler have produced a “typology” for the genre. Using Spindler’s typology, crucially I will argue that in their precision and hyper-realism, Moore and Bishop repeatedly elicit this “magic” effect; rather than being “false science”, this “magic” actually derives from a hyper-realistic, almost scientific analysis of the world. In an interview for the Paris Review, Moore claimed studying science had a profound impact on her art: “I found the biology courses … exhilarating. I thought, in fact, of studying medicine. Precision, economy of statement, logic employed to ends that are disinterested, drawing and identifying, liberate—at least have some bearing on—the imagination”[5]. It is impossible not to identify within Moore’s works this exhilaration for the scientific, even the inspirations of her poems are treated as if they were academic sources and – unlike modernists such as Eliot and Joyce – these sources are enclosed within quotation marks and typically referenced in her notes. For example, the poem ‘Silence’ is almost entirely structured around the quote of the narrator’s father – my father used to say” – and perhaps appropriately the narrator’s voice is itself marginalized and silenced. Likewise, the poet tries to silence attempts to read her own biography into the poem, as these words cannot be that of Moore’s own father who died when she was aged 6 months. Indeed, in her notes it is attributed to the father of “Miss A.M. Homans, Professor Emeritus of Hygiene, Wellesley College”. In a distortion of the provenance of this citation, the penultimate line “make my house your inn”, delivered as if it were also by Mr Homan, is attributed to the philosopher Edmund Burke. Despite this fusion of identities, critics such as John Charles Hawley argue “these irregularities are not troubling” as “clearly Moore’s intention is to create two composite archetypal figures: father and daughter …. [the] father figure is built up explicitly out of Mr Homans and Edmund Burke”[6]. While the latter argument may be true, I would dispute that the effect of this is “not troubling”. Moore creates a sense of verisimilitude in her use of quotations: there is no reason not to trust the narrator when she says, “my father used to say”. Additionally, the poet uses a logical approach to her argument, an argument which can be summed up through combination of the first and last lines – “my father used to say” “inns are not residences” –the main body acts as a series of logical justifications for this view; “superior men never make long visits”; “they sometimes enjoy solitude”. So, when the father, via examination of Moore’s notes, is revealed to be “an archetype”, the precise, scientific “indexicality”[7] actually has the effect of dislocating the character from a particular time or place. Natalia Cecire sees this dislocation as symptomatic of Moore’s precision as a whole, arguing that she “reproduces the overwhelming quality that the techniques of precision are meant to manage, revealing a poetics whose very commitment to knowledge as such lends it a darkly unknowable dimension.”[8] In her devotion to scientific accuracy, paradoxically Moore opens up the possibility of the mysterious through her poetry. Indeed, at times this “relentless accuracy”[9] of Moore’s work has a defamiliarizing effect, particularly in poems which deal with animals and the natural world. For example, ‘To a Snail’ includes the line “the curious phenomenon of your occipital horn”; the familiar eyes of a snail are rendered unfamiliar through neuroscientific lexis such as “occipital” and the unusual use of “horn”. Like in ‘Silence’, precision and the value of what is left unspoken is emphasized: “contractility is a virtue // as modesty is a virtue”. A didactic pattern emerges in Moore’s poetry; the emphasis on “virtue” – repeated twice in two successive lines in ‘To a Snail’ – is derived from a close examination of the natural world, which is on the one hand presented as the container of moral teaching and on the other defamiliarized through her precision. The observed virtues act as objective properties within the snail itself – the modesty exhibited in the ability to contract at will is an example of “the principle that is hid // in the absence of feet”. The same virtues admired within the typically unromantic animal are exhibited throughout Moore’s poetry. Indeed, she would spend years crafting a single poem, and the final product was achieved through an extensive process of erasure; for example, the appropriately named ‘Poetry’ was whittled down from 38 lines to 4. Inspired by Pound’s assertion that “we live in an age of science”, and his suggestion that contemporary literature should take a scientific approach to its depiction of the world, Moore’s poetry is indicative of the clear, precise style of Imagism. But while close description of the snail – and the natural world within her poetry as a whole – may reveal Moore’s general and editorial values, it is by no means purely an allegory for these values, as critic Schulze argues “Moore’s animals remain animals”[10]. The snail acts as an almost literalized metaphor, the suggestion being that through scientific analysis of the natural world itself – while producing a mysterious, defamiliarizing effect – one can discover objective, applicable moral instructions.

Moore, as Bishop’s mentor had a considerable impact on her poetry, as such the younger poet also favors a style that is precise and scientific, indeed in a letter to Moore she writes “you and I see what others carelessly overlook”[11]. However, while she does suggest that morality can be observed within the natural world, she appears less convinced than Moore about the human capacity to interact with these values. In ‘Sandpiper’ for example the value of precision is seen within the movement of the ocean: –Watching, rather, the spaces of sand between them, where (no detail too small) the Atlantic drains rapidly backwards and downwards The juxtaposition of the enormous with the minuscule within the natural world, shown here through the spaces between grains of sand alongside the Atlantic Ocean which – despite its size – “drains” into every pore. Bishop through observing the ocean evokes the necessity of precision – a value that is emphasized as an aside to the reader in parenthesis “(no detail too small)”. In the final stanza the reader is alienated from the narrative human voice, which inhabits a smug tone in observing the bird searching between the grains of sand – “Poor bird he is obsessed!”. Yet despite the inability of the speaker to understand the motivations of the Sandpiper, the validity of the bird’s search exists regardless: the “millions of grains” of sand are mixed with the luxurious, almost decadent “quartz grains, rose and amethyst”. As Bishop claimed “there are morals aplenty in animal life”, and crucially, “they have to be studied out by devotedly and minutely observing the animal”; like Moore she holds that morality exists in the animal kingdom, however the ability to appreciate this comes down to being able to observe “devotedly and minutely”. The potential failure to excavate these values from the natural world is an anxiety that reoccurs throughout Bishop’s poetry, as critic Bonnie Costello suggests “Moore continually attached value to fact, where Bishop attaches yearning, fear, uncertainty”[12]. In ‘The Armadillo’ “illegal fire balloons” appear to be “rising toward a saint” from a human perspective, and yet wreak havoc comparable to hellfire to the animal kingdom “it splattered like an egg of fire”; “the ancient owls’ nest must have burned”. Furthermore, the anxiety towards a search for value in the external world descends into crisis in ‘In the Waiting Room’’. Here Bishop’s precision is defamiliarizing, however unlike Moore this is the result of an existential angst: the narrator’s description of “shadowy grey knees” is a reaction to a perceived lack of values (“why should I be my aunt, // or me or anyone”) resulting from a precise analysis of the world around him/her which occurs after closely observing a National Geographic magazine. This anxiety manifests itself in a dream-like sequence whereby the narrator feels that the waiting room is sliding “beneath a big black wave”; veridical perception is called into question and the scientific precision is dismantled, even though this crisis is arguably a consequence of the precision itself. Before examining the magic realist elements of Bishop and Moore, I will first turn to critical responses to the supposed discrepancy between their scientific precision and the mysterious, arguably magical quality of their poems. Firstly, Jeanne Heuving argues that much of Moore’s poetry is indicative of a 20th century version of Torodov’s fantastic, defined as “that hesitation experienced by a person [the reader] who knows only the laws of nature, confronting an apparently supernatural event”[13][14]. Explicit use of the supernatural does occur occasionally in Moore’s poetry. For example, in the early piece “Diligence Is to Magic as Progress Is to Flight’ she blurs the distinction between language and thing: “Speed is not in her mind inseparable from carpets”. This inseparability is indicative of Torodov’s fantastic; the reader is unable to distinguish between the description of the thoughts of the narrator and the supernatural entity of the “magic carpet”. Nevertheless, the mysterious “darkly unknowable dimension” of Moore’s poetry cannot be restricted to the few poems where she incorporates the supernatural, and Torodov’s fantastic – which requires at least the suggestion of the supernatural – fails to encompass a poem such as ‘To a Snail”. In contrast, critics have attempted to approach Bishop from a surrealist angle, understandable for a poet who once stated “Dreams … catch a peripheral vision of whatever it is one can never really see full-face but that seems enormously important”; many of her poems read like verbal reconstructions of dreams. For example, ‘The Weed’ begins with the impossible, the act of envisaging the sensation of being dead, as Bishop states “I dreamed that dead, and meditating, // I lay upon a grave, or bed”. Throughout the poem the vivid imagery of “the rooted heart” is constantly related to the psychology of the narrator, whose very thoughts – much like the narrator of Moore’s ‘Diligence Is to Magic as Progress Is to Flight’ – become physical: “It lifted its head all dripping wet // (with my own thoughts)”. Max Ernst once described how flicking through a catalog was enough to induce a sensory overload in its saturation of images and pictures, likewise ‘The Weed’ flicks from one location to the next all the while maintaining the photographic precision characteristic of surrealism. Despite her precision, Bishop presents “a landscape foreign to the objects depicted”, one where “her poems contain much of the magic, uncanniness and displacement associated with the works of the surrealists”. Nevertheless, Bishop’s “magic” cannot be confined entirely to the realms of human psychology, as critic Richard Mullen points out “Her landscapes may well possess qualities of dreamscapes, but simultaneously they are marked by an unusually rich appreciation of the natural world”[15]. We cannot forget that unlike the surrealists who argued “there were no objects only subjects” and possessed little interest in the external world outside the interior, psychological life of humans, Bishop’s work is dominated by the presence of the external natural world.

Crucially, what Mullen sees as the limitations in reading Bishop as a surrealist poet, perhaps work as a strength for a magic realist analysis of her and Moore’s poetry. Coined in the 1920s by German artist Franz Roh, the initial movement derived from a fascination with the psychoanalytic concepts of the unconscious. However, unlike the surrealists, magic realism was not interested in depicting the interior mind of humans, rather ‘magic’ lay within the external world itself and could be revealed through precise analysis. In the words of Roh, “mystery does not descend to the represented world, but rather hides within the world itself”[16]. In addition, unlike the fantastic, magic realism in its looser definition is not confined to a play between the supernatural and uncanny, rather through close enough analysis of reality the marvelous and uncanny reveal themselves in the external world. For example, in Bishop’s ‘The Fish’ the leaking of oil – a typically unromantic image – becomes an object of beauty as the refraction of light transforms it into “rainbow, rainbow, rainbow”. The scene is both vivid and hyper-realistic, emphasized through emphatic repetition. Likewise, the presentation of animals as literalized metaphors is indicative of Roh’s conception of magic realism, Moore’s snail cannot be confined to an allegory for the editorial process – morality is self-evident within the animal kingdom and can be revealed through precision. In his analysis of the genre, William Spindler developed a typology of “metaphysical, anthropological and ontological” magic realism, with the initial category corresponding to Roh’s conception[17]. I would argue that the initial category best corresponds to the work of Bishop and Moore, and here the magic “is taken in the sense of conjuring, producing surprising effects by the arrangement of natural objects by means of tricks, devices or optical illusion”. In Bishop’s ‘Filling Station’ the arrangement of cans “ESSO-SO-SO-SO” is both intensely realistic but also produces an effect comparable to synaesthesia, as the sibilance of “so” gives the inanimate cans an auditory and visual presence, emphasised by “softly say” in the line preceding. Indeed, “in literature, Metaphysical Magic Realism is found in texts that induce a sense of unreality in the reader by the technique of Verfremdung, by which a familiar scene is described as if it were something new and unknown, but without dealing explicitly with the supernatural”[18] – in ‘Filling Station’ the commonplace petrol station eventually becomes a reminder that “somebody loves us all”. Furthermore, Spindler argues that “the result is often an uncanny atmosphere and the creation … [of a] impersonal presence”[19] – this impersonal presence is idiosyncratic of Moore’s poetry, as observed in ‘Silence’ where the majority of the poem is made entirely of quotations. It is undeniable that in their scientific precision, ironically a sense of magic is evoked comparable to that described by Roh.

Ultimately then, while the poetry of both Bishop and Moore can be characterized as adhering to a scientific approach to literature in its precision, their devotion to this practice uncovers an underlying mysteriousness in their works. In Moore this is a result of a sense of dislocation given by her playfulness with scientific and logical modes of thinking such as through use of poetic citation, and in Bishop an anxiety towards a failure to uncover values within the external world manifests itself in dreamlike imagery. To explain this mysteriousness some critics have appeals to fantastic or surrealist influences. In contrast, I would argue that magic realism – in its early conception – corresponds to Bishop and Moore’s mode of writing, illustrative of a modern magical thought where rather than being opposed to scientific approaches to the world, the ‘magic’ is uncovered through the precision of such approaches. Endnotes and Reference List:

[1] Frazer, James George. The Golden Bough Palgrave Macmillan, London, 1990.[2] Ibid[3] Dwivedi, Amar Nath. TS Eliot: A Critical Study. Atlantic Publishers & Dist, 2003.[4] Bowers, Maggie Ann. Magic (al) realism. Routledge, 2013. [5] Hall, Donald. “The Art of Poetry IV: Marianne Moore.” Paris Review 7 (1961): 41-66. [6] Hawley, John Charles, ed. Reform and counterreform: dialectics of the Word in Western Christianity since Luther. No. 34. Walter de Gruyter, 1994. [7] Cecire, Natalia. “Marianne Moore’s Precision.” Arizona Quarterly: A Journal of American Literature, Culture, and Theory 67, no. 4 (2011): 83-110. [8] Ibid [9] Ibid [10] Schulze, Robin G. The Web of Friendship: Marianne Moore and Wallace Stevens. University of Michigan Press, 1995. [11] Ibid [12] Costello, Bonnie. “Marianne Moore and Elizabeth Bishop: Friendship and Influence.” Twentieth Century Literature 30, no. 2/3 (1984): 130-149. [13] Heuving, Jeanne. Omissions Are Not Accidents: Gender in the Art of Marianne Moore. Wayne State University Press, 1992. [14] Todorov, Tzvetan. The fantastic: A structural approach to a literary genre. Cornell University Press, 1975. [15] Mullen, Richard. “Elizabeth Bishop’s Surrealist Inheritance.” American Literature 54, no. 1 (1982): 63-80 [16] Roh, Franz. “Magic realism: post-expressionism.” Magical Realism: Theory, History, Community (1995): 15-31. [17] Spindler, William. “Magic realism: a typology.” In Forum for modern language studies, vol. 29, no. 1, pp. 75-85. Oxford University Press, 1993. [18] Ibid [19] Ibid