American Poetry
for Students of English Worldwide

..............Jack Kimball.............

The Big Feeling:
Exposition and Expansion with MARIANNE MOORE

As we know, words can have more than one definition and more than one shade of meaning. In poetry we read words like these continuously. Often they are familiar words used in unfamiliar ways. Here are some words which may be new to you or whose meanings may seem new.

: the act of explaining
application: use
conceive: (1) to become pregnant with; (2) to express in words
wit: (1) ability to conceive humor; (2) keen perception
aesthetic: pertaining to understanding and criticism of art and good taste
complement: something that finishes, makes up a whole, or brings to perfection
to attend: (1) to be present at; (2) to listen to
metaphysical: (1) pertaining to philosophy; (2) abstract
conformity: similarity, agreement
: agreement, conformity
vain: (1) futile; (2) conceited

Marianne Moore's poetry has been criticized as abstract and cold in feeling. Others have praised her poetry for its expansive passion and wide complexities. There is no doubt, however, that Moore's subject matter can be very peculiar. The following poem, for instance, is written to a non-living "steam roller," a piece of road construction equipment! Note in the following poem how she exposes or builds her argument, expanding from the smallest "chips" to the biggest ideas, from "particles" to "metaphysics"!

To a Steam Roller

The illustration
is nothing to you without the application.
You lack half wit. You crush all the particles down
into close conformity, and then walk back and forth
on them.

Sparkling chips of rock
are crushed down to the level of the parent block.
We're not "impersonal judgment in aesthetic
matters, a metaphysical impossibility," you

might fairly achieve
it. As for butterflies, I can hardly conceive
of one's attending upon you, but to question
the congruence of the complement is vain, if it exists.

All of the following definitions are correct, but choose the MORE APPROPRIATE meaning based on each word's use in To a Steam Roller.


a) to ask
b) to express doubt


a) not relating to people
b) showing no emotion


a) the act of putting something to use
b) a request (for a job, for example)


a) to become pregnant with
b) to express in words


a) to listen to
b) to be present at


a) a picture
b) the act of explaining


a) supernatural
b) abstract

Here are some words with various definitions. After re-reading To a Steam Roller, choose the ONE definition that seems the MOST OPPOSITE in meaning.

1) wit:

a) keen perception
b) understanding
c) stupidity

2) illustration:

a) visual matter
b) confusion
c) explaining

3) conceive:

a) to believe
b) to be silent
c) to express

4) aesthetic:

a) pertaining to necessity
b) pertaining to taste
c) pertaining to criticism

5) attending:

a) listening
b) disappearing
c) waiting

6) application:

a) putting something to rest
b) putting something on
c) use

7) conformity:

a) similarity
b) individuality
c) custom

8) congruence:

a) dissimilarity
b) conformity
c) agreement

9) complement:

a) fraction
b) something that brings perfection
c) something that makes a whole

10) question:

a) request debate on
b) accept
c) ask

Please consider the following words in terms of their meanings in To a Steam Roller, then decide if the following statements are TRUE or FALSE.

1) "Metaphysical" means "happy."
2) "Vain" means "worthwhile."
3) "Parent" means "original."
4) "Fairly" means "suitably."
5) "Level" means "sidewalk."
6) "Rock" means "music."
7) "Particles" means "power."
8) "Complement" means "something that takes away."
9) "Upon" means "when."
10 "Upon" means "on top of."
11) "Impersonal" means "emotional."
12) "Application" means "supernatural."
13) "Wit" means "foolishness."
14) "Congruence" means "non-conformist."
15) "Achieve" means "get."

Choose either (a) or (b) as the paraphrase (or equivalent wording) that you think is CLOSER IN MEANING THE SAME for the following quotations.

1) "impersonal judgment in aesthetic matters"

a) unemotional opinion concerning abstract ideas
b) abstract thoughts about beauty

2) "sparkling chips of rock"

a) bright pebbles
b) loud music

3) "You might fairly achieve it."

a) You should get it.
b) Maybe you'll get it.

4) "a metaphysical impossibility"

a) a philosophical absurdity
b) an abstract ineptness

5) "I can hardly conceive of one's attending upon you."

a) I can briefly listen to anyone who's present, even you.
b) I can scarcely imagine anyone listening to you.

What would be another way to express the meaning of the following:

1) "The illustration is nothing to you."

2) "into close conformity"

3) "to question the congruence"

4) "You lack half wit."

5) "a metaphysical impossibility"

Using words from To a Steam Roller, suggest why the poem could be re titled "To My Critics."

Is "impersonal judgment" illustration or application?

Working butterflies into your argument, generalize on how going from "parent block" to "aesthetic matters" is like leaping from Earth to outer space.

Re-read To a Steam Roller. Again, note the progressive expansion from words like "particles" to "chips" to "parent block." Take notes for a poem addressed to a non-living thing (a steam roller is a non-living thing, of course). For example you might take notes for a poem titled "To a Boat" or "To an Atomic Power Plant" or "To Your Coat." Make a list of qualities that go from small to large. In the case of "To Your Coat" these might be

needle and thread
arms and shoulders
the overall "fit" of the coat
wearing the coat

Now imagine that you like or dislike the object intensely. Write your poem!

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