Marianne Moore

A Grave

Man looking into the sea,
taking the view from those who have as much right to it as
           you have to it yourself,
it is human nature to stand in the middle of a thing,
but you cannot stand in the middle of this;
the sea has nothing to give but a well excavated grave.
The firs stand in a procession, each with an emerald turkey-
           foot at the top,
reserved as their contours, saying nothing;
repression, however, is not the most obvious characteristic of
           the sea;
the sea is a collector, quick to return a rapacious look.
There are others besides you who have worn that look --
whose expression is no longer a protest; the fish no longer
           investigate them
for their bones have not lasted:
men lower nets, unconscious of the fact that they are
           desecrating a grave,
and row quickly away -- the blades of the oars
moving together like the feet of water-spiders as if there were
           no such thing as death.
The wrinkles progress among themselves in a phalanx -- beautiful
           under networks of foam,
and fade breathlessly while the sea rustles in and out of the
the birds swim throught the air at top speed, emitting cat-calls
           as heretofore --
the tortoise-shell scourges about the feet of the cliffs, in motion
           beneath them;
and the ocean, under the pulsation of lighthouses and noise of
advances as usual, looking as if it were not that ocean in which
           dropped things are bound to sink --
in which if they turn and twist, it is neither with volition nor

According to a note by Chris Burgess( on his Marianne Moore Home Page , "A Grave" was written shortly after the sinking of the Lusitania and after Moore's brother Warner joined the Navy as a chaplin and went out to sea. The sea was one of Moore's favorite topics, but she was also very much aware of the sea as a grave. The sea, for Moore, was both beautiful and deadly. Once, when she and her mother were standing together admiring the sea, a man came and stood in from of them, Moore's mother remarked about how people seem to feel the need to stand in the middle of things instead of stepping back to get the full picture, and this incident became part of the poem. (Source: Marianne Moore: A Literary Life by Charles Molesworth)

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