“To Explain Grace Requires a Curious Hand”

Srikanth Reddy

in Changing Subjects

Published in print July 2012 | ISBN: 9780199791026
Published online September 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780199950287 | DOI:
“To Explain Grace Requires a Curious Hand”

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This chapter considers the literary excursus as a means of organizing knowledge in the poetry of instruction under the American Progressive movement. Marianne Moore’s poetry testifies to a profound reorganization of archival knowledge in early twentieth-century American culture. Moore’s speakers deliver digressive talks on an eclectic range of disciplines ranging from horticulture to geology to heartbreak. In these instructional poems, digression opens up a space for the work of interdisciplinary explanation; in “The Pangolin,” for instance, the natural history of an African ant-eater is “explained” via a sweeping excursus on the philology of grace in the Medieval world. As a pedagogical gesture, explanation is the mark of a “progressive,” as opposed to a neoclassical, model of instruction; in her ongoing colloquy with the didactic tradition in eighteenth-century verse, Moore’s explanatory excursions show how literary digression is imbricated within the procedures and poetics of modern democratic instruction.

Keywords: Marianne Moore; didactic poetry; progressivism; natural history; democratic instruction

Chapter.  12196 words. 

Subjects: Literary Studies (Poetry and Poets)

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