An Octopus – Poetry

By Marianne Moore

of ice. Deceptively reserved and flat,
it lies ‘in grandeur and in mass’
beneath a sea of shifting snow-dunes;
dots of cyclamen-red and maroon on its clearly defined
made of glass that will bend–a much needed invention–
comprising twenty-eight ice-fields from fifty to five hundred
feet thick,
of unimagined delicacy.
‘Picking periwinkles from the cracks’
or killing prey with the concentric crushing rigor of the python,
it hovers forward ‘spider fashion
on its arms’ misleading like lace;
its ‘ghostly pallor changing
to the green metallic tinge of an anemone-starred pool.’

So begins Moore’s 193 line poem An Octopus, the longest of her career. Like Dickinson, personifies the mountain — in this case, the glacier on top of Mount Rainier, around which she once hiked. The metaphor isn’t stable, however: the eponymous octopus changes into a python, then a spider. By the middle of the poem, Rainier turns into the home of the ancient Greek gods, Mount Olympus.

An important point that Moore’s poem observes is that mountains are not discrete objects that can be separated from their landscapes. They are connected in infinitely complex ways to the animals who call it home, the trees growing its hills and the people who attempt to climb it.

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