Date of Award

5-2008

Document Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Legacy Department

English

Advisor

Paul, Catherine

Committee Member

McGrath , Brian

Committee Member

Bennett , Alma

Abstract

While many Modernist writers made conscious attempts to position themselves against an existing Romantic literary tradition, careful examinations reveal important overlaps and connections in theme, imagery and purpose. While Marianne Moore's work is perhaps farther away from a Romantic aesthetic than that of many of her contemporaries, a close examination of the body of her work reveals an engagement with many themes, motifs, and ideas that can be traced to her Romantic predecessors, a relationship that might best be described as 'picking and choosing,' to use her words. Many of her poems involve an appropriation and interrogation of the sublime, an aesthetic discourse that permeated Romantic poetry, and this engagement can be traced through three thematic areas: nature, gender and prophecy. However, in contrast to her Romantic predecessors, Moore's treatment of the sublime is marked by a continual undercurrent of skepticism, particularly regarding the ability of the human mind to know for certain what lies beyond it. She repeatedly characterizes the transcendent impulse as an illusion, as in 'An Octopus,' when her speaker, who attempts to interact with the sublime landscape of Mt. Rainier, insists, 'completing a circle, / you have been deceived into thinking that you have pro-- / gressed' (BMM 83-84:23-24). In addition, her poetry undermines established ideological boundaries that have been inscribed in aesthetic discourse since antiquity, particularly regarding the distinction between the beautiful and the sublime, a separation that Moore understood as inextricably linked to gender difference, power, and domination. Taking the notion of the sublime to its logical conclusion in prophecy, the act of uttering the unknowable, her work challenges the idea of the poet as single, authoritative intermediary between the divine and the community of readers. In all of these thematic areas, Moore's relationship to the authority implicit in the discourse of the sublime is fraught. The very notion of having access to an understanding outside the realm of the human brings forth a host of complications for a poet such as Moore, whose reluctance to state a fixed truth without simultaneously undermining it has been the subject of much critical attention.

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