The Meaning of What Are Years? by Marianne Moore

The Meaning of What Are Years? by Marianne Moore

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In the poem “What Are Years?”, Moore clearly expresses her perception of life.

Moore states that no one can truly understand the nature of their guilt or innocence. Everyone is “naked” to the dangers of existence. Moore defines courage as “resolute doubt,” having the ability, or the the "strength of spirit", to keep going even when defeated. To be strong, one must accept their own mortality. One must accept the reality of death and yet keep fighting to live. Although we are all imprisoned in a world of mortality, we must fight every day to give meaning to our life. We must live as if we were never going to die!

Moore begins the last stanza with an ambiguous “So”. Although one has a heightened awareness of mortality, one “behaves,” one keeps the ego disciplined. This is the same concept as that of the caged bird who, though held captive in a cruelly small space, continues to sing with all his heart. Despite the bird's lack of “satisfaction” because of his loss of flight and freedom, he knows “joy”.

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In this case, "joy" is the spiritual strength to keep on living despite the difficult circumstances of life. This joyous discipline is mortality. It is knowledge of death, and at the same time, knowledge of eternity - an acute awareness of something beyond mortal existence.
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