What Are Years: Moore's Cohesive Contradiction Essay

What Are Years: Moore's Cohesive Contradiction Essay

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Marianne Moore did not want a question mark after the title. In her words: “In my ‘What Are Years’ the printers universally have insisted on putting a question mark after the title: ‘What Are Years?’ It’s not that at all!” Moore intended her poem to be a meditation, not a question the speaker needs answered—she knows the answer, or at least has a developed theory of its irrelevance to attaining joy. “What Are Years” is a reflection on the human condition presented as a paradox with modernist overtones (Panopticpants), that, being mortal creatures, we live within the confines of time; each year we are dragged closer to death, but by surrendering to our mortality, by accepting our fate, we become free. Moore juxtaposes contradictory ideas and terms throughout to enhance the paradoxical theme. Rather than suggesting it by only describing a seen or a succession of images, like William Carlos Williams might have done, she treats her subject directly (Panopticpants), like a grandmother gently sharing her insights to her grandchildren.

The poem is delightfully accessible in its directness, yet is balanced with the rich similes in the last two stanzas. The images of the bird and the ocean serve as illustrations of the speaker’s main point, placed in the middle of the poem, in the second stanza: “He / sees deep and is glad, who / accedes to mortality…“ (10-12). This is the keystone of the poem, that which blends the first stanza with the last. Even the math seems to work out. There are three stanzas, the first being different in approach than the third, and the second stanza has half of each technique—three stanzas divided by two approaches, equals one and a half, the length given to question/directness and imagery/simile. ...

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...gh accepting, and living to our fullest in spite of our mortality, makes the question irrelevant.

The answer to the title, in the same way, is not as important, especially since Moore did not want a question mark at the end. The title is more a prompt, calling attention to a block of time with which we measure how long we have lived and how long we have left until we die. The title is the contemplation what it means to die, and how we should live knowing we will die. What is guilt and innocence, eternity and mortality, imprisonment and freedom? Moore is able to weave them into one profound definition in three succinct stanzas, which she can boldly claim in the last couplet: This is mortality, / this is eternity.

Works Cited
Panopticpants. "Marianne Moore and Fragmentation of Consciousness." Howling Hex. 24 Feb. 2011. Web. 20 Apr. 2011.

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