To "rest upon" an opinion

I will be guest-blogging several times for Joanne Jacobs while she is away. I have had Marianne Moore’s poem “The Student” (1941) on my mind for a while; I keep returning to it and thinking about this “student” that she describes.

It is difficult to quote from the poem, because of the enjambment from stanza to stanza. Not one of the stanzas (except for the last) ends with the end of a sentence. Another difficulty is that Moore’s poetry has many quotes, each one worthy of explanation. So be it. What intrigues me is the ending, but it makes little sense without the rest of the poem.

It is written in syllabic verse–no set meter, but a set number of syllables for each line. In each stanza (with a few exceptions), the syllable count per line is as follows: 7, 10, 8, 10, 6, 5, 11. This gives the poem a visual structure that contrasts with the relative lack of sonic structure.

The poem seems at first to defend the American idea, criticized by a lecturer, that everyone should have a college degree.

“In America,” began
the lecturer, “everyone must have a
degree. The French do not think that
all can have it, they don’t say everyone
     must go to college.” We
incline to feel, here,
     that although it may be unnecessary

to know fifteen languages,
one degree is not too much. With us, a
school—like the singing tree of which
the leaves were mouths that sang in concert—
     is both a tree of knowledge
and of liberty,–
     seen in the unanimity of college

Now Moore has moved beyond the idea of the college degree. College is important not for the degree, which seems incidental, but for the thought that takes place within it. But Moore hints at a pitfall of such institutions of thought: perhaps Americans have opinions and not much more. [Read more…]