Marianne Moore's war poems of the 1940s, and in particular “In Distrust of Merits,” have frequently been read as a compendium of didactic, clichéd, pious, overstated public pronouncements brought on by the immediate urgency of the war, “show[ing] too much the pressure of news.” Work with Moore's drafts, notebooks, and uncollected poems, however, makes it clear that the genesis of these poems is broad and deep, not a matter of impulsive response to headlines. In them Moore uses an emotional register to construct a simultaneously political and spiritual exploration of the ethics of individual response to the issues of freedom and community raised by international genocide and world war. This essay reads “In Distrust of Merits” as a courageous and complex but not altogether successful poem dealing with tough questions about war, ethics, and trust. Moreover, it reads “The Mind Is an Enchanting Thing” as a companion poem to “In Distrust of Merits,” which deals with another side of the question of what can keep humanity human.
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Cristanne Miller; Distrusting: Marianne Moore on Feeling and War in the 1940s. American Literature 1 June 2008; 80 (2): 353–379. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00029831-2008-006
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