Instinct (After Marianne Moore’s “Melanchthon”)

Today’s poem was a difficult one to write. Enchanted as I am by Marianne Moore’s work, she is a tough poet to imitate, tougher still to understand. But I have given it my best shot! Fascinated by animals, human nature and the poetic contrasts and parallels between the two, many of Moore’s poems deal with weird and exotic creatures and draw unlikely comparisons between them and humanity. In today’s poem I have tried my hand at this strategy, with the blind burrowing mole and my sister’s cocker spaniel-poodle cross as inspiration. You can read the original poem that inspired it here, thanks to another blogger who has kindly posted it.
Instinct (After “Melanchthon”)

What prevents man, individually and collectively, from behaving reasonably and
morally is not so much ignorance as a self-blindness induced by some passion or
(W.H. Auden, The Dyer’s Hand)

Thinking, granted,
but less like a mind,
            more like an eager dog in search of a worn-out bone.
            These things comfort me: in my corner of the garden,

familiar, it
gives safety, blanket-
            like, tattered and torn, yet homely in its weathered wear.
            The mind glimpses, encompasses these things which Bentham

sees from his
prison tower and knows;
            surveillance gives the impulse, but instinct the reason.
            And so a dog returns to its own refuse and Jonah

hides for days
inside his whale; and
            I too need corners and familiar scents. Why I am
            what I am, I do not know. The dog has its goals and

its purposes,
so too the mole which,
            though blind, is quicker than the human mind’s quickest percep-
            tion. Yet we move by more than mere impulse, by brain-waves

which fly and flit
before we hear them.
            Reflexes have no accompanying, conscious thought
            yet some things are learnt and made reflex that should be conscious.
“Adam, who told
you that you were
            naked?” No need to teach him to hide his shame in leaves
            once the brain already knew, “Eat apple”. Automated

and unthinking
disobedience is
            the hardest to overcome; and we are cursed (blessed?)
            with the knowledge that instinct, though enchanting, is

not enough, blessed
(cursed?) with eyes to see
            both the apple and the consequence. If blind, we are
            wiser than our blindness knows, yet too blind to know it.

The dog, the mole,
defy us, yet we
            are called to more. “Naked, man, the self”: what’s been bestowed
            on him, on us, declares we cannot plead ignorance.

Man – the height, though
helpless before the
            creatures that preceded him – must bow and rule, burrow
            and build, obey and reason, trust and know, be blind and see.

What calling, what
heights beside what depths!
            What impulse and what instinct, what knowledge planted through
            that first breath, knowing all the blindness yet breathing still.

Published by Matthew Pullar

Teacher, writer, blogger, husband, father, Christian. Living in Wyndham in Melbourne's west, on the land of the Kulin Nation. Searching for words to console and feed hearts and souls.

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