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24 Sep A Formalist Analysis of Moore’s No Swan No Fine

“No Swan No Fine” is a free-versed, fourteen-lined poem written by Marianne Moore for the 20th anniversary edition of the Poetry Magazine. It was rumored at the time that the magazine would end its year – suggesting that the poem was a swan song for the magazine (a swan song is usually written in celebration of the brilliance of a period that is about to end to welcome the new), but at the same time, implying that the magazine production must give way to the new.

To further discuss an analysis of Moore’s free-flowing piece of literary work, a formalist approach could do the job. Formalist approach, or simply Formalism, is one of the many literary approaches in analyzing or critiquing a work of, either prose or poetry. In prose, formalism is analyzing the structure that makes it a work of prose – the main elements of a fiction: setting, characters, plot, conflict, theme, and moral. In poetry, on the other hand, formalism is also analyzing its structure i.e. identifying the rhythm, rhyme scheme, as well as the images, allusions, figures of speech that help in comprehending the real meaning or message that the literary work convey. These images, allusions, and figures of speech, all together comprise the so-called “Objective Correlative”.

An objective correlative, from the first word “objective” (object), is a magnification of an object that represents or correlates its features to that of what the writer implies. In Moore’s poem “No Swan No Fine”, a number of objective correlatives are presented.

First objective correlative appears on the second line of the first stanza i.e. “Versailles”. Versailles is known to be a palace in France that was made popular for its bright light. On the other hand, Moore noted “Versailles” as an object that magnifies the still waters of dead fountains (man-made fountains). He compared Versailles present state as to that of dead fountains – still and silent. In the same line continuing to Lines 3 to 4, Moore also noted of the swan as being haughty and ridiculous once i.e. when it skims across the water it looks so fine, but then loses its elegance when it is seen from underneath the waterbeds. In the fifth line proceeds Moore’s comparison of a swan to a “chintz china”. “Chintz” is a Hindi word meaning of multiple colors or of brightness. In this line, it is made clear that Moore is actually talking about a “real” or “living” swan compared to a multicolored “china” swan – an imitation of the “real” swan. In Line 8, Moore also noted of “collar” and described it as “toothed gold”. As aforementioned, Moore describes the chintz china that, though it does not have the “living” independence nor has no existence of its own that the “real” swan has, is presented as superior (gold). This, thus, gives way to determining what Moore actually meant by the “real” swan being “*askance” – the painted perfection of the “china” swan eclipses or suspects the memory of the “real” swan. *askance means of doubt or suspicion

In the second stanza, Moore begins it with a description of a pair of Louis XV candelabra ornamented with Dresden china flowers and swans, this piece of art being still alive, but the king in the era it was made is long dead (Line 14); thus, also sating that his palace was actually the Versailles.

To sum it all up, what Moore is trying to imply (in my personal opinion) in her free-versed poem is that everyone gets the chance of having the so-called “time of their lives”; but just like how man-made fountains appear still, how the Versailles used to shine so brightly, how the “real” swan loses its elegance when seen underneath the waters and how it loses its perfection when compared to a multicolored “china” swan, and how the ornamented pair of candelabra had been perched when the king is long dead, everything has an end, and each end happens to welcome the new to come.



Angelyn T Laus

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