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The Pangolin Analysis

Author: poem of Marianne Moore Type: poem Views: 12

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Another armored animal--scale

    lapping scale with spruce-cone regularity until they

form the uninterrupted central

   tail-row! This near artichoke with head and legs and grit-equipped


the night miniature artist engineer is,

       yes, Leonardo da Vinci's replica--

         impressive animal and toiler of whom we seldom hear.

       Armor seems extra. But for him,

         the closing ear-ridge--

           or bare ear lacking even this small

           eminence and similarly safe

contracting nose and eye apertures

    impenetrably closable, are not; a true ant-eater,

not cockroach eater, who endures

  exhausting solitary trips through unfamiliar ground at night,

  returning before sunrise, stepping in the moonlight,

      on the moonlight peculiarly, that the outside

        edges of his hands may bear the weight and save the claws

      for digging. Serpentined about

         the tree, he draws

           away from danger unpugnaciously,

           with no sound but a harmless hiss; keeping

the fragile grace of the Thomas-

       of-Leighton Buzzard Westminster Abbey wrought-iron vine, or

rolls himself into a ball that has

   power to defy all effort to unroll it; strongly intailed, neat

   head for core, on neck not breaking off, with curled-in-feet.

          Nevertheless he has sting-proof scales; and nest

           of rocks closed with earth from inside, which can thus


          Sun and moon and day and night and man and beast

            each with a splendor

               which man in all his vileness cannot

            set aside; each with an excellence!

"Fearfull yet to be feared," the armored

    ant-eater met by the driver-ant does not turn back, but

engulfs what he can, the flattened sword-

  edged leafpoints on the tail and artichoke set leg- and body-plates

  quivering violently when it retaliates

      and swarms on him. Compact like the furled fringed frill

        on the hat-brim of Gargallo's hollow iron head of a

      matador, he will drop and will

       then walk away

        unhurt, although if unintruded on,

         he cautiously works down the tree, helped

by his tail. The giant-pangolin-

    tail, graceful tool, as a prop or hand or broom or ax, tipped like

an elephant's trunkwith special skin,

  is not lost on this ant- and stone-swallowing uninjurable

  artichoke which simpletons thought a living fable

       whom the stones had nourished, whereas ants had done

        so. Pangolins are not aggressive animals; between

       dusk and day they have not unchain-like machine-like

          form and frictionless creep of a thing

           made graceful by adversities, con-

versities. To explain grace requires

     a curious hand. If that which is at all were not forever,

why would those who graced the spires

  with animals and gathered there to rest, on cold luxurious

  low stone seats--a monk and monk and monk--between the thus

      ingenious roof supports, have slaved to confuse

         grace with a kindly manner, time in which to pay a debt,

      the cure for sins, a graceful use

       of what are yet

          approved stone mullions branching out across

          the perpendiculars? A sailboat

was the first machine. Pangolins, made

    for moving quietly also, are models of exactness,

on four legs; on hind feet plantigrade,

  with certain postures of a man. Beneath sun and moon, man slaving

  to make his life more sweet, leaves half the flowers worth having,

      needing to choose wisely how to use his strength;

        a paper-maker like the wasp; a tractor of foodstuffs,

      like the ant; spidering a length

         of web from bluffs

            above a stream; in fighting, mechanicked

            like the pangolin; capsizing in

disheartenment. Bedizened or stark

     naked, man, the self, the being we call human, writing-

masters to this world, griffons a dark

"Like does not like like that is abnoxious"; and writes error with four

   r's. Among animals, one has sense of humor.

         Humor saves a few steps, it saves years. Unignorant,

         modest and unemotional, and all emotion,

         he has everlasting vigor,

           power to grow,

           though there are few creatures who can make one

            breathe faster and make one erecter.

Not afraid of anything is he,

     and then goes cowering forth, tread paced to meet an obstacle

at every step. Consistent with the

   formula--warm blood, no gills, two pairs of hands and a few hairs--


   is a mammal; there he sits on his own habitat,

         serge-clad, strong-shod. The prey of fear, he, always

           curtailed, extinguished, thwarted by the dusk, work partly


        says to the alternating blaze,

           "Again the sun!

              anew each day; and new and new and new,

              that comes into and steadies my soul."


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