Imaginary gardens with real toads

With her usual style and wit, poet Marianne Moore explains why “Poetry” can be such a perfectly contemptuous form. After all, it can be nearly impenetrable, often paradoxical, and seemingly condescending to the uninitiated. 

Yet, in spite of poetry’s sometimes inscrutable ways, Moore acknowledges its clarifying role in our collective consciousness–i.e., the best phrases and most memorable lines of our language, most of which are attributable to the poets (especially Shakespeare, in English!).

There are, unfortunately, the “half poets” who provide no genuine insight and conflate “business documents and school books.” But, those hacks should not turn us away from those who help us revitalize the mind by way of “imaginary gardens with real toads in them.” Which is the poet’s playful way of saying that genuine, creative thought requires the activities of mind, an interplay between ideas and perceptions. To cite the extraordinary Owen Barfield: “the mind is never aware of an idea until the imagination has been at work on the bare material given by the senses, perceiving resemblance, that is demanding unity, because it is itself a unity.” (Poetic Diction, p. 27).

So, with those thoughts in mind, give yourself some time today to imagine, to explore the world, to see afresh the relationships between things, ideas, and the human capacity to construct a unity of mind mirroring the ordered world around us. 

As Moore pointed out, “we / do not admire what / we cannot understand.” Which is why we must explore the realms of imagination, beginning with “the raw material of poetry” and then moving into the “genuine” that is truly the province of poetry. 

Enjoy more of Moore and other poets at the Academy of American Poets and the Poetry Foundation. Then, let us know where you’ve found additional resources to reinvigorate the mind.


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