Marianne Moore’s Bryn Mawr Poetry

cupbearer –eye is dark

Through emphasis on the “eye” (line 4) in conjunction with the simile “like a witch”  (line 4), Moore creates a nuanced gaze for the reader. The woman in the poem becomes a prophetess who, in the ancient Greek sense of prophet is all seeing past, present and future. Moore’s own “see[ing]” of this prophetess suggests that she will become a seer of sorts by becoming a poet. Though, it the reader as slave that Moore poses the question to, not the dark woman. While the woman is shrouded in the mysterious darkness of night, more uncertain to Moore is the unknown reception of the poem. However, Moore embraces the ambiguity, allowing it exude from the page directly to the reader at the last line.

Moore’s poetry is renown for its mingling of archaic fact and language with that of modernity which produce an enigmatic conclusion or an oracular reading. Thus just as the woman in the poem possesses Moore, Moore possesses the reader of the poem. The repetition of lines 2, 4, 5, 6, and 8 with the consonance “itch” forces the reader to partake in what sounds like an incantation as she reads the poem. We are made to incant, made to “see” the ceremony recreated before us wholly navigating through time as prophets ourselves, and recognizing this mystical woman.

Moore replicates that struggle in the poem by forcing the reader to “incant” this same struggle through the rhyme of the poem. The repetition of the questions work both to acknowledge this passage of time in the ceremony as well as the reader’s immersion. The first line, “Lady or a tiger-lily/Can you tell me which?” both Moore’s first experience with the ceremony as well as the reader’s. By the end of the poem when the question is repeated with more force, Moore demonstrates her authority as a senior and orchestrater of the ceremony.The reader has become a “slave” to Moore via her or his own act of reading.

The setting of this poem is a waking-dream. This woman/tiger-lily comes in the form of nocturnal apparition, though it clear this spectacular visitor is not a creation of a dream, because Moore reports seeing her when awake. Whether it is a memory from the previous year’s ceremony, which is likely since Moore describes the woman wearing robes, or a symbolic figure, she haunts Moore. The simile “Incanting, like a witch” (line 4) suggests that Moore may believe that she being possessed to take a more unconventional route. By attending Bryn Mawr and dedicating herself to art, she strays from the ability to forgo her independence—the quality she admired about Ibsen’s play.Does the poem then answer its own question? Written for the college literary magazine, each woman who reads the poem is a cup-bearer and will take part in the tradition of the college. Each woman also bears the choice and the knowledge to become a tiger-lily. In the final line, the cup-bearer is addressed as “slave” (line 8). As each female student reads the poem, she becomes entranced and at the end is transformed to be the slave to whom the questions are being posed. Perhaps Moore suggests that all women are slaves to these questions of what type of women they will chose to become. Through the act of writing this poem, Moore answers.