the elephant is?

American poet Marianne Moore wrote lots of poems about animals. Her 1918 elephant poem, “Black Earth,” is exceptional in her menagerie because it’s written in the first person, singular “I”—a voice Moore rarely adopted in her poetry. “Black Earth” is less a self-portrait poem than a meditation on writing and selfhood, a modern version of the age-old dialogue between body and soul, in which the elephant ponders whether her ungainly exterior accurately expresses her inner spirit. The elephant’s skin is sediment-encrusted, blemished, and fibered over, yet its markings serve as “a manual for the peanut-tongued and the/Hairy-toed.” The elephant skin is a metaphor for writing

 

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