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On "A Definition of Marriage"

Jane Hoogestraat

It is impossible not to hear [Marianne] Moore’s relatively early poem "Marriage" behind Van Duyn’s "A Definition of Marriage," particularly in the closing lines: "Announce that at least it can move / in the imperfect action, beyond the windy oratory, / of marriage, which is the politics of love." While Van Duyn uses neither the syllabics nor the prose-like verse that Moore uses, she does employ aphorism in a similar manner. Like Moore, she is also willing to proceed by logical qualification and elaboration, and she is willing to approach her material from an indirect or skewed angle. She shares with Moore a willingness to roughen ordinary language and to draw subject matter from unlikely places. ([William] Logan [in "Late Callings," Parnassus 18:2 (1993), p. 318] comments that Van Duyn "could make poems from table scraps and newspaper cuttings. As Auden used to do: and indeed her poems, like his, are often just intelligent talk.") She differs from Moore, of course, in that marriage for her is not an abstraction. Certainly, in this poem and elsewhere, there is an ongoing, although never reductive, description of a long and satisfying marriage.

From Jane Hoogestraat, "Mona Van Duyn’s ‘Such Old Premises,’" in Michael Burns, ed. Discovery and Reminiscence: Essays on the Poetry of Mona Van Duyn (Fayetteville: U Arkansas P, 1998), pp. 121-122.

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