Marianne Moore’s poem ‘Four Quartz Crystal Clocks’ (1940) was first published in The Kenyon Review 2:3, pp. 284–285, and collected in What Are Years (1941). Here's the first stanza (of seven):

There are four vibrators, the world’s exactest clocks;
    and these quartz time-pieces that tell
time intervals to other clocks,
    these worksless clocks work well;
and all four, independently the
    same are there, in the cool Bell
        Laboratory time

(The version printed in Complete Poems of Marianne Moore has slightly different wording in a couple of places: “independently the same, kept in / the 41° Bell” for lines 5–6, and “newborn progeny) that punctuality / is not a crime.” for lines 47–48.)

What is this poem about? What form is it written in? What is “the Giraudoux truth-bureau”? Is the third stanza a good explanation of a quartz clock’s sensitivity to temperature? What is the train of thought linking quartz clocks in the first stanza to Giradoux in the second to the lemur-student in the fourth to metathesis in the fifth? Why is the bell-boy carrying a buoy-ball? In what way does the speaking clock resemble the god Jupiter? Why does Jupiter tell Chronos that “punctuality is not now a crime”? What happened to the last line?

  • Some of this is explained in Marianne Moore's notes to her poem, which can be found in The modern poets,: an American-British anthology – Peter Shor Mar 29 '20 at 16:16
  • I assume bell-boy is some kind of wordplay on bell-buoy. See Kipling's poem The Bell Buoy, which Marianne Moore probably knew. And I'm not at all sure the bell-boy has a buoy ball. Maybe the buoy ball is what is used to embarrass the bell-boy. – Peter Shor Mar 29 '20 at 16:35
  • For the sixth stanza, there used to be numbers you could call which would say something like "At the tone, the time will be 3:46 pm and 15 seconds BEEEEP." In New York City, this number was Meridian 7-1212 (637-1212). – Peter Shor Mar 29 '20 at 16:49
  • From the OED: embarrass, 2b. transitive. To complicate or confuse (a matter, subject, issue, etc.); to render perplexing or problematic. Now somewhat rare. – Peter Shor Mar 29 '20 at 17:18

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.