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by Marianne Moore

Lines 5-10 Summary

Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.

Lines 5-6

Self-reliant like the cat –
that takes its prey to privacy,

  • Here we get a clue about why these superior people don't need to be shown around. They are "self-reliant," which means they can take care of themselves.
  • The father also compares them to a cat, which makes us think that they even prefer being on their own. You know how sometimes cats like to cuddle and will purr on your lap, but then other times they want you to leave them alone and will get all hissy and claw-y if you pester them? No matter what, a cat always follows his own plan, and you have to leave him alone if he wants to be alone.
  • This cat has had a successful hunt and now wants to enjoy his prize in peace, by himself. Maybe the father wants to suggest that things such as Longfellow's grave or the Harvard glass flowers are best enjoyed alone, so that they can be really savored.
  • Check out how concise these two lines are. Moore is known for her careful word choice and how minimally, yet effectively, she can express complex ideas. The alliteration in "prey to privacy" also gives line 6 an extra punch.

Line 7-8

the mouse's limp tail hanging like a shoelace from its mouth –
they sometimes enjoy solitude,

  • Initially we have a comparison between superior people and a cat, but suddenly we get a pretty graphic description of the cat's prey.
  • Did you notice how line 7 is much longer than all the earlier lines? It's like the line is calling out, "Hey, look at me! Look at how much more detailed I am than other lines!" Why do you think so much space is given to describing the mouse's tail?
  • We could also say that the line is long so that it can dangle across the page, just as we imagine the mouse's tail dangling out of the cat's mouth.
  • The comparison between the mouse's tail and a shoelace is a little disturbing. Suddenly we get this mental image of a person, rather than a mouse, hanging out of the cat's mouth. What's also weird is that we began with a comparison between superior people and the cat, but end up with a comparison between the mouse and a person.
  • The father tells us what we guessed earlier from the cat reference: sometimes these people prefer to be left alone. But the cat isn't exactly minding his own business and enjoying his solitude – he's enjoying his prey. He had company…before he decided to eat it. So is/was there a similar "prey" for the superior people?

Lines 9-10

and can be robbed of speech
by speech which has delighted them.

  • Earlier, the speaker's father compares superior people to a cat eating a mouse – in other words, a predator who has caught his prey. In these lines, the father describes these same people as the victims, rather than attackers. They have been robbed of speech.
  • Don't get us wrong, though: superior people are fine with saying nothing. Keeping to themselves is OK, and keeping quiet is OK. But do these things go together? According to the speaker's father, superior people keep quiet because something someone else said delights them – they are robbed of speech by speech. So they can't be totally alone, right? Maybe speech here is like the cat's prey – gotten through company but enjoyed in privacy.
  • On that note, do these lines give us any insight on why the speaker lets her father do all the talking? Is the speaker showing us that she, like superior people, can be robbed of speech by her father's speech?

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