by Marianne Moore
The poem is called "Silence," and, unsurprisingly, the speaker keeps pretty silent about herself. Yes, she tells us that she has a father, but then again, we all technically have fathers, right? And sometimes we can figure out what a person is like based on what she says and how she says it, but even that doesn't really work here. Eleven out of the poem's fourteen lines are a direct quotation from the speaker's father. We hardly hear the speaker's voice at all.
So, what can we say about the speaker? Well, we know she's modest and keeps her opinions to herself. She quotes her father, but she doesn't add much commentary to what he said – she withholds her own judgment. She seems to take her father's advice on restraint to heart.
But do you also hear a touch of irony in her tone in the last two lines? Don't you get the feeling that there's a lot she could be saying, but deliberately chooses just to imply? She says, "Nor was he insincere in saying…" (13). What's up with the phrasing here? Why not just say, "And he was sincere in saying…"? Does this reveal anything about her actual opinion on her father's speech?
Another way to think of that question is to consider how (or in what light) the speaker presents her father. What do we make of him after reading this poem? For someone who is into silence, he sure seems to talk a lot. And unlike the restrained speaker, the father has no problem expressing his opinion about proper behavior and what makes "superior people." Do you think the speaker agrees with her father about what "superior people" are like, or do you think she is actually getting him to reveal his own hypocrisy?