You've seen a strawberry
that's had a struggle; yet
was, where the fragments met,
a hedgehog or a star-
fish for the multitude
of seeds. What better food
than apple-seeds - the fruit
within the fruit - locked in
like counter-curved twin
hazel-nuts? Frost that kills
the little rubber-plant-
leaves of kok-saghyz-stalks, can't
harm the roots; they still grow
in frozen ground. Once where
there was a prickly-pear-
leaf clinging to barbed wire,
a root shot down to grow
in earth two feet below;
as carrots form mandrakes
or a ram's horn root some-
times. Victory won't come
to me unless I go
to it; a grape-tendril
ties a knot in knots till
knotted thirty times, -- so
the bound twig that's under-
gone and over-gone, can't stir.
The weak overcomes its
menace, the strong over-
comes itself. What is there
like fortitude! What sap
went through that little thread
to make the cherry red!

- Marianne Moore

''Nevertheless'' is the title poem to a collection published by Moore in 1944.

''Nevertheless'': A close reading

Marianne Moore's poem ''Nevertheless'' is deceptively simple. The form has great regularity and the images are concrete and reassuringly commonplace. The poem seems to be an uncomplicated paean for the power of perseverance. However, the poem places regularity in tension with irregularity, and the concrete with the metaphoric. Read more deeply, the poem becomes a taut system of oppositions, contradictions, and ironies, all of which problematize a simplistic reading.

Moore plays with unexpected juxtapositions throughout. A delicate and choice fruit, the strawberry, is first placed in the incongruous context of struggle and then its mode of reproduction is equated with the protective armor of a hedgehog and a starfish. The fruit loses the appeal which was initially awoken by its name. Strawberries, after all, are not eaten for their seeds. This is further complicated by line five which says ''fish for the multitude'' and obliquely hints at the story of loaves and fishes. It is tempting to draw parallels between humanity and the unattractive strawberry which succeeds and spreads its surplus of seeds when an appetizing one fails.

This continues to be developed with the transition to apple seeds. ''What better food//// than apple-seeds'' (ll. 6-7) seems like a rhetorical question touting the perfect food. However, it is unexpected in that the fruit is again scorned for the seeds. This is especially strange as apple seeds are slightly poisonous. The repeated use of the definite article in ''the fruit// within the fruit'' (ll. 7-8) reminds one of the fruit, that is the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge. What comes of this is an idea that the seed of knowledge is perhaps more potent, but is still dangerous. Yet this extrapolation is overlaid with the homely hazel-nut, another cultivated fruit, the nutmeat of which is greatly desired.

The power of small things continues with the introduction of kok-saghyz, or the Russian dandelion which was used for rubber production in World War II (Shintani, David et al). Here again is a tension between small and great, homely and exotic. It gains a mystique with the foreign name which perhaps would not be present with the more familiar and deprecated 'dandelion.' At the same time the foreign name is slurred and mangled to fit the line requirements. It is a small plant that looks much like the garden and yard invasive pest present in the US, and is described in line eleven as little. Nonetheless, this is placed opposite the fact that it was cultivated in quantity and used as an emergency rubber source in the war. Without this weed, the war effort would have been more difficult.

These contradictions and parallels continue. The prickly-pear, an edible cactus important in several cultures for both human and animal consumption is juxtaposed with barbed wire. The carrot, an image of persuasion (the carrot and the stick), is conflated with the mandrake, a magical root tied to fertility, and possessed of a fatal scream when pulled from the ground. The ram's horn also is an image of strength, both offensive and defensive. The grape tendril ties knots and immobilizes a twig. All of these again seem to reinforce the declaration:

The weak overcomes its
menace, the strong over-
comes itself. What is there
like fortitude! What sap
went through that little thread
to make the cherry red!
(ll. 28-33)

Yet again, there is a tension in the final lines. The cherry is a small thing that is hard to consider as a thing of strength. The inconsequentiality of a cherry invites speculation that it is more than a cherry. Cherries have been equated to lips, sexuality, virginity, and other images of life and love. In this case, it seems to be a tiny heart, fed through a slender vein. Even this is problematized by the use of sap which is positive when used in terms of plants and spring, and negative when used for people.

The tension of contradictions and unexpected juxtaposition is even stronger when examining the form of the poem. The structure of the poem is, on the surface, extremely regular. Each three line stanza appears to have eighteen syllables. The lines divide evenly, resulting in sets of six syllables. The rhyme scheme is ABB CDD EFF etc. The second and third lines of each stanza are evenly indented, which serves to draw more attention to the pattern of the rhymes. This also creates an extremely regular appearance to the poem as it proceeds down the page. Within the lines, there is a great deal of alliteration and parallel phrasing, all of which tie the poem together musically and rhythmically.

The poem appears to be a model of rigid form, and this specifically influences how the poem is read. Moore creates the regularities not only to use their effects, but to both transgress and contravene them for even greater effect. Perhaps most obvious is that, while the stanzas are rigidly formulaic in their surface structure, the sentences from which they are made enjamb to the next stanza. Indeed, both within and between the stanzas, the line breaks often appear unexpectedly in the middle of hyphenated groupings. Even more disruptive, the stanza breaks occur in the middle of a subject, so that the ideas enjamb from stanza to stanza as well. This powerfully affects how the lines are read. The line breaks do not necessarily occur at the greatest natural spoken or thematic pauses. So the reader is encouraged to struggle against the influence of the line breaks. One result of this is that the reader proceeds briskly, from image to image, and stanza to stanza with no stopping place for contemplation. Because of this, the period at the end of stanza nine becomes particularly apparent. The previously denied (yet conventionally desired) stop at the end of the stanza is provided when least expected, when the reader has ceased to look for it. It creates a pause much greater than any of the previous periods, and it dramatically marks a turn in the poem where Moore summarizes her theme.

Another area of tension is in the rhyme scheme. The rhymes exist, and are deliberately brought to the readers attention by the line breaks. However, as mentioned, the line breaks are strictly organized by Moore's syllabic requirements and do not occur in natural pauses. Furthermore, there is considerable alliteration within the lines, which blurs the importance of the rhyme pattern. When read naturalistically, the rhymes are absorbed into the general music of the lines instead of punctuating thoughts or ideas. Parallel structures and sounds are more apparent and more powerful than the ABB CDD formula. The sound of the broken line ''the fruit// within the fruit - locked in'' (ll. 7-8) is much more connective than the forced rhyme which leaps ahead to the next stanza: ''-locked in// like counter-curved twin//// hazel-nuts?'' (ll. 8-10). The former is composed of paralleled phrases which match in all but with and locked. The latter sits uncomfortably with locked in more strongly attached by sound to within than to twin. Twin does not match in on many levels. It is a single stressed syllable which is obscured by the strong redundant sounds and rhythms of counter-curved. It also trails off. It is not a noun but an incomplete noun phrase, the adjective for a word which appears in the next stanza. Moore is playing with the reader's assumptions about form. Coming as it does at the end of a stanza, twin is easily mistaken for its noun form. Grammatically, it could work if not for hazel-nuts in the next line. The reader is repeatedly brought up short by this deliberate dissonance between the line and stanza breaks and the sentence structure.

Perhaps most subtle of the poem's structural transgressions is that the regular eighteen syllable stanza/six syllable line form must be finessed at times. This occurs as early as the first line. How many syllables does ''You've seen a strawberry'' (ll. 1) have? Depending upon one's accent, this line could have five or six, with strawberry pronounced either ''straw-be-ry'' or ''straw-bry.'' This occurs early enough that the regularity of the form does not enforce a certain 'proper' pronunciation. If this were the only instance, it could be disregarded. However, counter-curved in line nine requires deliberate alteration to fit. The -ed of curved must be stressed in order for the line to make up six syllables. Again, this could be disregarded as incidental. If Moore were a more conventional writer, it could be considered an archaism in a rigid adherence to form. However, she violates her own line length two more times, and both in suggestive places.

The next instance is with line thirteen. In order for the line to work properly, kok-saghyz must be mispronounced to have only two syllables. Moore has done this with the only non-English word and the only italicized word in the poem. Saghyz ends in a confusing tangle of consonants. If one is unfamiliar with the word as it is spoken, it is easy to assume that the word is pronounced ''sagz'' and conforms to the demands of the poem's line structure. It exists as part of a larger hyphenated term, ''kok-saghyz-stalks'' which is difficult to say and encourages the running together and slurring of sounds.

The last instance cannot be finessed. The last line of stanza nine has seven syllables and ends with spondaic finality. Once again it serves to draw attention to the break that occurs between stanzas nine and ten. Of course, the effect of all of these questionable departures from line length is extremely understated. It is only noticeable if one deliberately looks for it because the lines do not reproduce a regular metrical structure.

This last is perhaps the most unexpected in its absence. The poem is full of rhythm and music, yet the form does not reinforce that music. The line length is not a shorthand for metrical notation but rather a hindrance. This is, of course, the key. In many ways, the form of the poem echoes the theme of the poem. A first reading is awkward. The strong, stable surface structure of the poem pulls the reader in directions unsupported by the sentences it frames. However, a second reading reveals that while the lines are forced into empty artifice, they transcend them. Rhymes made purely for their placement at the ends of lines do not weigh down the poem with a ponderous beat, but are instead harmlessly absorbed. Line lengths and stanza breaks which can confine and smother, are instead overgrown, like ivy covering a wall. The strong, i.e. the rigid form of the poem's outward flourishes, is overcome by minute subversions.

At the same time, this reading can also be subverted and reversed. The structure can be considered that which is weak until perseverance overcomes its enemies. The sentences and ideas that they convey are systematically influenced by the impositions of the form. The powerful themes and ideas of the poem are nevertheless affected by the minute adjustments in reception caused by its structure. Although this is not as strong as the previous reading, it does problematize a straightforward reading. The alternate exists.

In the end, Moore uses all her considerable technical skill to craft a poem which enacts its theme of power in tenacity. Strong and weak are no longer obvious definitions, and the very ambiguity of Moore's form invites the reader to reevaluate relationships of power.


Moore, Marianne. ''Nevertheless'' The Poems of Marianne Moore. Grace Schulman, ed. New York: Viking, 2003. 253-4.

Shintani, David; Katrina Cornish; David Schooley; Martin Gollery. ''Systems Based Approach for the Identification of Rubber Biosynthetic Genes in the Hyper-Rubber-Producing Composite Species Parthenium Argentatum and Taraxacum Kok-Saghyz'' Plant and Animal Genomes XII Conference, January 10-14, 2004. Accessed, April 1, 2004.

This essay was written for a class on Williams, Moore, and Stevens, spring '04. CST Approved, 4/8/04.

Nev`er*the*less" (?), adv. ∨ conj. [Never + the (see The by that) + less.]

Not the less; notwithstanding; in spite of that; yet.

No chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous; nevertheless, afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness. Heb. xii. 11.

Syn. -- However; at least; yet; still. See However.


© Webster 1913.

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