May 2011 Articles

Treasures: The Poet and the Gadget

For Marianne Moore, Class of 1909, the daughter of an inventor and construction engineer, the fascination with new technology was in her genes and her genius for poetry.

Well into her fame as a modernist poet, she suggested names for Ford Motor Company’s new “E-car”—“Resilient Bullet”, “Ford Silver Sword” and “Utopian Turtletop.” Ford ultimately chose to name the car the (infamous) Edsel.

Known for wit and irony, Moore’s poems won the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award and the Bollingen Prize.

In 1940, she published a poem about the invention of the quartz clock—reprinted here with permission from Kenyon Review—which uses an electronic oscillator regulated by a quartz crystal to keep time.

Four Quartz Crystal Clocks

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

vault. Checked by a comparator with Arlington,
    they punctualize the “radio,
cinema, and press,” —a group the
    Giraudoux truth-bureau
of hoped-for accuracy has termed
    “instruments of truth.” We know—
    as Jean Giraudoux says

certain Arabs have not heard—that Napoleon
    is dead; that a quartz prism when
the temperature changes, feels
    the change and that the then
electrified alternate edges
    oppositely charged, threaten
        careful timing; so that

this water-clear “crystal” as the Greeks used to say,
    this “clear ice” must be kept at the
same coolness. Repetition, with
    the scientist, should be
synonymous with accuracy.
    The lemur-student can see
        that an aye-aye is not

an angwan-tíbo, potto, or loris. The seaside
    burden should not embarrass
the bell-boy with the buoy-ball
    endeavoring to pass
hotel patronesses; nor could a
    practised ear confuse the glass
        eyes for taxidermists

with eye-glasses from the optometrist. And as
    Meridian 7 one-two
one-two gives, each fifteenth second
    in the same voice, the new
data— “The time will be” so and so—
    you realize that “when you
        hear the signal,” you’ll be

hearing Jupiter or jour pater, the day god—
    the salvaged son of Father Time—
telling the cannibal Chronos
    (eater of his proxime,
newborn progeny) that punctual-
    -ity is not now a crime.

The Kenyon Review, summer 1940, Volume II, No. 3 (284-285).