The Literal Persona and the Beauty of Furs

Erin Mouré’s “The Beauty of Furs” and “The Beauty of Furs: A Site Glossary” are complementary poems, with the latter explaining and expanding upon the former. In “The Beauty of Furs,” Mouré’s presumably female persona discusses fur with younger girls. The persona and the younger girls have markedly different understandings of the beauty of furs: the persona associates fur with a host of images and memories; while the younger girls only see fur for its superficial appearance. “The Beauty of Furs: A Site Glossary” decrypts the metaphor in “The Beauty of Furs”: “Later you realize it is a poem about being born” (Mouré 595). But there is a reason that Mouré made “The Beauty of Furs: A Site Glossary” a separate poem—to understand “The Beauty of Furs” in a non-metaphoric sense is to connect with Mouré on a much more personal and literal level.

“The Beauty of Furs” is written in the first-persona narrative from the persona’s point of view, lending the persona and her thoughts natural significance and depth. Crucially, Mouré does not structure her text at all, utilizing a stream-of-consciousness to accurately capture the tumult of the persona’s thoughts. Mouré’s repetition of the stylized “and” in the form of an ampersand emphasizes the connectedness and relatedness of all the persona’s thoughts. Above all else, Mouré seeks to give the reader the most accurate insight into her mind.
The poem is firmly set in a feminine space, “at lunch with the girls” (Mouré 594). But there are distinctions within this space—“the younger ones are talking about furs, & what looks good” (Mouré 594). These young girls are depersonalized and anonymous, given little identity other than a vapid superficiality: “Red fox looks no good with my hair, says one. White fox looks snobbish, beautiful but snobbish, says another one” (Mouré 594-595). In essence, the young girls do not really matter. They are only there to introduce and accentuate the persona’s thoughts.
In one long run-on sentence, Mouré is able to capture the expansive connotations of fur for the persona: “I think of pushing the drown-set into the weeds, the freezing water of the Elbow, the brown banks & snow we lived with, soft smell of aspen buds not yet coming out on the trees, & us in our nylon coats in the backyards of Elbow Park Estates, practically downtown, trapping” (Mouré 595). While “The Beauty of Furs: A Site Glossary” would interpret this environment as the mother’s body, a literal understanding of the persona’s thoughts achieves something much subtler. The persona is thinking about her environment, her home and her childhood. But the reader does not yet understand the connection between these and fur.
Whereas the young girls speak of beautiful fox furs, the persona is singularly focused on the muskrat. For the first time, the persona speaks to the younger girls, although this is also for the benefit of the reader: “I remember, I say, I remember my mother had a muskrat coat, & when she wore it & you grabbed her too hard by the arm, fur came out” (Mouré 595). This is the only instance of the second person in the text—Mouré is subtly making the persona and the reader interchangeable. In the same moment that the reader understands and fully empathizes with the persona, Mouré introduces Eileen to further support the persona. Crucially, Eileen is the only character who is named, and in comparison to the young girls, Eileen’s age is emphasized, “fifteen years older” (Mouré 595).
The collective power has shifted. “We’re laughing so hard, now the young ones are looking at us, together we are laughing” (Mouré 595). The young girls are estranged now, as they have not understand the persona’s literal context. A change from laughing to crying occurs seamlessly in the same run-on sentence, “then suddenly we are crying, crying for those fur coats & the pride of our mothers” (Mouré 595). Crucially, the collective pronoun “we” extends to the reader—the reader is also laughing and crying at the same ineffable absurdity and sorrow.
An epiphany must be reached, not given. By making “The Beauty of Furs” separate from “The Beauty of Furs: A Site Glossary,” Mouré is able to create a more literal persona and situation which the reader can unify with. “The Beauty of Furs” does not truly finish. It is deliberately left open-ended, without a period, making space for the infinite reasons for laughing and crying that exist in the reader’s own thoughts to continue.

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