“Love in America?”
“It is at the inception of any great work of art: in
Aristotle’s contemplation of the bust
of Socrates which is animated
by what seems a glow from nearby fire.”
Saturday Evening Post, December 31, 1966, p. 78.
These lines were included in a draft of “Love in America?” written at the request of editor Thomas Congdon who selected that theme (minus the question mark) for the New Year’s Eve issue of The Saturday Evening Post in 1966. On the manuscript, an editor circled “Socrates” and wrote in the margin “Not Homer? Or are we missing something?” Below the question Moore wrote: “Homer.” In the context of this version, “It” refers to “Love in America.” This page survives in her archive at the Rosenbach, and because it does, it clearly was not returned to the magazine. Moore rewrote the poem; the version that appeared in late 1966 is identical to that in Complete Poems.
In rewriting, Moore dropped the first half of her poem, including the Rembrandt passage. Had she retained it, amending Socrates to Homer, she would have reminded readers of a recent New York and very American story: the purchase by the Metropolitan Museum of Art of Rembrandt’s masterpiece, “Aristotle Contemplating the Bust of Homer” (1653) at Parke-Bernet Galleries for $2,300,000 on November 15, 1961. The Rembrandt lot had as underbidder the Cleveland Museum. The directors of both museums had long known the painting, having seen it at the Century of Progress World’s Fair in 1933 or at Knoedler’s Galleries in New York in 1941. Owned by Alfred W. Erickson and his wife, it was sold by the latter’s estate. The competition for the painting and the enormous price became newsworthy; the New York Times ran a story on November 16, the day after the auction, announcing that the price was the highest ever paid for any picture at a private or public sale and that the bidding lasted four minutes. More than 20,000 people had visited Parke-Bernet to view the painting while it was on display and 2,000 attended the sale, some through closed circuit television. The paper followed this article with another on January 7, 1962: “The Rembrandt: Battle Strategy,” describing the process by which the Met agreed to bid on the painting, The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin rushed into its January issue a lead article by curator Theodore Rousseau, touching on the painting’s use of light and its unusual qualities compared to the Met’s 31 other Rembrandts.
Moore certainly saw the cover of the Bulletin with its color illustration of the painting for she owned a copy. Not only was she likely to have seen news articles about the Rembrandt but the December 1, 1961 issue of The New Yorker lists two events for the week under “Museums and Libraries:” The Met’s “’The Stone Guest: Dialogues between Persons and Statuary,” a showing of prints, drawings, and photographs on the colloquy between Aristotle and the bust of Homer and other encounters between people and sculpture” and, at the American Academy of Arts and Letters, “manuscripts, books, and other material by Marianne Moore in celebration of her seventy-fifth birthday.”