Marianne Moore: Poetry

February 17, 2017

Marianne Moore: Poetry

Filed under: Poem Sources — by moore123 @ 4:32 pm


Please share your interest in Moore and her poetry. On this site can be found below posts concerning the poems. To the right are a list of pages, chiefly essays on Moore, a list of posts, and a search function. Also featured are “Marianne’s Garden,” posts on Moore’s use of flora, accompanied by period nature writing; “Marianne’s Book of Days,” chiefly brief sketches of people who were important in her life. Comments are always welcome.

The Marianne Moore Digital Archive can be seen at its University at Buffalo site: This new resource is a major boon for Moore scholarship.

The Marianne Moore Society’s home page is This site is the clearinghouse for Moore studies.

The Marianne Moore documentary in the PBS “Voices and Visions” series can be viewed at this web site:


Navigation of This Web Site

*Index to Posts,” a new page on right-hand column, lists posts to date. Use the search box to bring up a post.

REGULARLY UPDATED: “Marianne’s Garden” explores the flora that appear in Moore’s poems. “Book of Days” offers information on friends and events that played supportive roles on Moore’s writing life. CLICK on these titles in the RIGHT-HAND COLUMN.

If you want to get email notices when new material is added to this blog, click on “Subscribe” at the bottom of the right-hand column.



April 9, 2023

W. S. Braithwaite, Anthlogist Extraordinaire

Filed under: Poem Sources — by moore123 @ 9:30 pm

Boston-born Braithwaite came to literary priminence with his Anthology of Magazine Verse for 1912 a series published through 1929. By 1926, the book totaled more than 800 pages and included not only more than 200 poems published during the previous year but also lists of magazines that accepted poetry, articles about poetry, lists of “best poets,” and biographies of poets. This volume also contained essays, inluding Moore’s “‘The ‘New” Poetry since 1912,” never reprinted by Moore. But her brief biography did appear on page 26 (pagination starts new with each section of the book).

Key: b. born, s. son, d. daughter, m.i., most influence, f.p., favoit poet, f.p.p.,

MOORE, Marianne; b. St. Louis, Mo., 1887; d. John MIlton and Mary (Warner) Moore; educ. Bryn Mawr, A. B. 1909; ed. The Dial, 152 West 14th Street, N.Y.C.; trav. England and France 1911, Canada, California, Florida; m.i., the poets of the Old Testament; f.p. Shakespeare, Dante, Chaucer, Spencer, Donne, Blake, Thomas Hardy, W. B . Yeats; pubs. Poems (The Egoist Press, 1921; observations (Dial Press), 1924; anthologies: Monroe and Henderson (2d ed.) 1923; Kreymborg (Others) 1916, 1917, 1919; Stevenson, 1923; Strong, 1925; received Dial Award ($2,000) 1925; f.p.p in The Egoist; recreations: tennis, sailing. Home address: 14 St. Luke’s Place, New York, NY.

January 23, 2023

Monroe Wheeler, Publisher, Friend

Filed under: Poem Sources — by moore123 @ 6:22 pm

Monroe Wheeler (1899-1998), whose friendship with Moore spanned their meeting in her first years in New York to her funeral in Brooklyn, published Moore’s poem “Marriage” as the third in his “Manikin” series, in 1923. Wheeler’s devotion to poetry and printing combined early when his father gave him a small press during the same period when Monroe was attending meetings of the Poetry Club of the University of Chicago. His interest in contemporary poetry was underlined by the Club’s mission: to explore why the university’s English courses neglected contemporary poetry. [i]

It was at the Poetry Club that Monroe met University student Glenway Wescott who became his lifelong companion. While over the years friends described Monroe as kind, quiet, loyal, with an eye for artistic detail, Glenway, in a late interview said: “Monroe was more beautiful than the sun . . . and radiantly joyous. His personality expressed that everything was the best it could possibly be and everything was just around the corner, and the arts were the only thing that mattered on earth.” [ii]

Wheeler and Wescott first met Moore in New York in 1921.  By then an accomplished printer, Wheeler began his Manikin series of pamphlets, the first two with poems by Janet Lewis and William Carlos Williams, the third and final one Moore’s Marriage, 1923[iii] The two men spent considerable time in Europe during the ‘Twenties and early ‘Thirties. In Paris, Wheeler and Barbara Harrison, the wealthy scion of a railroad magnate, took on a publishing venture they named “Harrison of Paris.” Thirteen paperbacks ensued, including two by Wescott, two by Katherine Anne Porter, and one by Thomas Mann (the others were editions of classics) before returning to the States where Harrison married Wescott’s brother, Lloyd.

In 1935, Wheeler joined the six-year-old Museum of Modern art and was to spend the rest of his career there, directing publications and exhibitions.[iv] Over time, he produced 300 books and many exhibitions for the Museum including artists Moore knew such as Charles Demuth, Marsden Hartley, and Edward McKnight Kauffer. Some of his books became famous, such as The Family of Man, the catalog of Edward Steichen’s 1955 exhibition of 500 photographs of the world’s people that toured to thirty-seven countries.

The record of Wheeler’s and Moore’s friendship suffers from proximity: the two were just a phone call or a dinner invitation away and thus left a fairly thin correspondence. It is likely, however, that an exploration of Wheeler’s archive at Beinecke as well as his history with MoMA would yield his intersections with Moore in new ways.

[i] Harriet Monroe was a frequent guest and even host of the club but it was her criteria for work in Poetry to which Moore, Pound, Williams, and others contemporary poets objected when they stopped sending her work at Poetry Magazine  from about 1918 to 1930—but that’s another story.

[ii] Craig Kaczorowski in “Monroe Wheeler (1899-1988),” GLBTW, Image of Wheeler by George Platt Lynes, 1937.

[iii] The history of this publication is well-covered in Linda Leavell’s biography.

[iv] The first director of the Museum of Modern Art, Alfred H. Barr, Jr., a Moore family friend who hired Wheeler, was the son of Alfred H. Barr, the Presbyterian minister in Baltimore for whose church Moore’s brother Warner worked when just out of seminary at Princeton.  

September 27, 2022


Filed under: Poem Sources — by moore123 @ 6:00 pm

Seeptember 27, 2022

In the first reading diary that Moore kept, she copied out the following passage, probably in early 1916:

 “109 Gold. Fr. diff. pts of view it might be said that he had the greatest respect or the greatest contempt for it. He despised it for he always regarded it as a thing of no importance except in heaps or by the ton .

She is quoting Lord Beaconsfield.: A Study by Georg Brandes, translated by  Mrs. George Sturge, Harper & Brothers, New York, 1881, p. 109. (There is also a Scribner edition of 1880 with the same pagination.) The quotation raises the question: in what way, if any, did this passage contribute to “Poetry?”

September 5, 2022

Moore and Suffrage

Filed under: Poem Sources — by moore123 @ 10:57 am

MM and Suffrage

The New York Times had a story this week on an important suffrage leader from the nineteen-teens: Enid Milholland. It recalled Moore’s ongoing interest in women’s suffrage documented in Linda Leavel’s Holding On Upside Down. Moore, Linda notes, was in Washington D. C. when the famous 1913 suffrage parade took place. Warned by her brother not to march because it might jeopardize her job at the U. S. Government-run Indian School in Carlisle, Moore took part anyway. The famous leader of the parade, ahorse, Enid Milholland, Vassar 1909, was MM’s exact contemporary at Bryn Mawr’s sister school. Bryn Mawr had its own group in the parade and MM probably marched with them. While it might be tempting to look for MM in the many pictures of the event, there were a thousand women in long skirts, jackets or short coats, and hats on the Washington streets that day, demonstrating for what would become the 19th Amendment six years later.

Enid Milholland Leading the Women’s Suffrage Parade in Washington D.C., March, 1913

May 11, 2022

John Smith’s Mantle

Filed under: Poem Sources — by moore123 @ 5:40 pm

In “Virginia Britannia” Moore adds a note that Powhatan presented Captain John Smith with a deer-skin mantle “now in the Ashmolean.” Indeed, the mantle is still in that Oxford museum visited by Moore at least via print.  Here is the official cataloging: Powhatan’s Mantle, Southern Chesapeake Bay region, , Virginia, United States of America c. 1600–38. Leather, shell and sinew, 235 x 160 cm, Presented by Elias Ashmole, 1677, from the Tradescant Collection.

The Tradescant family formed their collection in the early 17th century and presented it to Oxford in the 1650s. Today, the mantle is the first image offered on the collection’s website:

The museum’s description is:

“The Mantle consists of four hides of white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) that have been trimmed and sewn together with sinew. The shell beadwork consists of a central standing human-like figure flanked symmetrically by two opposed four-legged animal figures in profile. One of these figures has claws, short ears and a long tail, and has been interpreted as a wolf. The other has hooves, larger ears and a shorter tail, and may be a white-tailed deer. The three figures are surrounded by thirty-four circles. 

“The meaning of the three central figures is unknown, although it is thought that the human figure might either represent a deity, or Powhatan as paramount chief. Researchers believe that the circles represent settlements, as they do on south-eastern Indigenous American maps of that time, and that they probably represent the tribal nations of the Powhatan Confederacy.” (

It would seem that Moore found a reference to deer-skin mantles in the book she sites later in her notes: Travels and Works of Captain John Smith, President of Virginia and Admiral of New England, 1780-1831. Moore probably read the 1910 printing of this work; a gofer at the Viking Press is said to have “updated” her bibliographic references for its publications (from which this note is drawn).

December 1, 2020

Marianne’s Playlist

Filed under: Poem Sources — by moore123 @ 7:00 pm

Poets visiting a class were describing playlists they used while writing or on other occasions. We can’t know what Moore would have listed but reading through her poems looking for references to music turns up both musicians and individual works. It is likely that she listened to concerts over the radio while occasoinally attending concerts in Manhattan.

Radio Programs from the 1930s to the 1950s timeline | Timetoast timelines
1930s V(ntage Radio

Here are some musical episodes from the poems:

“Tom Fool at Jamaica”

    Of course, speaking of champions, there was Fats Waller  

with the feather touch, giraffe eyes, and that hand alighting in  

    Ain’t Misbehavin’ Ozzie Smith and Eubie Blake

      ennoble the atmosphere; you recall the Lippizan school;

the time Ted Atkinson charged by on Tiger Skin—

    no pursuers in sight-eat-loping along. And you may have seen a monkey

      on a greyhound. But Tom Fool …

Eubie Blake, “Love Will Find a Way” from Shuffle Along

Fats Waller plays “Ain’t Misbehavin” from Stormy Weather

“The Mind Is an Enchanting Thing”

like an enchanted thing

    like the glaze on a


      subdivided by sun

      till the nettings are legion

Like Gieseking playing Scarlatti

 . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

    It’s fire in the dove-neck’s

iridescence;  in the


of Scarlatti.

This page of the Marianne Moore blog comments on these lines and offers examples of the music.

“Carnegie Hall: Rescued”

Paderewski’s “palladian

majesty” made it a fane;

      Tchaikovsky, of course,

          on the opening

      night, 1891;

           and Gilels, a master, playing.

Paderewski played more than one concert during Carnegie Hall’s first year, 1891. The following web site discusses that history and gives some of the works played.

Tchaikovsky, “Marche Solennelle” (Tchaikovsky thusly retitled his “Coronation “March,” written for the Tsar’s Coronation, thinking that the American audience at Carnegie Hall’s opening concert would not know the difference. He was wrong.)

Gilels, 1979, playing Beethoven’s “Variation 32” at Carnegie Hall


is some such word

    as the chord

        Brahms had heard

        from a bird

. . . . . . . . .. . .

. . .Propriety is

             Bach’s Solfeggietto—

             harmonica and basso.

[Click on the following URLs} Brahms – Liebeslieder-Walzer Op.52a C. P. E. Bach Solfeggietto in C Minor (Moore’s footnote gives this as “Karl Philipp Emanuel’s Solfeggietto in C Minor)


I am hard to disgust,

but a pretentious poet can do it;

a person without a taproot; and

impercipience can do it, did it.

But why talk about it—

offset by Musica Antiqua’s

“legendary performance”

of impassioned exactitude.

Moore’s note: An Evening of Elizabethan Verse and Its Music—W. H. Auden and the New York Pro Musica Antiqua; Noah Greenberg, Director. Legendary Performances.

May 15, 2020

Combat Cultural

Filed under: Poem Sources — by moore123 @ 7:21 pm

“I recall a documentary

Of Cossacks . . . .

. . . . . . . . . .

the prize bunnyhug

and platform piece of experts in the

trip-and-slug of wrestling in a rug.

. . . . . . . . . .

These battlers, dressed identically—

just-one-person—may, by seeming twins.

point a moral, should I confess:

we must cement the parts of any

objective symbol of sagesse.”

The New Yorker, June 6, 1959, p. 40.

Moore either attended or saw on television a performance of the Moiseyev Dance Company of Moscow which appeared in New York  during the 1958-59 season.

RARE 1958-59 Russian Moiseyev Ballet Dance Company from Moscow ...

One part of the performance is described in the lines above. The following URL is a video of that performance. Be sure to watch it to the end. If the format below does not work, paste into your browser.



April 29, 2020

Sick Lions and Apes

Filed under: Poem Sources — by moore123 @ 4:29 pm

Moore has one endnote referring to the title of “Nothing Will Cure the Sick Lion but to Eat an Ape,” –“Carlyle.” In the Marianne Moore Newsletter’s second issue (1977), I posted a query as to the source of that reference in Thomas Carlyle. The response was silence. But that was before the Internet.

Today, the following passage can be found in an article entitled “Some Account of Aelian’s Patchwork” in London’s The New Monthly Magazine, Part the First ([Vol. 64], 1842, p. 292. This anonymous satire on Claudius Aelianus, or Aelian, and his De Natura Animalium draws on that work’s fabulist versions of animal behavior:

”Passing over the spiders and the phalanges, we come to the wild pigs and the hyoscyamus, and the cure for a sick lion. “Wild pigs are not altogether ignorant of medicine and nursing. For when, by accident they may have chanced to eat hyoscyamus, they drag along their paralysed limbs to the nearest water, and there indulge in a feast of crabs. By this means they become free from the effects of the poison, and are made whole every whit.” “Nothing else will do a sick lion any good but an ape. But if he can but eat an ape, his illness departs at once.” Mice and ants, says our author, are true prophets. For the former are the first to perceive the impending ruin of a house—our Scotch neighbours say, of a family,–and forthwith desert their old habitations and go in search of a new city of refuge. Whilst the ants, whenever there is a prospect of a famine, lay up a double store of provender against the evil day.“

However, the author seems to be not Carlyle but Thomas Hood, in 1842 editor of the magazine. The clue is the reference, near the end of this piece, to “Squampash Flatts” in New England, an invention of Hood’s in his satirical “Letter from an Immigrant” published in 1830.

What matters, of course, is not whether Moore mixed up her Thomases but that she wanted her readers to know that the title had an origin beyond her own invention. Had there been an English translation of Aelian available to Moore, we might have seen a great deal more in her poems taken directly from it.

March 26, 2019

“Walking-Sticks” and a Pelican

Filed under: Poem Sources — by moore123 @ 8:32 pm

“Walking-Sticks and Paperweights and Watermarks”


  And making the envelope secure, the sealed

wax reveals a pelican

    studying affectionately

the nest’s three-in-one upturned tri-

form face.”For those we love, live and die”

  the motto reads.


Pendant from Wax Seal with Motto: “For Those We Love, Live and Die”

Moore first published this poem in Poetry 49 (November 1936): 59-64 and reprinted it with modifications in What Are Years.  Curious to know what Moore was describing, I searched the Internet for the quoted words from a seal with a pelican and found a contemporary artist, Shannon Westmeyer, who referred to one. Ms. Westmeyer replied that she had made a pendant from just such a Victorian era wax seal. She sent a photograph and permission to publish it. The seal itself would have been carved in the negative but this image is what it would have produced on a letter.

In heraldry, the pelican represents the parent who would sacrifice herself to save her young, typically a Christian symbol.


November 7, 2018

Quoting an Also Private Thought and Auden

Filed under: Poem Sources — by moore123 @ 3:41 pm

This poem appeared in the University of Kansas City Review in Spring, 1950, and was never collected by Moore. It now appears in the new Collected Poems of Marianne Moore edited by Heather Cass White. Why Moore abandoned it remains a mystery. The poem seems, at least in part, to refer to W. H. Auden, a poet Moore knew and respected.

Some speak of things we know, as new;

And you, of things unknown as things forgot (ll. 1-2)

In a commentary delivered at Bryn Mawr in 1952, Moore wrote: “Understanding his art as ‘The fencing wit of an informal style,’ Mr. Auden has taken a leaf from Pope and devised the needful complement whereby things forgot are henceforth known; . . .” (CProse 471)

Or the poem that chanced to be prose, (l. 5)

In a review of The Age of Anxiety in the New York Times Book Review, 1947, she writes: “Mr. Auden has made progress arresting by placing at the end of a line an adjective, a preposition or an O—a unique form of emphasis, consistently agile in these pages. The rhythms are so firm as to survive prose presentation . . . .” (CProse 410)

Somehow the accident of pleasure—a dedication qualified

   Indeed; at the opposite pole from the miser’s

Escutcheon—three vices hard-screwed;

   Three padlocks clodhopping upon sensibility— (ll. 9-12)

A Rake’s Progress is a series of eight paintings, later prints, made by William Hogarth in the 1730s. They tell the story of Tom Rakewell, heir of a wealthy Englishman, who wastes his fortune in London on both high and low living. He is imprisoned in the Fleet Street Jail and later confined to Bedlam (Bethlem Hospital).

In the first picture, Tom stands in his late father’s house, being measured for new clothes. There are many signs of miserliness, including a starving cat, an empty fireplace, a bible, its cover cut up to resole a shoe, the portrait of the father counting money. In addition, there are “the miser’s / Escutcheon—three vises hard screwed” in a frame hanging near the ceiling on the wall above Tom’s left hand.

Hogarth Miser

Hogarth’s “A Rake’s Progress,” First Engraving

Moore may have read a description of the picture in any number of books, among them the following: William Hogarth, et al. The Works of William Hogarth: Including the Analysis of Beauty and Five Days’ Peregrination, Volume 3. Philadelphia: George Barrie, 1900, p. 172. “Hence we learn the store this penurious miser set on this trifle: that so avaricious is the disposition of the miser, that, notwithstanding he may be possessed of many large bags of gold, the fear of losing a single shilling is a continual trouble to him. In one part of the room, a man is draping the wall with black cloth, on which are placed escutcheons, by way of dreary ornament; these escutcheons contain the arms of the covetous, viz.: three vises, hard-screwed, with the motto ‘Beware!”

And the connection with Auden? Moore met Auden not long after he moved to New York in 1939. It was his idea that she translate La Fontaine’s Fables, for which she signed a contract in 1945. Auden (along with Chester Kallman) began his collaboration with Igor Stravinsky on the opera, The Rake’s Progress in late 1947. His libretto developed over the next four years and the opera was premiered in Venice in 1951. While Moore could not have seen a production before she published her poem, she must have been aware of Auden’s involvement in the project.

A copy of the 1951 publication of the opera’s libretto survives in Moore’s library at Rosenbach. Auden’s and Kallman’s finished work tells a very different story about Tom Rakewell than Hogarth’s pictures (although pictures three and eight are referenced in it). Moore’s poem includes a mention of only the first picture which shows Tom, newly rich, in the old miser’s room. Auden’s story begins with Tom and his fiancée Anne Trulove followed by Tom’s temptation by Nick Shadow to a louche life in London. While Tom inherits a fortune from his father, there is no mention of the miser or the escutcheon. As to why Moore never collected this poem, here is a hypothesis: she got some of  it wrong. If the poem was meant as a salute to Auden, including his collaboration with Stravinsky, it alluded to a part of the Rake’s story not used in the opera. That may have been reason enough to exclude the poem from future collections.

October 4, 2018

Carlisle Commercial College

Filed under: Poem Sources — by moore123 @ 2:41 pm

Carlisle Commercial College

“Renowned poet was among the alumni of the Carlisle Commercial College.” Joseph Cress, The Sentinel, August 26, 2016, page 1

That Moore attended the Carlisle Commercial College during the academic year 1909-1910, right after college graduation, is well known. An article from the Carlisle Sentinal for August 26, 2016, claims that she had been offered a job at the Carlisle Indian School but felt she had to build her skills to teach commercial subjects there. In fact, after her year of commercial training, she took a position at the Lake Placid Club in Lake Placid, New York, under Melvil Dewey. She was laid off there in the fall of 1910 and the next year went to the Indian School.

Carlisle Commercial College offered a “Commercial Course” with “classes in bookkeeping, business forms, business correspondence, commercial law, business customs, banking methods and spelling.” It also offered a “Shorthand Class” for mastering “shorthand, touch typewriting, letter press copying, definitions, filing methods, punctuation, letter writing, office practice and composition” A third course combined the two.

The college operated from about 1896 to 1968. An undated brochure, probably printed soon after 1909, describes the subjects taught. Commercial Law: “Knowledge of Commercial Law such as we teach is a safeguard that no one starting out in business can afford to dispense with. . . .” Rapid Calculation: “Go into a business office today to apply for a position and one of the first questions asked . . .will be ‘Are you quick and accurate in figures’? Considerable attention is given to this important subject in drill work in rapid addition, subtraction, multiplication and division.” Penmanship: “We teach plain rapid muscular movement writing, such as a person may execute with ease for hours at a time.” Typewriting: “By the touch method of typewriting persons learn to typewrite just like they would play a piano – without watching the keyboard and with a great deal more ease, accuracy and rapidity than by the old method.” Office Practice: “Our STENOGRAPHER’S OFFICE PRACTICE . . . is intended to be the final step in the training of the stenographer. In addition to this the student has the privilege of acting as private secretary to the principal for a time before going out which give them actual experience.”

After completing her year at the college Moore taught “business subjects” at the Indian School. According to James Fenton, in an article published in the New York Review of Books on April 24, 1997, “It was more than a job, it was part of a cause. It involved not just the teaching of secretarial skills and math, but also instruction on how to read and draw up a contract.” And, as Anna Jane Moyer wrote in an April, 1988, article for Gettysburg Magazine, “She also repaired typewriters, coached the boys in field sports and introduced a class in law to help make her students aware of their rights.”




April 21, 2018

“To William Butler Yeats on Tagore”

Filed under: Poem Sources — by moore123 @ 6:28 pm

Moore first sent“To William Butler Yeats on Tagore” to a little magazine on November 11, 1914, four days before her 27th birthday.

Yeats Tagore

It appeared in The Egoist of May 1, 1915 and later in Poems, 1921, as above.

Rabindrinath Tagore, a Bengal writer from a distinguished family from Calcutta, translated his Gitanjali or Song Offerings into English for private circulation by the India Society of London in 1912.  Macmillan in London picked up the book and published an edition in March, 1913.  On November 13, 1913, Tagore received the Nobel Prize in Literature.

Key to the Macmillan edition was an enthusiastic introduction by W. B. Yeats. The Irish poet writes: “These lyrics. . . display in their thought a world I have dreamed of all my life long. . . . A tradition, where poetry and religion are the same thing, has passed through the centuries, gathering from learned and unlearned metaphor and emotion, and carried back again to the multitude the thought of the scholar and of the noble. If the civilization of Bengal remains unbroken, if that common mind which—as one divines—runs through all, is not, as with us, broken into a dozen minds that know nothing of each other, something even of what is most subtle in these verses will have come, in a few generations, to the beggar on the roads.” He goes on to compare the poems to the voices of St. Francis and William Blake.

Whether Moore saw a copy of Gitanjali or knew it from reviews, she had enough sense of it to think that Tagore “says / the thing he thinks.”

An example of one of the songs in Gitanjali:


Beautiful is thy wristlet, decked with stars and cunningly wrought in myriad-coloured jewels. But more beautiful to me thy sword with its curve of lightning like the outspread wings of the divine bird of Vishnu, perfectly poised in the angry red light of the sunset.

It quivers like the one last response of life in ecstasy of pain at the final stroke of death; it shines like the pure flame of being burning up earthly sense with one fierce flash.

Beautiful is thy wristlet, decked with starry gems; but thy sword, O lord of thunder, is wrought with uttermost beauty, terrible to behold or think of. (p.48)



Frontispiece to Gitanjali, Tagore by William Rothenstein

Following her tribute to Tagore, Moore takes up Yeats’ book of essays, The Cutting of an Agate. She wrote to her mother from Washington, D.C., in March, 1914, that she had read the book at the Library of Congress: “I have never read more earnest fanciful and ennobling prose.” (Leavell,  131) For this poem, she draws on the end of the introduction:

“I have been busy with a single art, that of the theatre, of a small, unpopular theatre; and this art may well seem to practical men, busy with some programme of industrial or political regeneration, of no more account than the shaping of an agate; and yet in the shaping of an agate, whether in the cutting or the making of the design, one discovers, if one have a speculative mind, thoughts that seem important and principles that may be applied to life itself, and certainly if one does not believe so, one is but a poor cutter of so hard a stone.” (New York: Macmillan, 1912, p. vi)

Moore excluded this poem when she published Observations. Tagore’s popularity, immense in England and America in the 1910s when he read to packed gatherings, waned until, “ by 1937, Graham Greene was able to remark, ‘As for Rabindranath Tagore, I cannot believe that anyone but Mr. Yeats can still take his poems very seriously.’” (Amartya Sen, “Poetry and Reason: Why Rabindranath Tagore Still Matters,) The New Republic, June 30, 2011. ) Yeats, of course, was another issue and Moore would turn to him repeatedly over the next decade and a half.

February 17, 2018

Fanny “Aunt Ann” Bordon

Filed under: Poem Sources — by moore123 @ 9:04 pm


The Vassar Yearbook

Fanny Borden was born in Fall River, Massachusetts, in 1877. She graduated from Vassar in 1898, having served as editor of the Vassarian. In 1901, she received a Bachelor’s of Library Science from the New York State Library School in Albany and became an assistant librarian at Bryn Mawr. There, she roomed with Mary Norcross, Marianne Moore’s mother’s closest friend and the person who prepped Marianne for entry to Bryn Mawr in 1905. After a brief stint at Smith College, Fanny joined the staff of the Vassar Library in 1908, from which she retired in 1945. Moore wrote at the time of Borden’s death in 1954, “She was for many years good to Warner & me—parting with college text-books for us when we were in college and couldn’t buy many books” (Letter to Mary Shoemaker, SL 510). The Moore family always referred to Borden as “Aunt Ann.”

Enter Elizabeth Bishop, Vassar, 1934. Bishop recalls asking Borden why there was no copy of Observations on the library shelves and that Borden loaned her her own copy (which she apparently thought not good enough for the library). Borden explained that she had known Marianne since she was a little girl and suggested that if Bishop would like to meet the poet, Miss Borden would write a letter of introduction (Elizabeth Bishop, “Marianne Moore:  Efforts of Affection,” Vanity Fair’s Writers on Writers, ed. Graydon Carter, NY: Penguin, 2016, pp. 36-38).

We all know how that story ends: a visit to New York City, a trip to the circus, a lifelong friendship. Bishop’s memory piece goes on to say that she thought the famous incident of Fanny’s aunt, Lizzie Borden, who was tried and acquitted of the axe murders of her father and step-mother in Fall River in 1892, when Fanny would have been in high school, had the effect of making Fanny shy with a nearly inaudible voice.

Fanny Borden retired as Vassar’s head librarian. At the time, President McCracken said: “Miss   Borden is a genius in securing unusual books and in assisting professors in their research. Her greatest service has been her indefatigable aid to the faculty in their research” (Vassar Chronicle, Volume II, Number 35, 2, June 1945, p. 3). The world of American poetry may agree that she had an even more important role.

February 10, 2018

Albrecht Dürer

Filed under: Poem Sources,Poem Texts — by moore123 @ 8:03 pm

While Moore was editor of The Dial, in her editor’s “Comment” in the issue for July, 1928, she concentrated on an exhibition of Albrecht Dürer prints at the New York Public Library (Complete Prose, 203-204). Her choice of epigraph, in Dürer’s words, refers to the artist’s apprenticeship and its challenges: “During that time, God granted me diligence, so that I might learn well.” Moore’s salute to the artist is replete with language reflecting her admiration for that diligence: “sensitiveness to magnificence,” “an art so robust,” “a living energy.”

More to the point, Moore names works by Dürer that she borrows for her poems: “Dürer’s “Rhinoceros” . . . [has] for us that attraction which originality with precision can exert, and liking is increased perhaps when the concept is primarily an imagined one—in the instance of the rhinoceros, based apparently on a traveler’s sketch or description. The conjunction of fantasy and calculation is unusual, but many sagacities seem in Dürer not to starve one another. St.  Jerome and his beast of burden the lion, in the room with the bottle-glass window-lights, the “St. Eustachius,” a small Turner-like water-color of the Tyrol in the Ashmolean, tempt one to have favorites . . . .”

When this “Comment” was published, Moore had already made use of the St. Jerome woodcut in “Sea Unicorns and Land Unicorns” (1924). The Tyrolean watercolor would appear in “The Steeple-Jack” (1932), the “Rhinoceros” in “Apparition of Splendor” (1952) and “St Eustachius,” it can be argued, can be seen in “St. Nicholas” (1958).  Long after this “Comment,” there is mention of Dürer’s “Violet Bouquet” in “Then the Ermine” (1952).  Because the Tyrolean watercolor has already been treated in this blog for June 20, 2010, I will not repeat it here.

Durer jerome

St. Jerome in His Study

First St. Jerome and his lion:

“A puzzle to the hunters, is this haughtiest of beasts,

To be distinguished from those born without a horn,

In use like St. Jerome’s tame lion, as domestics . . . .” (ll. 44-46)

Here the lion is likened to a horse, a no-horned beast, a domestic animal. St. Jerome’s lion comes with more of a story: A lion arrived at Jerome’s monastery, frightening away the other monks. Jerome realized that the lion had a thorn in its paw and healed it. In return, the lion became a useful member of the monastery. The Metropolitan Museum acquired a copy of this engraving in 1919 and it is possible that it appeared in the library exhibition.

“Apparition of Splendor” gives us the rhinoceros:

Partaking of the miraculous

Since never known literally,

Dürer’s rhinoceros

Might have startled us equally

If black-and-white-spined elaborately. . .  (ll. 1-5)


Moore uses this image as a foil to the porcupine, her central subject, chosen for the rodent armed black-and-white quills. Dürer’s beast represents a rhinoceros said to have arrived in Portugal from India; it was covered in thick scales and could eviscerate an elephant using its single horn.

There is one more Dürer image and it occurs in “Then the Ermine:”

Foiled explosiveness is yet

a kind of prophet,

a perfecter, and so a concealer —

with the power of implosion;

like violets by Durer,

even darker.

Durer violets

Bouquet of Violets

This watercolor and gouache on vellum painting, sometimes called “Bouquet of Violets,” held by the Albertina in Vienna, was attributed to Dürer until fairly recently when it appeared in a Dürer exhibition catalog as the work of an “anonymous German,” “second half of the sixteenth century. Dürer died in 1528. But this cautious note has nothing to do with Moore’s choice; Dürer was an accomplished painter of plants. In “Then the Ermine,” Moore was concentrating on the color—violet or purple—as a salute to Katherine Anne Porter who was partial to it in her apartment décor

November 21, 2017

The Kylin in “Nine Nectarines”

Filed under: Poem Sources — by moore123 @ 7:46 pm

Theirs is a race that “understands
the spirit of the wilderness”
and the nectarine-loving kylin
of pony appearance—the long-
tailed or the tailless
small cinnamon-brown common
camel-haired unicorn
with antelope feet and no horn,
here enameled on porcelain.
It was a Chinese who
imagined this masterpiece.

Poetry 45 (November 1934):64-67, the last stanza.

Moore’s note to this poem quotes from the following paragraphs by Frank Davis article “The Unnatural History of China: The Lions of Buddha” in The Illustrated London News for March 7, 1931, p,384:

“Of all the pretty things in porcelain that reach England from China, not the least popular are those engaging animals in various shades of green, aubergine, and yellow known in the trade as “Kylins”. . . .There are thousands of these beasts to be seen, all more or less modelled to a traditional pattern and all horribly reminiscent of a Pekinese rampant.

“It is too late to alter the usual descriptions in trade-catalogues, but there is no reason why it should not be generally known that the Kiyln is an entirely different creature, charming enough to deserve an article in itself. It has the body of a stag, with a single horn, the tail of a cow, horse’s hoofs, a yellow belly, and hair of five colours, and is, moreover, a paragon of virtue.”

While Moore uses the description of the kylin from the second paragraph in her note, what she writes in the stanza–a creature of “cinnamon-brown” color and “no horn”–more aptly suits an image reproduced in the article (there in black and white):

Pekinese Kylin

The caption: “Reminiscent of ‘Pekinese Dogs Rampant’–but really a pair of Chinese lions of Buddha: A familiar type of Ming object often seen coloured green or aubergine.” Missing are Moore’s “antelope feet” (hooves not claws) and “pony appearance” and the creature is neither “long-/ tailed or tailless.”

A search for an image of the true kylin (now qilin, unicorn) brings a vast array of the creatures with every possible permutation as to hooves, horns, and tails. This bronze incense burner from the late Ming period has those characteristics but its body seems more dragon-like than that of a stag:

Qilin Ming Bronw

Our question, of course, is whether the highly precise poet was putting us on. Just as Davis pictured the Pekinese rampant lions but insisted on describing the “real” kylin which he did not picture, perhaps Moore was blending the two to make an “imagined” masterpiece.

August 24, 2017

Rock Crystal by Adalbert Stifter

Filed under: Poem Sources — by moore123 @ 7:52 pm

Rock Crystal

Adalbert Stifter (1805-1868) was born in Oberplan, Austria, and as a young man began to write stories based on the countryside of his youth. He published Bergkristall in 1845, the story of two children lost in the mountains on Christmas Eve. A century later, at the urging of W. H. Auden, Moore and Elizabeth Mayer translated the work as Rock Crystal for Pantheon Press in 1945. Linda Leavell writes in Hanging On Upside Down that Mayer “wrote a literal first draft, and Marianne gave Mayer’s English the sparkle of poetry” (327).

Moore and Mayer were almost exact contemporaries. Mayer (1884-1970) hailed from Munich which she fled in 1936, following her psychiatrist husband to New York. An accomplished pianist and hostess, she welcomed such artists as W. H. Auden, Benjamin Britten, and Peter Pears to her homes on Gramercy Park and in Amityville, Long Island. Auden’s New Year Letter (1940) was dedicated to her.

In addition to her translation with Moore, Mayer also worked with Louise Bogan on Goethe’s The Sorrows of Young Werther. Auden introduced both books.

Moore’s and Mayer’s translation has recently been reissued by the New York Review of Books and is widely available. A brief sample is visible at Google Advanced Book Search. Adam Kircsh has an interesting review of the NYTBR reissue in which he ties the Moore/Meyer translation to Hannah Arendt:


March 4, 2017

Rev. Edwin Henry Kellogg

Filed under: Poem Sources — by moore123 @ 4:40 pm


Princeton Graduation Picture, Class of 19    

Moore’s readers will recognize the name of the pastor of her church who succeeded Dr. George Norcross and of the lecturer in bible studies whom she credits in a footnote.

Edwin H. Kellogg (1880-1965) was born in Allegheny, Pennsylvania, the son of Rev. Samuel Kellogg, and a graduate of both Princeton College ‘02 and Princeton Seminary ‘06. His early years were spent in Canada and, with his missionary father, in India. After seminary he spent a year in Northern India near Allahabad before being called to the Second Presbyterian Church of Carlisle, Pennsylvania, in the summer of 1910.

To judge by his early educational successes, he must have seemed to his Carlisle parishioners a model of intellect. In college, he won scholarships and prizes in English, oratory, disputation and philosophy and was elected to Phi Beta Kappa. When he left Carlisle in 1916, he taught biblical history and literature at Connecticut College for Women and, for several decades, at Skidmore College. Hartford Seminary bestowed upon him a Ph.D.

The notebook Moore used in 1914 while attending Kellogg’s bible study class (Rosenbach VII:08:03) adds considerably to her note to “The Past Is the Present” where Kellogg is confirmed as the source of the lines “Hebrew poetry is prose / with a sort of heightened consciousness.” For discussion of Kellogg and Moore, see Cristanne Miller, Marianne Moore and a Poetry of Hebrew (Protestant) Prophecy,” Sources 12 (Spring 2002): 29-47.






February 17, 2017

“Majestic Haystack”

Filed under: Poem Sources — by moore123 @ 3:49 pm

Kept among Moore’s papers is a copy of poem typed on her stationery with her typewriter, bearing most of the physical hallmarks of her work up to about 1916 with one exception: it has no return address in the upper left corner that Moore used when a poem was be sent out to an editor. The original of the poem is found in A Prisoner in Fairyland , a novel by Algernon Blackwood, published by Macmillan in 1913.

Algernon Blackwood

In brief, the novel concerns an English family who moved to the safety of neutral Switzerland. The four young children formed a “star society,” each identifying with a constellation. At night the children play among the stars, collecting stardust – in effect grains of sympathy – to sprinkle on the adults to release them from their narrow lives, the father a failed novelist, the mother utterly lacking in imagination. The children are helped by a group of “sprites” who travel on the Starlight Express, a “train” of thought, which serves as a portal into the star world.

With the children’s help, their “wumbled” parents (worried and jumbled) learn to live “carelessly” and to find beauty and peace in nature and imagination. When the mother begins to imagine, the father says: “It’s a Haystack Woman, a Woman of the Haystack who is loved by the Wind. That is to say, the big Wind loves her, but she prefers the younger, handsomer little Winds.” Then the mother says: “I know her; she’s my friend, so it’s all right.”

Majestic Haystack, Empress of my life,
Your ample waist
Just fits the gown I fancy for my wife,
And suits my taste;
Yet there you stand, flat-footed, square and deep,
An unresponsive, elephantine heap,
Coquetting with the stars while I’m asleep,
0 cruel Stack!

Coy, silent Monster, Matron of the fields,
I sing to you;
And all the fondest love that summer yields
I bring to you;
Yet there you squat, immense in your disdain,
Heedless of all the tears of streaming rain
My eyes drip over you—your breathless swain;
O stony Stack!

Stupendous Maiden, sweetest when oblong,
Does inner flame
Now smolder in thy soul to hear my song
Repeat thy name?
Or does thy huge and ponderous heart object
The advances of my passion, and reject
My love because it’s airy and elect?
O wily Stack!

O crested goddess, thatched and top-knotted,
O reckless Stack!
Of wives that to the Wind have been allotted
There is no lack;
You’ve spurned my love as though I were a worm;
But next September when I see thy form,
I’ll woo thee with an equinoctial storm!
I have that knack!

Moore copies the poem almost exactly and omits the lines here in bold.

English born Algernon Blackwood (1869-1951) developed an interest in mystical studies while at school and in the beauties of the wilderness in Canada as a young man. Upon his return to England in 1899, he began to write ghost stories, the genre in which he was most prolific, and nature adventures, often verging on mystical subjects. A Prisoner in Fairyland might today be called “magic realism.”

Why this novel interested Moore is open to question but it can be noted that at about this time (roughly 1913-1916) she was reading Blake, Yeats, and Traherne.

October 31, 2016

Lions and Unicorns

Filed under: Poem Sources — by moore123 @ 8:20 pm

“the lion civilly rampant,

. . . . . . . . .

the lion standing up against this screen of woven air

which is the forest:

the unicorn also, on its hind legs in reciprocity.”

 “Sea Unicorns and Land Unicorns,” The Dial, 78 (November 1024): 411-13.

        An offering: two years after the publication of this poem, Moore thanked Monroe Wheeler for sending her from Paris a “handkerchief containing the Museé Cluny. . . . Cluny was the dearest delight we had in Paris and the place we went oftenest.” (SL 228) One of the glories of that museum is the set of six Flemish tapestries from about 1500 known as The Lady and the Unicorn (La Dame à la licorne) which arrived there in 1882 from Boussac Castle in central France. Five of the mille-fleur tapestries depict the five senses while the sixth is entitled somewhat enigmatically “À Mon Seul Désir.” The work portraying “taste” shares with the others the figures of a woman with a lion to her right and a unicorn to her left. It also includes a monkey, a parakeet, a goat, rabbits, and other animals, and a kneeling woman offering a dish of sweetmeats.

        “Taste” is the only Cluny tapestry which portrays both the lion and the unicorn standing on their hind legs. Moore’s interest in heraldry has been remarked upon but perhaps not drilled down to these animals’ positions. In heraldry, the lion “rampant” refers to “attitude” or position, a lion on its hind legs (or on one hind leg, the other slightly raised), turned to one side. The other tapestries’ lions and unicorns are sejant (sitting), sejant erect (sitting, front legs up), couchant (lying down), or passant (walking).  Technically, the unicorn is a unicorn rampant guardant, that is, looking to his left. But perhaps it is best not to stress the heraldic precision too much.


“The Lady and the Unicorn,” “Taste,” Musée National du Moyen Âge

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