Marianne Moore: Poetry

August 12, 2010

“Nine Nectarines” and Alphonse de Candolle

“Like the peach Yu, the red-

cheeked peach which cannot aid the dead,

but eaten in time prevents death . . .

. . .But was it wild?

Prudent de Candolle would not say”

Moore tells us in a note to “Nine Nectarines and Other Porcelain” that she has taken these lines from Alphonse de Candolle:

I will quote the article in which I formerly attributed a Chinese origin to the peach, a contrary opinion to that which prevailed at the time, and which people who are not on a par with modern science continue to reproduce. I will afterwards give the facts discovered since 1855.

” The Greeks and Romans received the peach shortly after the beginning of the Christian era. The names persica, malum persicum, indicate whence they had it. I need not dwell upon those well-known facts. Several kinds of peach are now cultivated in the north of India, but, what is remarkable, no Sanskrit name is known; whence we may infer that its existence and its cultivation are of no great antiquity in these regions. Roxburgh, who is usually careful to give the modern Indian names, only mentions Arab and Chinese names. Piddington gives no Indian name, and Royle only Persian names. The peach does not succeed, or requires the greatest care to ensure success, in the north-east of India. In China, on the contrary, its cultivation dates from the remotest antiquity. A number of superstitious ideas and of legends about the properties of its different varieties exist in that country.*

* Rose, the head of the French trade at Canton, collected these from Chinese manuscripts, and Noisette (Jard. Fruit., i. p. 76) has transcribed a part of his article. The facts are of the following nature. The Chinese believe the oval peaches, which are very red on one side, to be a symbol of a long life. In consequence of this ancient belief, peaches are used in all ornaments in painting and sculpture, and in congratulatory presents, etc. According to the work of Chin-noug-king, the peach prevents death. If it is not eaten in time, it at least preserves the body from decay until the end of the world. The peach is always mentioned among the fruits of immortality, with which were entertained the hopes of Tsinchi-Hoang, Vouty, of the Hans and other emperors who pretended to immortality, etc. (p. 221)

I laid stress, in 1855, on other considerations in support of the theory that the nectarine is derived from the common peach; but Darwin has given such a large number of cases in which a branch of nectarine has Unexpectedly appeared upon a peach tree, that it is useless to insist longer upon this point, and I will only add that the nectarine has every appearance of an artificial tree. Not only is it not found wild, but it never becomes naturalized, and each tree lives for a shorter time than the common peach. It is, in fact, a weakened form. (p. 227)

–Alphonse de Candolle. Origin of Cultivated Plants. New York:  D. Appleton, 1902. (Moore cites an 1886 edition.)

Alphonse de Candolle (1806-1893) was born in Paris but soon moved to Geneva with his father, a renowned botanist. He received degrees from the University of Geneva and, for fifteen years, directed the Botanical Garden and served as chair of Botany at the University. Elected to the French Academy of Sciences in 1851, he retired from teaching; although concentrating on research, he continued to be active in civic affairs in Geneva. (His house there is preserved as a museum.) In 1883, he published Origine des Plantes Cultivées, a major contribution to plant geography. Of international renown, he was elected to both the Royal Society of London and the American National Academy of Sciences.


  1. The notes to the later poems are better in general. More indicative. I wonder if she forgot some of the relevant sources when she wrote the notes to the earlier poems?

    That is, the notes in CP, are perhaps not as good for the earlier poems because of normal memory loss, whereas her notes for the poems in the 60s seem to be spot on.

    When the poem Marriage for instance was originally published, it didn’t have footnotes as it gained in CP, right?

    There is also a tradition that some of the quoted sections in CP for which she does not provide a note are actually not quotes from anywhere at all! She just quoted herself, to make it look like it was from somewhere. A strange game?

    Best wishes, Kirby

    Comment by Kirby Olson — August 17, 2010 @ 6:43 pm |Reply

    • Dear Kirby,

      I’m having some email problems and just found this message. The notes are odd things. She began using them very early on, in the ‘teens. The first book over which she had control, Observations, 1924, had notes, including those for Marriage. All the other Macmillan/Faber/Viking books had notes, but as you say, they became modified. THere are phrases in quotes that are not really quoted but sometimes paraphrased. There are many quotes not in quotation marks. My feeling is that she is distancing the ones in quotes from her speaker’s persona.


      Comment by moore123 — August 21, 2010 @ 7:51 am |Reply

  2. Some Moore critics have claimed that the notes and texts that she cites are of no real significance of themselves, but they are more or less the taproots that give a foundation to her poems (which are like flowers, perhaps, to continue the metaphor).

    I appreciate your tracking down the sources, and continue to read your blog with pleasure.

    Comment by Kirby Olson — August 16, 2010 @ 1:57 pm |Reply

    • Thank you, Kirby. Sources can be an irrelevant parlor game, I think, if they are considered as ends in themselves. Moore wanted us to know something by them–but just what is never clear. Her ideas about quotation, paraphrase, reference devolve into allusion, but her use of notes began so early (about 1915, well before TSE’s), that they invite us to pay attention, and to draw from them something, perhaps pleasure, perhaps wonder at the reach of her interests. And, sometimes, revelation.

      Comment by moore123 — August 16, 2010 @ 3:22 pm |Reply

  3. […] here to see the original: “Nine Nectarines” and Alphonse de Candolle « Marianne Moore: Poetry By admin | category: University of GENEVA | tags: botanical, botanical-garden, […]

    Pingback by “Nine Nectarines” and Alphonse de Candolle « Marianne Moore: Poetry college university — August 12, 2010 @ 5:29 pm |Reply

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