Marianne Moore: Poetry

February 6, 2011

“People’s Surroundings,” Bluebeard, and St. Thomas

“Bluebeard’s tower above the coral reefs

. . . . . . . .

and the Chinese vermilion of the poincianas

set fire to the masonry” ll. 34, 39-40.

U.S.S. Mercy, 1918, under Brooklyn Bridge

During the summer of 1920, Moore and her mother traveled from New York to San Pedro, California,  on the U.S.S. Mercy, a Navy hospital ship. Their destination was the home of John Warner Moore, brother and son, who was stationed there with his family. The ship must have called at Charlotte Amalia in St. Thomas in the U. S. Virgin Islands at least long enough for Moore to spot “Bluebeard’s tower” and some of the flora.

Bluebeard’s tower in Charlotte Amalia served as a Danish fort in the 18th Century.

Poinciana regia Bojer

According to legend, Edouard de Barbe Bleue, a notorious pirate, captured the lovely Senorita Mercedes and built a tower in which to keep her while he sailed in search of plunder. While he was away, Mercedes discovered not only his gold and jewels but many letters from paramours. She took her revenge by inviting the women to share his treasures. The women turned on her and threatened to kill her—but Bluebeard returned in time to save her.

” The harbor of Charlotte Amalia, coveted by commercial and naval interests, is the most striking coastal feature of

Bluebeard's Tower

the islands, indenting the southern coast of St. Thomas. It is something less than a mile in diameter, a little longer than wide, and is nearly enclosed by the hills, its mouth being approximately 900 feet wide. It is as safe an anchorage as any tropical harbor can be, and affords anchorage for as many vessels as would be at all likely to need it at any one time, in water which is up to 37 feet deep. It is not as spacious as Guantanamo Bay on the southeast coast of Cuba, but as a naval base, with the hills fortified, would immediately command the Virgin Passage.” (P. 24)

[Among the flora is] “Delonix Regia (Bojer) Raf. [Poinciana regia Bojer.] Spontaneous after planting, St. Thomas; St. Croix.”  (P. 5)

–from Nathaniel Lord Britton. The Flora of the American Virgin Islands. New York Botanical Garden, 1918.

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