Marianne Moore: Poetry

August 11, 2011

“An Expedient–Leonardo da Vinci’s–and a Query” and an Uncited Source

Leonardo da Vinci, Self Portrait, c 1512

When “An Expedient—Leonardo da Vinco’s—and a Query” appeared in the New Yorker for April 18, 1964, it included a head note: “(WITH THANKS TO SIR KENNETH CLARK, DR. HENRY W. NOSS, EDWARD MACCURDY, AND IRMA A. RICHTER).” Moore’s notes, added for the poem’s book appearance, cite the first three people and their work but omit anything by Richter. Richter was an expert on Da Vinci and Moore had studied her edition of Selections from the Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci (New York: Oxford, 1952) and quoted from it.

The first quotation in the poem, found in lines three and four, derives from a passage on page 258:


“Patience serves us against insults precisely as clothes do against cold. For if you put on more garments as the cold increases, the cold cannot hurt you; in the same way increase your patience under great injustices, and they cannot vex your mind.”

 The second, in lines eight and nine, is found on page 237:

      “After raving in vain for some days because the grasp of the gourd was sure and firm as to forbid such plans, it saw the wind go by and commended itself to him.”

 To be fair, a closer look at Richter’s book than a limited online search allows, might repay the reader with a source for the quotation in stanza two. But the quotations above and their Moore-manipulations are instructive because the poet is not using the source material out of context but rather sticking to her announced subject, Leonardo.


  1. I wonder if the un-ironic use of quotations you describe here is typical of the late poems and thus is one of the big differences between her modernist poems and her post-World War II ones? I haven’t done a thorough inspection of quotations in the late poems but would not be surprised if that were so.

    Comment by Linda Leavell — August 11, 2011 @ 4:00 pm |Reply

    • “Un-ironic” use makes for a fascinating question. I think I agree that the late poems, the ones I used to think of as “occasional” but now I find more “missionary”–still not a good word–use quotations in a straight-forward way, although with no increased exactitude. Perhaps irony was something she laid aside with advancing years, having had her say about such things as she needed to be ironic about, turning more towards support of causes that compelled her such as the social concerns in “Rescue with Yul Brynner” or cultural ones in “Carnegie Hall, Rescued.” It will be interesting to ponder “un-ironic.”

      Comment by moore123 — August 13, 2011 @ 9:05 pm |Reply

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