Marianne Moore: Poetry

August 23, 2011

“New York”, Henry James, Dixon Scott

“it is not the plunder,

it is the “accessibility to experience”

“New York”

The Dial 71 (December 1921), 637, ll 25-26.

In 1918, John Warner Moore gave up his pastorship of the Ogden Memorial Presbyterian Church in Chatham, New Jersey; he had entered the Navy as a chaplain and been

14 St. Luke’s Place

sent to sea. As a result, Marianne and her mother, who had lived at the Manse in Chatham, had to find another home. The choices appeared to include their previous home in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, and New York. The latter lay a mere 25 miles away by the Lackawana Railroad, commuting distance. As the editors of Selected Letters point out, Moore’s reading diaries of the time note her frequent trips to the city beginning when she moved to Chatham in 1916 (p. 77).  An apartment on the ground floor of 14 St. Luke’s Place, near the southern border of Greenwich Village, became her home for the next eleven years.

One might argue that “New York” (unless metaphorically) does not much allude to the literary life Moore found in the city. We know from her letters that she had made important friendships by the time she wrote the poem, chief among them The Dial editors Scofield Thayer and James Sibley Watson, as well as Lola Ridge, Robert McAlmon, and Mina Loy. But the quotation in poem’s last two lines, “[New York] is not the plunder, / but ‘accessibility to experience[,]’”  Moore attributes to Henry James.

While considerable research by Leon Edel for his James bibliography has determined that James wrote book-jacket copy for The Finer Grain in which he used that expression (see the Adeline R. Tintner’s “The Metamorphoses of Edith Wharton in Henry James’s The Finer Grain, Twentieth Century Literature, Vol. 21, No. 4 [Dec., 1975], pp. 355-379 for a discussion that includes Edel’s findings), Moore likely did not see the jacket or jacket-band copy but found the phrase closer to home. Mary Warner Moore, in her notebook entitled “My American Trip,” copied out a passage from Man of Letters. Here is the passage from the original book (which Mrs. Moore took exactly):

 For the elder Henry James had a sunny loathing for the literal (“caring for our spiritual decency supremely more than for anything else,” he could still stand, in the way of Virtue itself, only the kind that is “more or less ashamed” of its title), and educative specialization would seem to him a sort of deformity suffered for the sake of “success “—and “success” was a thing he had no use for. All he cared to produce was that condition of character which his son calls “accessibility to experience.” You were only interested when you were disinterested—your very conscience ought to work unconsciously—and so our Henry James was equipped for life without plundering it [. . . .] (Dixon Scott. Men of Letters. London, New York” Hodder and Stoughton, 1917, p. 96, boldface added.)

From its position in the notebook, this passage appears to have been copied out near the end of May, 1921. Moore submitted her poem—in a revised version which added “accessibility to experience”—to the Dial on 14 July 1921.

To examine the text of The Finer Grain (1910) for associations with or source for “New York” may well be a fool’s errand, but Moore did own the book, purchased on her birthday in 1910 (see letter to JWM of that date). In any case, the phrases in the poem that are noted above do not appear in that work.

2 Comments »

  1. What a find! Thank you.

    Comment by Linda Leavell — August 25, 2011 @ 5:41 pm |Reply

    • Thanks, Linda. Between my 40-years-worth of files and Google books, some things are very easy! Hope your work goes well. Pat

      Comment by moore123 — August 26, 2011 @ 6:29 pm |Reply


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