Marianne Moore: Poetry

September 2, 2011

“Silence” and Miss A. M. Homans

Homans

Many an interpretation of “Silence” has pointed to Moore’s father as the source of the quotation at the beginning of the poem—despite the note that has accompanied the poem since Observations (1924).  In the note, “Miss A. M. Homans” is the author, quoting her father. Not falling into the “father” trap, Jeanne Heuving (Omissions Are Not Accidents, 1992, p. 118) and others point to the original note which describes Homans as “Professor Emeritus of Hygiene” at Wellesley College.

Moore must have encountered Homans about 1917 when she wrote in her reading diary for July 17: “Miss Homans” and went on to transcribe what she said about her father, superior people, Longfellow’s grave, and the “wax” flowers—close to what Moore publishes as the note in Observations.  In any case, Moore knew enough about Homans to call her “Professor Emeritus” when she published the poem in 1924, since

Glass Flowers, Harvard

Homans retired in 1918 after a distinguished career. She had co-founded the Boston Normal School of Gymnastics in 1889, at a time when strenuous physical activities, let alone team sports, for women were considered possibly dangerous to their well-being.  The BNSG strove “to supply the best opportunities in America for men and women who desire to prepare themselves to conduct gymnasia, or to direct physical training, according to the most approved modern methods. To this end thorough and scientific instruction is provided, not only in the Ling, or Swedish, system of gymnastics, but also in those general principles of physiology, psychology, and the hygiene of the human body, upon which sound physical training must always depend “(BNSG Annual Catalogue, 1895).”

In 1909, Wellesley College imported the BNSG, making it the Department of Hygiene and Physical Education with Homans as its chair. By the time Homans retired, the department offered 34 courses, including gymnastics, kinesiology, history of physical education, folk dancing, and organized sports to undergraduates and to special students who, post-bachelors’ degrees, pursued a two year certificate that qualified them to teach such subjects and to direct athletic programs. In 1967, the National Association for the Physical Education of Women established the Amy Morris Homans Commemorative Lecture, today hosted by the National Association for Kinesiology and Physical Education in Higher Education.

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