Marianne Moore: Poetry

January 20, 2014

“The Buffalo” and an Ox

Filed under: Poem Sources — by moore123 @ 8:05 pm

no freakishly

Over-drove Ox drawn by

Rowlandson, but the Indian buffalo,


footed, standing in the mud-lake, with a

day’s work to do.”   

“The Buffalo,” Poetry, 45 (November 1934), 62-63, ll . 35-40.

In writing a poem about bovines, Moore compares the Indian buffalo, or water buffalo, to other members of the group, turning to painting, photographs, lithographs, and sculpture for her images. One comparison begins with the “Over-Drove Ox,” a satirical print by English artist Thomas Rowlandson (1757–1827). Moore had in hand a clipping from page 127 the New York Times for February 12, 1933, a review by Elizabeth Luther Cary of an exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art that featured this Rowlandson work. In Cary’s words

Rowlandson supplies humor based upon human traits and independent of passing incident. As in the case of most good prints and numberless bad ones, you can read plenty of English history on his flowerlike pages of gaming tables,  horse races, health resorts and sailors; snug harbors, but it is the history of the people not of the political stage.

The print at the Metropolitan is the one called “The Over-Drove Ox” and shows one of these gentle animals running amuck in a crowded street, driving terror into the minds of all and various. In a wholly indescribably way Rowland manages to make us see the rampaging creature as just a downtrodden ox which, for one splendid. exasperated moment, fancies itself a raging, powerful bull, capable of turning all humanity into a mush of panic, and the fancy almost turns to truth, horses rear, dogs bark, the crowd goes down like ninepins, kicking and sprawling, clutching and howling. What a grand success!

Bold type here represents the sentence Moore circled.

Buffalo Rowlandson

Rowlandson’s “Over-Drove Ox”

The other half of the comparison arose from a clipping from the New York Times for April 24, 1927, page 103. Moore cut out the image and its caption: “Water Buffalo from Eastern Asia: A Group of Animals[.] Shot by Colonel Theodore Roosevelt on the William V. Kelly-Roosevelt Expedition. Now on Exhibition at the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago.” While it is not possible to reproduce the clipping from the Times, the photograph of the diorama from which it was made is present in the online collections of the Field Museum and is shown here:

Water Buffalo Diorama at the Field Museum

When she came upon this image, Moore wrote to her brother, Warner, that had she not seen it, she would have had to sacrifice her entire description of the water buffalo if she could not use “the word albino as a rhyme.” [TLS  23 April 1934, Rosenbach] Thus, the “Indian buffalo / albino- / footed.”

1 Comment »

  1. After learning this background, I understand “The Buffalo” for the first time — two domestic bovines, each in their own lives.

    Comment by Eugene Meyer — February 19, 2014 @ 11:50 am |Reply

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