Marianne Moore: Poetry

November 16, 2015

“Suavitur in Modo”

Filed under: Poem Texts — by moore123 @ 7:27 pm

When as curator of the Moore papers at the Rosenbach, I first sorted the poetry manuscripts, I saw no reason to suspect Moore’s authorship of “Suaviter in Modo.” The manuscript was typed with Moore’s typewriter of the time on the blue stationary that she customarily used for poems she sent to little magazines and it bears her Carlisle return address in the upper left corner. Everything about the manuscript suggests a Moore creation. I was confident enough that the work was Moore’s that, with the permission of her estate, I included it in Unfinished Poems, a photocopy edition prepared to secure copyright in unpublished poems. It also appears in the 2003 edition of the poems.

Forty years later, there are new tools: the internet and Google advanced book search. It did not take long to discover that Moore crafted what looks like a poem of her own from two rhymes found in Afternoon Tea: Rhymes for Children with Original Illustrations by John G. Sowerby and Henry Hetherington Emerson (New York: Rhodes and Washburn, 1881). She called it “Suaviter in Modo,” that is, “gentle in manner.”

The poem’s first two stanzas quote “The Puffed-up Smoker” (Afternoon Tea, p. 60) exactly except that the first two stanzas are run together, as are the last two stanzas. Here is the 1881 version:


The Puffed-up Smoker


Oh, Gordon, how naughty!

Now, don’t look so haughty,–

That’s Uncle’s pet pipe you’ve got in your hand.


If you go on smoking,

We’ll soon have you choking.

We’ll then have to bury you under the sand.


Said Gordon to Nellie,

“Go home and cook jelly,

And don’t interfere so with me and my pipe!


Or else go and garden,

First begging my pardon.

And see if the plums have begun to get ripe!”

To skip to the last stanza and the second poem, Moore quotes “The Puritan’s Daughter” (Afternoon Tea, p. 48) almost exactly. The original is in two stanzas:

Long, long years ago

Lived this Johanna,

Sweet was her face, also

Sweet was her manner.


Reading as she went to church,

     This was her manner;

The very birdies on their perch

Sang to Johanna.

The changes Moore makes are few. She includes the title in a line preceding the quoted poem:

(Joanna was a “Puritan’s daughter.”)

She spells “Johanna” as “Joanna” and “manner” as “mannah” and she closes up the stanza break. So far, the borrowing is nearly complete.

The third stanza of the Moore version is clearly created to bring together both “The Puffed-up Smoker” and “The Puritan’s Daughter”:

Be more like Joanna,

Dear Gordon, in mannah–

More bland, so that Nellie will not see your pipe,

And cut short your smoking

And possible choking.

Don’t ask her to see if the plums have got ripe.

Written in the rhythm of the first poem, the new stanza refers to its Gordon and his pipe while it also incorporates Johanna/Joanna of the second poem. (The lineation in Moore’s typed manuscript differs from both that of the original poem and the 2003 version. It is not reproduced here.)

See a digitized copy of the original book from the New York Public Library here:;view=1up;seq=15 

For some time, I thought I might find the originals for Gordon, Nellie, Uncle, and Joanna in Carlisle, people whose speech Moore was imitating.  Now seeing that the voices represent an 1881 publication, was Moore just amusing herself–or her family?

–Patricia C. Willis



1 Comment »

  1. Interesting how MM engages children’s verse in dialogue just as she does with Blake, Shaw, Browning, and others during those years. We know, of course, that the adult Moores read children’s literature together. MM’s assemblage of quotations from various sources came later, but I don’t know of any other poet who was using “found poems” this early?

    Comment by Linda Leavell — November 16, 2015 @ 8:11 pm |Reply

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