Marianne Moore: Poetry

September 15, 2016

“Values in Use”

Filed under: Poem Sources — by moore123 @ 8:23 pm

“‘We create

values in the process of living, daren’t await

their historic progress.’

. . . . . . . . . .

 . . . Values in use,

‘judged on their own ground.'”


              “Values in Use,” Partisan Review 23 (Fall 1956):506.

      During the summer of 1956, Moore attended the Harvard Summer School Conference on “The Little Magazine in America.” She was joined there in late July by Elizabeth Hardwick and Philip Rahv. She reported on the event in a letter to Elizabeth Bishop: “Philip Rahv gave a stern A-One talk on values in use as over against mildewed dictatorial culture.”* She must have applied herself to writing “Values in Use” soon because Philip Rahv’s own Partisan Review published it in its fall issue. There, the poem had a footnote: “The first two quoted phrases are taken from a rousing address that Philip Rahv gave on July 27, 1956 in Alston Burr Hall, Cambridge. –M. M.”


Philip Rahv

     The following year, Moore included the poem in the Faber edition of Like a Bulwark . There, an end note identified the occasion and place and added: “‘Partisan Review standard for stories–‘maturity, plausibility, and the relevance of the point of view expressed.’ ‘A work of art must be appraised on its own ground; we produce values in the process of living, do not await their historic progress in history.'”

      As if to indicate that the poem needed precise documentation, its note in Complete Poems also referred back to the magazine version’s note, encouraging readers to “See Partisan Review, Fall, 1956.”

      Why all the addenda? While Rahv is remembered today as an extraordinary founding editor of his magazine, he was an anti-Stalinist Marxist who saw fiction as an imaginative response to social and political history. As Mary McCarthy wrote of him, disguised as Will Taub in The Oasis: his “whole sense of intellectual assurance rested on the fixed belief in the potency of history to settle questions of value.”

      Elizabeth Hardwick summed up Rahv’s impact in a statement she read at his funeral: “The outstanding theme of Rahv’s efforts was, I think, a contempt for provincialism, for the tendency to inflate local and fleeting cultural accomplishments. This slashing away at low levels of taste and at small achievements passing as masterly, permanent monuments was a crusade some more bending souls might have grown weary of. But he was not ashamed of his extensive ‘negativism’  and instead went on right up to the end scolding vanity and unworthy accommodation.”**

      While Moore’s politics might not have intersected with Rahv’s, her college background in history, politics, and economics may have laid the groundwork for her interest in his view of art and history. At the conference, her task was to summarize the talks of the other speakers and, according to Robert Lowell, “she spoke of Philip Rhav ‘looking volumes each time an intention of the Partisan Review was misconstrued.'”* And she probably would have agreed with Lowell when he said of others in the audience, “After all these years they have discovered that Phlip Rahv isn’t just tonic.”

*The Complete Correspondence between Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell, ed. Thomas Travisano with Saskia Hamilton, New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2008, pp. 184 and 182.

** Brandeis University, December 24, 1973.

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