Marianne Moore: Poetry

February 17, 2017

“Majestic Haystack”

Filed under: Poem Sources — by moore123 @ 3:49 pm

Kept among Moore’s papers is a copy of poem typed on her stationery with her typewriter, bearing most of the physical hallmarks of her work up to about 1916 with one exception: it has no return address in the upper left corner that Moore used when a poem was be sent out to an editor. The original of the poem is found in A Prisoner in Fairyland , a novel by Algernon Blackwood, published by Macmillan in 1913.

Algernon Blackwood

In brief, the novel concerns an English family who moved to the safety of neutral Switzerland. The four young children formed a “star society,” each identifying with a constellation. At night the children play among the stars, collecting stardust – in effect grains of sympathy – to sprinkle on the adults to release them from their narrow lives, the father a failed novelist, the mother utterly lacking in imagination. The children are helped by a group of “sprites” who travel on the Starlight Express, a “train” of thought, which serves as a portal into the star world.

With the children’s help, their “wumbled” parents (worried and jumbled) learn to live “carelessly” and to find beauty and peace in nature and imagination. When the mother begins to imagine, the father says: “It’s a Haystack Woman, a Woman of the Haystack who is loved by the Wind. That is to say, the big Wind loves her, but she prefers the younger, handsomer little Winds.” Then the mother says: “I know her; she’s my friend, so it’s all right.”

Majestic Haystack, Empress of my life,
Your ample waist
Just fits the gown I fancy for my wife,
And suits my taste;
Yet there you stand, flat-footed, square and deep,
An unresponsive, elephantine heap,
Coquetting with the stars while I’m asleep,
0 cruel Stack!

Coy, silent Monster, Matron of the fields,
I sing to you;
And all the fondest love that summer yields
I bring to you;
Yet there you squat, immense in your disdain,
Heedless of all the tears of streaming rain
My eyes drip over you—your breathless swain;
O stony Stack!

Stupendous Maiden, sweetest when oblong,
Does inner flame
Now smolder in thy soul to hear my song
Repeat thy name?
Or does thy huge and ponderous heart object
The advances of my passion, and reject
My love because it’s airy and elect?
O wily Stack!

O crested goddess, thatched and top-knotted,
O reckless Stack!
Of wives that to the Wind have been allotted
There is no lack;
You’ve spurned my love as though I were a worm;
But next September when I see thy form,
I’ll woo thee with an equinoctial storm!
I have that knack!

Moore copies the poem almost exactly and omits the lines here in bold.

English born Algernon Blackwood (1869-1951) developed an interest in mystical studies while at school and in the beauties of the wilderness in Canada as a young man. Upon his return to England in 1899, he began to write ghost stories, the genre in which he was most prolific, and nature adventures, often verging on mystical subjects. A Prisoner in Fairyland might today be called “magic realism.”

Why this novel interested Moore is open to question but it can be noted that at about this time (roughly 1913-1916) she was reading Blake, Yeats, and Traherne.

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