Marianne Moore: Poetry

February 10, 2018

Albrecht Dürer

Filed under: Poem Sources,Poem Texts — by moore123 @ 8:03 pm

While Moore was editor of The Dial, in her editor’s “Comment” in the issue for July, 1928, she concentrated on an exhibition of Albrecht Dürer prints at the New York Public Library (Complete Prose, 203-204). Her choice of epigraph, in Dürer’s words, refers to the artist’s apprenticeship and its challenges: “During that time, God granted me diligence, so that I might learn well.” Moore’s salute to the artist is replete with language reflecting her admiration for that diligence: “sensitiveness to magnificence,” “an art so robust,” “a living energy.”

More to the point, Moore names works by Dürer that she borrows for her poems: “Dürer’s “Rhinoceros” . . . [has] for us that attraction which originality with precision can exert, and liking is increased perhaps when the concept is primarily an imagined one—in the instance of the rhinoceros, based apparently on a traveler’s sketch or description. The conjunction of fantasy and calculation is unusual, but many sagacities seem in Dürer not to starve one another. St.  Jerome and his beast of burden the lion, in the room with the bottle-glass window-lights, the “St. Eustachius,” a small Turner-like water-color of the Tyrol in the Ashmolean, tempt one to have favorites . . . .”

When this “Comment” was published, Moore had already made use of the St. Jerome woodcut in “Sea Unicorns and Land Unicorns” (1924). The Tyrolean watercolor would appear in “The Steeple-Jack” (1932), the “Rhinoceros” in “Apparition of Splendor” (1952) and “St Eustachius,” it can be argued, can be seen in “St. Nicholas” (1958).  Long after this “Comment,” there is mention of Dürer’s “Violet Bouquet” in “Then the Ermine” (1952).  Because the Tyrolean watercolor has already been treated in this blog for June 20, 2010, I will not repeat it here.

Durer jerome

St. Jerome in His Study

First St. Jerome and his lion:

“A puzzle to the hunters, is this haughtiest of beasts,

To be distinguished from those born without a horn,

In use like St. Jerome’s tame lion, as domestics . . . .” (ll. 44-46)

Here the lion is likened to a horse, a no-horned beast, a domestic animal. St. Jerome’s lion comes with more of a story: A lion arrived at Jerome’s monastery, frightening away the other monks. Jerome realized that the lion had a thorn in its paw and healed it. In return, the lion became a useful member of the monastery. The Metropolitan Museum acquired a copy of this engraving in 1919 and it is possible that it appeared in the library exhibition.

“Apparition of Splendor” gives us the rhinoceros:

Partaking of the miraculous

Since never known literally,

Dürer’s rhinoceros

Might have startled us equally

If black-and-white-spined elaborately. . .  (ll. 1-5)


Moore uses this image as a foil to the porcupine, her central subject, chosen for the rodent armed black-and-white quills. Dürer’s beast represents a rhinoceros said to have arrived in Portugal from India; it was covered in thick scales and could eviscerate an elephant using its single horn.

There is one more Dürer image and it occurs in “Then the Ermine:”

Foiled explosiveness is yet

a kind of prophet,

a perfecter, and so a concealer —

with the power of implosion;

like violets by Durer,

even darker.

Durer violets

Bouquet of Violets

This watercolor and gouache on vellum painting, sometimes called “Bouquet of Violets,” held by the Albertina in Vienna, was attributed to Dürer until fairly recently when it appeared in a Dürer exhibition catalog as the work of an “anonymous German,” “second half of the sixteenth century. Dürer died in 1528. But this cautious note has nothing to do with Moore’s choice; Dürer was an accomplished painter of plants. In “Then the Ermine,” Moore was concentrating on the color—violet or purple—as a salute to Katherine Anne Porter who was partial to it in her apartment décor


  1. Thank you, Pat–great information.

    Comment by Stacy Hubbard — February 11, 2018 @ 12:28 pm |Reply

    • You’re welcome!

      Comment by moore123 — February 11, 2018 @ 6:18 pm |Reply

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