Marianne Moore: Poetry

November 7, 2018

Quoting an Also Private Thought and Auden

Filed under: Poem Sources — by moore123 @ 3:41 pm

This poem appeared in the University of Kansas City Review in Spring, 1950, and was never collected by Moore. It now appears in the new Collected Poems of Marianne Moore edited by Heather Cass White. Why Moore abandoned it remains a mystery. The poem seems, at least in part, to refer to W. H. Auden, a poet Moore knew and respected.

Some speak of things we know, as new;

And you, of things unknown as things forgot (ll. 1-2)

In a commentary delivered at Bryn Mawr in 1952, Moore wrote: “Understanding his art as ‘The fencing wit of an informal style,’ Mr. Auden has taken a leaf from Pope and devised the needful complement whereby things forgot are henceforth known; . . .” (CProse 471)

Or the poem that chanced to be prose, (l. 5)

In a review of The Age of Anxiety in the New York Times Book Review, 1947, she writes: “Mr. Auden has made progress arresting by placing at the end of a line an adjective, a preposition or an O—a unique form of emphasis, consistently agile in these pages. The rhythms are so firm as to survive prose presentation . . . .” (CProse 410)

Somehow the accident of pleasure—a dedication qualified

   Indeed; at the opposite pole from the miser’s

Escutcheon—three vices hard-screwed;

   Three padlocks clodhopping upon sensibility— (ll. 9-12)

A Rake’s Progress is a series of eight paintings, later prints, made by William Hogarth in the 1730s. They tell the story of Tom Rakewell, heir of a wealthy Englishman, who wastes his fortune in London on both high and low living. He is imprisoned in the Fleet Street Jail and later confined to Bedlam (Bethlem Hospital).

In the first picture, Tom stands in his late father’s house, being measured for new clothes. There are many signs of miserliness, including a starving cat, an empty fireplace, a bible, its cover cut up to resole a shoe, the portrait of the father counting money. In addition, there are “the miser’s / Escutcheon—three vises hard screwed” in a frame hanging near the ceiling on the wall above Tom’s left hand.

Hogarth Miser

Hogarth’s “A Rake’s Progress,” First Engraving

Moore may have read a description of the picture in any number of books, among them the following: William Hogarth, et al. The Works of William Hogarth: Including the Analysis of Beauty and Five Days’ Peregrination, Volume 3. Philadelphia: George Barrie, 1900, p. 172. “Hence we learn the store this penurious miser set on this trifle: that so avaricious is the disposition of the miser, that, notwithstanding he may be possessed of many large bags of gold, the fear of losing a single shilling is a continual trouble to him. In one part of the room, a man is draping the wall with black cloth, on which are placed escutcheons, by way of dreary ornament; these escutcheons contain the arms of the covetous, viz.: three vises, hard-screwed, with the motto ‘Beware!”

And the connection with Auden? Moore met Auden not long after he moved to New York in 1939. It was his idea that she translate La Fontaine’s Fables, for which she signed a contract in 1945. Auden (along with Chester Kallman) began his collaboration with Igor Stravinsky on the opera, The Rake’s Progress in late 1947. His libretto developed over the next four years and the opera was premiered in Venice in 1951. While Moore could not have seen a production before she published her poem, she must have been aware of Auden’s involvement in the project.

A copy of the 1951 publication of the opera’s libretto survives in Moore’s library at Rosenbach. Auden’s and Kallman’s finished work tells a very different story about Tom Rakewell than Hogarth’s pictures (although pictures three and eight are referenced in it). Moore’s poem includes a mention of only the first picture which shows Tom, newly rich, in the old miser’s room. Auden’s story begins with Tom and his fiancée Anne Trulove followed by Tom’s temptation by Nick Shadow to a louche life in London. While Tom inherits a fortune from his father, there is no mention of the miser or the escutcheon. As to why Moore never collected this poem, here is a hypothesis: she got some of  it wrong. If the poem was meant as a salute to Auden, including his collaboration with Stravinsky, it alluded to a part of the Rake’s story not used in the opera. That may have been reason enough to exclude the poem from future collections.

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