Marianne Moore: Poetry

November 9, 2010

“Voracities and Verities” and Louise Crane

“I don’t like diamonds”

Moore’s 1947 poem “Voracites and Verities Sometimes Are Interacting” contains a hidden reference to Louise Crane: a copy of the Quarterly Review of Literature (4, 2, 1948, 124) among Moore’s papers has an inscription that reads in part “said by you to me, Louise,” referring to the diamonds.  Moore met Crane in the 1930s and their friendship lasted the rest of Moore’s life.

Crane and Bishop, 1937, Crane Papers, Yale

Louise Crane (1913-1997) was born in Dalton, Massachusetts, the daughter of Josephine Boardman and W. Murray Crane. The Crane family had long owned Crane & Company, the Dalton-based manufacturer of cotton papers on which national currencies are printed. Her father served as Governor of Massachusetts and later United States Senator from Massachusetts, all before Louise was born. Her mother was a founder of the Museum of Modern Art and of the Dalton School in New York as well as a philanthropist and cultural leader.

Vassar and MoMA

Louise graduated from Vassar College where she made friends with Eleanor Clark (wife of Robert Penn Warren), Margaret Miller (later of the Museum of Modern Art), and Elizabeth Bishop. After her father’s death in 1920, Louise and her mother moved to New York where their large Fifth Avenue apartment became a mecca for artists, writers, musicians, and intellectuals.

After college, Louise organized “Coffee Concerts” at MoMA, introducing audiences to such

Belle Rosette by Carl Van Vechten, 1941

artists as Trinidadan singer Belle Rosette (Beryl McBurnie), jazz composer Mary Lou Williams, classical German composer Lukas Foss, and singer and guitarist Utah Smith.  Time for November 17, 1941, tried to characterize the Coffee Concerts: “The program, called ‘Salon Swing,’ included subdued riffs by Benny Carter’s Septet, tap dancing by an extraordinary young Negro named Baby Lawrence, songs by Maxine Sullivan, three of them to harpsichord accompaniment. The recital got chastely in the groove when the harpsichord, precisely pecked by willowy, red-haired Sylvia Marlowe, gave forth Pine-top’s Boogie, rolling bass and all.” Billboard for January 9, 1943, reported that “Louise Crane has opened a management office to handle cocktail combos. On her books now are the Leonard Ware Trio and the Harlem Highlanders” (p. 23).

Patron and Publisher

In 1953, she published Iberica, a magazine dedicated to news of Franco’s Spain that went

Victoria Kent

unreported by the regime. Victoria Kent, the editor, was the first woman elected to the Spanish Parliament—before women were allowed to vote. A courageous reformer as Director of Prisons, she fled Spain when Franco came to power, finally living with Louise in New York, active with the magazine and with the Spanish Refugee Aid (SRA) founded in 1953 to assist refugees of the Spanish Civil War who were then residing in France.

Louise had an extensive correspondence with Moore, despite the fact that they saw each other often in New York.  To take a single example, Moore’s letter of June 5, 1941 (SL 413-415), parsing in great detail a Coffee Concert at MoMA, begins  “Last night has given me something to think about for fifteen years!” She refers to “Concert Swing,” the last evening in the series, June 4, and remarks on performers Billie Holiday and Zutty Singleton. Of the latter, she writes that “a born drummer,”  “he would have done something for us if he hadn’t done more than allow his name to appear.” Singleton on drums here:

The New York Times, reporting the next day, notes that Holiday sang “My Man Don’t Love Me,” “Forbidden Fruit,” “God Bless the Child,” and “I Cried for You.” Singleton, “one of the swing world’s peppiest drummers,” played “Caravan,” “Muskrat Ramble,” and “Bugle Blues” with his orchestra. Also on the bill were “Hot Lips” Page and his orchestra and the Palmer Brothers, a quartet. Billie Holiday’s “I Cried for You” here:

Moore takes advantage of the letter to comment on the May 28 Coffee Concert’s “South

Elsie Houston by Van Vechten, 1940

American Panorama” which included soprano Elsie Houston, the Grupo Incaico dancers from Peru, Belle Rosette (later Beryl McBurnie), the Trinidadan dancer, Alderson Mowbray, pianist, and the Haitian Rada Group. She was unable to stay to the end of the performance but she liked the Incacio dancers and the singing of Elsie Houston: “[she] is such a person, it was hard for me to really listen.”

Moore concludes: “I am constrained,–overwhelmed by the pleasure and benefit the concerts have been to me. My whole perspective is changed . . . .” Always interested in popular culture, Moore here manifests yet again her close attention to cultural life in New York.

November 4, 2010

“Picking and Choosing” and Henry James

“. . . that James is all that has been

said of him but is not profound” (ll. 9-10 in The Dial 68 [April 1, 1920] 420)

Here is one expression of this idea that Moore may have seen, relevant section in bold type:

“The early edition of the collection of essays on “French Poets and Novelists,” by Mr. Henry

Henry James by John LaFarge, N.d.

James, has been out of print for some time, and the Macmillans have now prepared a new and cheaper one. It is exceedingly fortunate that they have done so, for these essays form one of the most notable contributions thus far made to literary criticism in this country, and should be easily accessible to students and the general reader. It must be said of them at once that they are not profound. They are nearly everything else that literary criticism should be. They show in a high degree delicacy of touch and sympathetic appreciation of the works dealt with. They have about them a subtle quality which gives a keen delight to their perusal. The two essays on Balzac, and those on Gautier and Tourguenieff, are perhaps the most valuable. With these latter writers, Mr. James himself has certain affinities, and this enables him to treat of them with peculiar sympathy. At the same time, the limitations of his own nature are seen in this treatment. Those excellences in the work of Tourguenieff, for example, which are noticed by Mr. James, do not constitute its real claim to greatness, but they are what appeal the most strongly to his imagination, and he gives them an undue prominence, so that the essay, while most delightful reading, leaves one with a sense of its insufficiency. What is here said applies also in a certain degree to his treatment of George Sand and others. As far as his appreciation goes, it leaves nothing to be desired; but still there is much which it does not embrace. One is hardly made to realize the genius of Gautier or of Baudelaire, of George Sand or of Tourguenieff, by a perusal of these pages; but to make up for what he thus feels to be wanting, he gets a good many side lights thrown upon them and their work.”

The review refers to James’s French Poets and Novelists (London: Macmillan, 1884).

–in “Briefs on New Books,” The Dial, 5 (May 1884) 16.

October 31, 2010

Haute Couture

"With wrists like paper knives and feet like / the leaves of the willow" (ll. 1-2)

On November 28, 1918, Moore submitted to “Others” a poem entitled “Callot-Drecol-Cheruit- Jenny-Doucet-Aviotte-Lady”  (2003 edition, pp. 129-30). I see from my ancient notes that at one time I thought these names might have belonged to amusement park ponies (the “Chase through the Clouds” appears near the end of the poem).  But  no, they are all Parisian Houses of Haute Couture; all but Aviotte can be found quite easily, and that name may be a stand-in for Vionnet.

The illustration at left appeared in the Gazette du Bon Ton, Paris, and is captioned “Robe du soir de Doucet, 1914.” It seems to suggest the opening lines of the poem.

Below are the first five names, identified and illustrated, from the holdings of the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Callot Soeurs, run by four sisters, worked in Paris from 1895-1937. The sisters’ mother was a lacemaker and decorative laces became an early hallmark of their designs. Callot Soeurs clothing was known for its exotic detail. Gold and silver lamé dresses emerged first from their house. After World War I, their fashions were sought in the United States as well as in Europe.

Callot Soeurs

Dress, Evening, 1910–1914, Callot Soeurs, cotton, silk, metal.The Jacqueline Loewe Fowler Costume Collection, Gift of Jacqueline Loewe Fowler, 1981 (1981.380.2). Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The Maison Drecoll, famous for its theatrical costumes, originated in Amsterdam with Christoph von Drecoll. When it moved to Paris, it became known for taking on the “form and spirit of Paris.”


Dress, Evening, 1913–1914. House of Drécoll, silk, rhinestones. Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of the Brooklyn Museum, 2009; Gift of the estate of Mrs. William H. Crocker, 1954 (2009.300.2408)

Madeleine Cheruit, active 1906-1935, trained with the House of Raudnitz in Paris until she opened the House of Cheruit in 1904. By 1914, she became known for her walking suits and afternoon dresses. After World War I, she made cinema capes and evening gowns, heavily embroidered and ornamented.


Cape, Evening, ca. 1920. Madeleine Chéruit (French, 1906–1935), silk. Gift of the Estate of Mrs. Julia M. Weldon from Mary McDougall, 1978 (1978.337.1). Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Madame Jenny Sacerdote, of the House of Jenny, was trained to become a professor of French Literature. Turning to fashion, she was known for her aristocratic taste, jabots and narrow skirts.  Her little grey suit of 1915 marked her collection.




Wrap, Evening, early 1920s, Jenny (French), silk, fur, glass. Gift of Mrs. William F. Goulding, 1962 (C.I.62.14.2). Costume Institute, Metropolitan Museum of Art


Jacques Doucet, active 1880-1930, dressed  the famous French actresses  Réjane, Sarah Bernhardt,  and Liane de Pougy. He also collected modern art, even owning Les Demoiselles d’Avignon for a time. He inherited from his mother his Maison Doucet on the Rue de la Paix in Paris made it a leader in haute couture.


Dress, Evening, ca. 1910, Jacques Doucet (French),silk, fur, linen. Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of the Brooklyn Museum, 2009; Gift of Orme and R. Thornton Wilson in memory of Caroline Schermerhorn Astor Wilson, 1949 (2009.300.1154).

October 11, 2010

“Sea Unicorns” and the Cartographer of 1539

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“. . . those very animals

described by the cartographers of 1539,

defiantly revolving

in such a way that

the long keel of white exhibited in tumbling,

disperses giant weeds

and those snakes whose forms, looped

in the foam, ‘disquiet shippers.'” (Ll. 2-7)

Map: Olaus Magnus, Swedish historian, Archbishop of Uppsala (1490-1558), in 1539  published his Carta marina et Descriptio septemtrionalium terrarum ac mirabilium rerum in eis contentarum, diligentissime elaborata Anno Domini 1539 in Venice. Oskar Brenner found a copy of the map, long thought lost,  in Munich in 1886 and made it available in print. This map of Northern Europe gained acclaim as the most accurate of its era.

To see the ships tumbling and the great red sea snake, click on the map to enlarge it (which could take a while). Then click on the snake for a close-up look; scroll above the snake nearly to the top of the map to see a ship tumbling in “weeds,” although tree limbs may be more accurate. A sea unicorn pokes its horn out of the water on the left side, opposite numeral 74.

October 8, 2010

“The Arctic Ox (or Goat)”

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Musk Oxen

MUSK OX (Ovibos moschatus), plural musk oxen, shaggy-haired Arctic ruminant of the family Bovidae (order Artiodactyla). Musk oxen are stocky mammals with large heads, short necks, and short, stout legs. Their name derives from their musky odour and from their superficial resemblance to the ox, though they are not closely related to cattle. Musk oxen are closely related to the mountain goat, chamois, and serow and are placed in the bovid subfamily Caprinae, along with the true goats and    sheep. –Online Encyclopedia Britannica

This description of the musk ox as a relative of the goat helps to account for Moore’s title as well as the line that says the musk ox

“browses goatlike

on hind legs.”

October 5, 2010

Announcement: Chaplain John Warner Moore, USN

To the right is a new PAGE outlining the illustrious career of Marianne’s brother, Navy Chaplain from 1917 to 1947. Note: Click to enlarge most photographs.

Photograph by Alcide Picard, ca, 1927. Original at the Rosenbach Museum and Library, Marianne Moore Collection.

September 27, 2010

George Plank, Artist and Illustrator

George Wolfe Plank, the American illustrator and designer of magazine covers, was born on March 25, 1883, near Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Growing up, he lived for a time in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, about six blocks from the Moore household. A self-taught artist, he worked in factories and department stores before moving to Philadelphia about 1907. In 1911, he was hired by Vogue and continued to supply illustrations and cover designs for the magazine until 1936. So popular was his fashion illustration that for a benefit for the Loomis Sanitarium, given at the Waldorf in New York, society matrons posed in tableaux vivants based on his Vogue covers.

Vogue Cover, November 1917

Vogue Cover, April 1916

Vogue Cover, November 1915

In 1914, Plank moved to England with his Philadelphia friends, James and Mildred Whitall. (James, a Quaker and wealthy scion of the Whitall Tatum Glass Company, was related to M. Carey Thomas, president of Bryn Mawr when Moore was there). Plank’s gift for friendship enabled him to move easily in all ranks of London society and his artistic talents were in great demand.

H. D.'s Hedgehog He drew illustrations for his friends’ books, including E. F. Benson’s The Freaks of Mayfair in 1916, Dorothy Wellesley’s Genesis in 1926 (Lady Gerald Wellesley, Dutchess of Wellington, friend of Yeats and the Sackvilles), Whitall’s English Years in 1832, H.D.’s Hedgehog and Marianne Moore’s The Pangolin and Other Verse in 1936.

The Pangolin and Other Verse

For Louis Untermeyer’s Food and Drink (1932), he drew one hundred “good things to eat and drink.” He also supplemented his Vogue income by designing costumes, sets, and programs for Edith Craig’s productions (Edith was the daughter of Ellen Terry and Edward W. Godwin, and sister of Gordon Craig); painting posters for the Red Cross during the First World War; designing chintz cloth and interior decorations for Lady Sackville, mother of Vita Sackville-West; and designing stationery and bookplates for H.D., Lady Carter, and Pauline Pappenheim, and many others. In 1936, Bryher hired him to illustrate Moore’s A Pangolin and Other Verse published by her Brendin Press. He even completed two royal commissions, including a map of South America in 1918, showing the Queen’s Needlework Guilds and, in 1921, the King’s bedroom for a dollhouse designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens for Queen Mary.

King's Bedroom, Queen Mary's Dollhouse

In 1927, Lutyens designed and built a house, Marvells, for Plank in Five Acres, Sussex, where he resided for the rest of his life. During World War II, Plank joined the Home Guard and nearly died of hyperthyroidism. He was naturalized as an Englishman in 1945 and spent the rest of his days gardening at his house, Marvells. George Plank died in his sleep on May 4, 1965 in a nearby nursing home.

Note: This text is adapted from the Beinecke Library, Yale University, Finding Aid for the Papers of George Wolfe Plank housed in the library.

September 5, 2010

“Dock Rats” and Battleships

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John Warner Moore sailed on this ship as a Navy chaplain. See PAGE for the story of his career.

U.S.S. Mississippi (B-41)

The USS Mississippi in the Hudson River, 1919, after the U. S. Navy battleship won a race up the Atlantic Coast against other ships in its squadron.

August 23, 2010

“Monkey Puzzle:” Japan and China

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Lafcadio Hearn

Moore notes Lafcadio Hearn as the source of line 18 concerning proportion. Here is the original

Hearn and His Wife


For after all, what we call beauty or grace in the best and deepest sense, represents physical force, with which the peasant is much better acquainted than we are. He is accustomed to observing life, and he does it instinctively. Beauty means a certain proportion in the skeleton which gives the best results of strength and of easy motion in the animal or the man.

Lafcadio Hearn. “Tolstoi’s Theory of Art” in Talks to Writers, New York: Dodd Mead, 1920, p. 170.

Famous for living in Japan and producing exquisite books of Japanese folk tales, Hearn (1850-1904) was born in Greece of an Irish father and a Greek mother. After school in England, Hearn became a newspaperman in Cincinnati and New Orleans, lived in Martinique for a few years, and in 1890 went to Japan as a correspondent. There he stayed, married the daughter of a samurai, and became a cultural ambassador and Japanese citizen. He taught university students in his last years in Japan and his writings on literary subjects are drawn from his students’ notes of his lectures.

A link that may not be a link: “The Monkey Puzzle” refers to “Flaubert’s Carthage,” that is, Salammbo, the Flaubert novel set in Carthage and much admired by Moore. Could she have known that Hearn spent years translating Flaubert’s The Temptation of St. Anthony (published in New York in 1911)?

Chinese Foo Dogs

Foo Dog, Female

Moore tells us not to ignore these creatures lest they behave as something other than canines. In fact, the  Foo Dog (or Fu Dog) is a lion that looks something like a dog. Made from bronze, they guarded imperial palaces and temples in China, always in pairs, the male with his paw on a ball, the female with hers on a cub. The sculptures originally served as totems for the elite, due to their cost, but they have been reproduced cheaply and universally in modern times.

According to Roy Bates in 29 Chinese Mysteries (Beijing: TuDragon Books, 2008, pp. 53-76), China had no lions except for diplomatic gifts. A disciple of Buddha, Manju’srii, appeared seated on a lion that symbolized the untrained mind open to understanding through meditation. When this notion arrived in China, it turned into the guard lion, shaped much like a Chinese dog, complete with collar and pendant. The sexes were distinguished by the ball or cub under the paws.

The story of the “dog” can be continued at great length as the images vary from place to place:

Foo Dog, Male

the ball is sometimes huge, the lion looks sleepy, or the head has a different number of bumps, more bumps denoting an owner’s  higher rank.

The two images shown here stand at the entrance to the Gate of Dispelling Clouds at the Summer Palace in Beijing. They date from the 18th Century.

August 21, 2010

“The Icosasphere”: Background

Published in Imagi 5, 2 (1950), 2, Moore’s poem contrasting economy and excess features a process  by which an engineer used Plexiglas to model a way to cut steel economically from flat sheets into triangles to be fitted together as a sphere. She cites an article from the New York Times which indicates that a steel globe was made in this way for the Navy.  Buckminster Fuller’s Dymaxion Map displays the principle whereby twenty triangles make a sphere:

Dymaxion Map Unfolded

Dymaxion Map Sphere

What Moore perhaps did not know was that Mr. J. O. Jackson, the inventor, worked for Pittsburgh-Des Moines Steel; that may not have mattered much to her, but in 1967, she may have noted that this was the company that constructed the “Gateway Arch” at St. Louis, her first home stomping-ground (and would surely have inspired another “Granite and Steel” had it been completed earlier).

Moore credits the first four lines of “The Icosasphere” to Edward McKnight Kauffer, an American graphic artist (1890-1954) whom she met after he returned to the States from London where he had a successful career as an advertising poster artist, principally for the London Underground.

Edward McKnight Kauffer

Kauffer and Moore became close friends. His wife, Marion Dorn, an interior designer, referred to herself and Moore as “The Dromios,” given the similar pronunciation of their first names.  For a first-hand treatment of Moore’s relationship to the Kauffers, see Grace Schulman’s article “Marianne Moore and E. McKnight Kauffer: Two Characteristic Americans,”
Twentieth Century Literature (30:2-3), 1984 Summer-Fall, 175-80. Kauffer and his work were brought to the attention of American Airlines through Bernard Waldman, Schulman’s father, and he became a family friend.

Today, Kauffer’s posters have become classics. Exhibitions abound, the internet has many images of his work, and one poster from 1918 recently sold at Christie’s for more than $40,000.

Kauffer never created a poster for “Buckinghamsire hedgerows” but there is one that may give some sense of his art at a not too distant remove.

"North Downs" by Kauffer,

“The North Downs,” 1916, advertised transportation to the chalky hills that run for many miles through Surrey and Kent down to the Dover cliffs. While in the opposite direction from London as Buckinghamshire, which lies to the northwest on the way to Oxford, the hedgerows in the image must bear some resemblance to those further north. In any case, Kauffer’s description of birds building nests in “parabolic concentric curves” is an excuse to enjoy, here, one of his posters.

Two online biographies give further details about Kauffer: AIGA official cite is

The British Design Council has a slightly different version at

Kauffer’s design for the jacket of Ulysses (Random House, 1946) may be the most familiar image for Americans:

August 13, 2010

“Efforts of Affection”

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Some Background Efforts:

“Jubal and Jabal”

King James Version, Genesis 4:19-21

19 And Lamech took unto him two wives: the name of the one was Adah, and the name of the other Zillah.
20 And Adah bare Jabal: he was the father of such as dwell in tents, and of such as have cattle.
21 And his brother’s name was Jubal: he was the father of all such as handle the harp and organ.

“hay, sweet hay, which hath no fellow”

Michelle Pfeiffer and Kevin Kline, 1999

A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Act 4, Scene 1

[The fairies have gathered as the scene begins]


(to BOTTOM) Come, sit thee down upon this flowery bed

While I thy amiable cheeks do coy,

And stick musk roses in thy sleek, smooth head,

And kiss thy fair large ears, my gentle joy. . . .

[The scene continues]


Or say, sweet love, what thou desirest to eat.


Truly, a peck of provender. I could munch your good dry oats. Methinks I have a great desire to a bottle of hay. Good hay, sweet hay, hath no fellow.

August 12, 2010

“Nine Nectarines” and Alphonse de Candolle

“Like the peach Yu, the red-

cheeked peach which cannot aid the dead,

but eaten in time prevents death . . .

. . .But was it wild?

Prudent de Candolle would not say”

Moore tells us in a note to “Nine Nectarines and Other Porcelain” that she has taken these lines from Alphonse de Candolle:

I will quote the article in which I formerly attributed a Chinese origin to the peach, a contrary opinion to that which prevailed at the time, and which people who are not on a par with modern science continue to reproduce. I will afterwards give the facts discovered since 1855.

” The Greeks and Romans received the peach shortly after the beginning of the Christian era. The names persica, malum persicum, indicate whence they had it. I need not dwell upon those well-known facts. Several kinds of peach are now cultivated in the north of India, but, what is remarkable, no Sanskrit name is known; whence we may infer that its existence and its cultivation are of no great antiquity in these regions. Roxburgh, who is usually careful to give the modern Indian names, only mentions Arab and Chinese names. Piddington gives no Indian name, and Royle only Persian names. The peach does not succeed, or requires the greatest care to ensure success, in the north-east of India. In China, on the contrary, its cultivation dates from the remotest antiquity. A number of superstitious ideas and of legends about the properties of its different varieties exist in that country.*

* Rose, the head of the French trade at Canton, collected these from Chinese manuscripts, and Noisette (Jard. Fruit., i. p. 76) has transcribed a part of his article. The facts are of the following nature. The Chinese believe the oval peaches, which are very red on one side, to be a symbol of a long life. In consequence of this ancient belief, peaches are used in all ornaments in painting and sculpture, and in congratulatory presents, etc. According to the work of Chin-noug-king, the peach prevents death. If it is not eaten in time, it at least preserves the body from decay until the end of the world. The peach is always mentioned among the fruits of immortality, with which were entertained the hopes of Tsinchi-Hoang, Vouty, of the Hans and other emperors who pretended to immortality, etc. (p. 221)

I laid stress, in 1855, on other considerations in support of the theory that the nectarine is derived from the common peach; but Darwin has given such a large number of cases in which a branch of nectarine has Unexpectedly appeared upon a peach tree, that it is useless to insist longer upon this point, and I will only add that the nectarine has every appearance of an artificial tree. Not only is it not found wild, but it never becomes naturalized, and each tree lives for a shorter time than the common peach. It is, in fact, a weakened form. (p. 227)

–Alphonse de Candolle. Origin of Cultivated Plants. New York:  D. Appleton, 1902. (Moore cites an 1886 edition.)

Alphonse de Candolle (1806-1893) was born in Paris but soon moved to Geneva with his father, a renowned botanist. He received degrees from the University of Geneva and, for fifteen years, directed the Botanical Garden and served as chair of Botany at the University. Elected to the French Academy of Sciences in 1851, he retired from teaching; although concentrating on research, he continued to be active in civic affairs in Geneva. (His house there is preserved as a museum.) In 1883, he published Origine des Plantes Cultivées, a major contribution to plant geography. Of international renown, he was elected to both the Royal Society of London and the American National Academy of Sciences.

July 24, 2010

“The Hero:” El Greco

“the startling El Greco / brimming with inner light” (ll 51-52)

We may never know whether Moore had in mind a particular painting by El Greco when she wrote these words, but she is directing us to a work that suggests the opposite of greed. With that as a cue, if we look to works by El Greco in New York by 1930, where she might most easily have seen them, we find a view of Toledo, several Princes of the Church, a vision St. John, and “The Purification of the Temple” in the Frick Collection.

The bequest of Henry Clay Frick in 1909, the  c. 1600 oil on canvas painting is small, 16 1/2 x 28 5/8 inches.  It depicts the biblical moment narrated in Matthew 21:12:

“And Jesus went into the temple of God, and cast out all them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves.” (King James Version)

Readers may judge whether this is the “startling El Greco.”

“The Hero:” Owls

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Screech Owl

“The first twenty-one lines of “The Hero”  (1932) involve things “we” and “the hero” do not like, including owls in their frightening aspects. Moore had at hand an article on owls which she consulted, and which reads in part:

“Competition for food amongst the various groups of birds is very keen, and most of the owls have become adapted for hunting at night. A few . . . are diurnal, and the barred owls are partly so. But the majority spend the bright hours of daylight dozing in hollow trees or in dense cover, and become active only at the approach of dusk . . . .

“The eyes are proportionately large and the pupils capable of being greatly distended, so that advantage may be taken of even the faintest glimmer of light. Moreover, the eyes are so placed that they are capable of a greater degree of convergence than is to be found amongst any other birds. The general belief that owls are quite blind in daylight is, of course, quite untrue, for the birds are able to see perfectly well . . . .

“During the daytime, the truly nocturnal species try earnestly to efface themselves, and whether or not the obliterative plumage is regarded a s a direct adaptation to this purpose, it certainly is an effective means of protection. Anyone who has seen a screech owl with his body drawn erect, his feathers compressed to the smallest possible circumstance, his raised ears extended to fine points, and his eyelids closed to mere slits, will understand how a small bird, hunting a thicket for insects, might overlook his enemy of the evening.

“The voices of owls vary from the loud “hoo-hoo-hoo” of the horned owls to the weird yells and screams of the barred owls. The barn owl, in addition to its louder calls, utters in moments of alarm, a loud, wheezing hiss.”

Lee S. Crandall, “The Owls,” Bulletin of the New York Zoological Society , 33 (September-October, 1930) 175-176. From the copy in Moore’s library. The underlinings represent those MM made in her copy.

Moore renders sounds most like those of screech owls:

“water-whistle note”

(Click here:)

“scarebabe voice”

And images:

“twin yellow eyes”"twin yellow eyes"

Owl in Flight“flies out”

July 20, 2010

“Smooth Gnarled Crape Myrtle:” Yone Noguchi

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Yone Noguchi is credited as the source of lines 45-47 in “Smooth Gnarled Crape Myrtle:” “Without loneliness. . .” from The Spectator. Here is the passage in its entirety:

“I love a bamboo thicket and, if I have my own ideal home, I shall place one in the back yard. It is delightful to receive a tropical touch from the bamboo leaves scorching in the summer light. But how lonely it would be to hear the sudden sound of the stalks breaking in a snowy night! I am a Japanese like Saigyo of the twelfth century, a vagabond priest and poet, who exclaimed: ‘Alas, without loneliness I should be more lonely, –so I keep it!’ It was Kyorai, one of Basho’s ardent followers, who listened to the nocturnal cry of the cuckoo while the midnight moonlight strayed into the bamboo thicket. There is nothing like he voice f a bird to break the night stillness and make my poetical mood leap.” –Yoni Noguchi. “My Ideal Home,” The Spectator, 154 (February 15, 1935), 245.

However, the reason Moore chose that passage to connect with a “Rosalyndeless redbird,” or someone not allied to Thomas Lodge’s heroine, may lie in the previous passage where Noguchi speaks of  Elizabethan drama:

In one of my Japanese essays I wrote: “Suppose my study facing the south with a verandah in the shape of an L. I would place a table at the turn of the verandah, on which you would find many works of the Elizabethan dramatists, Webster, Ford and Dekker. Shakespeare, although, as Emerson said, an omnipresent humanity co-ordinated in all his faculties is altogether too great for my quiet mind to select. The caliber of Marlow is more to my fancy.” (p. 245)

Noguchi had interested Moore for some time. She would have seen Eunice Titjens’s piece on him in Poetry in 1920:

Years ago, when a group of gay young blades were making San Francisco a literary centre with the now traditional Lark; when Gelett Burgess, Bruce Porter, et al, were young, and Joaquin Miller was still writing his rugged poetry, Yone Noguchi came to this country—a rather frail, dreamy Japanese lad of perhaps eighteen. He went to live with Joaquin Miller, and the big-hearted bard encouraged his dreams. Presently fragile little poems began to appear in The Lark, a first breath from the living Orient.

Looking back on them now one can see how directly they forecast the modern movement. They were in free verse— in the nineties—they were condensed, suggestive, full of rhythmical variations. In matters of technic they might have been written today, and, though few people understood them then, time has proven Mr. Noguchi a forerunner.

Since then he has grown to be the most important link between the poetry of America and the poetry of Japan. He writes in both tongues, though mostly in English, interpreting the East to the West and the West to the East. He lives now in a suburb of Tokyo and is professor of English in Keio University. This year he is making a lecture tour of America.

Mr. Noguchi has lived also in London, and his two books of poetry, From the Eastern Sea and The Pilgrimage, were both printed.first in London and soon after in Japan; also The Pilgrimage was published later in this country by Mitchell Kennerley. They are books of subtle, delicate lyrics, full of that strange blend of old Japan and the West of today which makes the poetry of contemporary Japan so intriguing. This Ghost of Abyss, from The Pilgrimage, is typical of them:

My dreams rise when the rain falls; the sudden tongs

Flow about my ears as the clouds in June;

And the footsteps, lighter than the heart of wind,

Beat, now high, then low, before my dream-flaming eyes.

“Who am I?” said I. “Ghost of abyss,” a Voice replied,
“Piling an empty stone of song on darkness of night,
Dancing wild as a fire only to vanish away.”

But Mr. Noguchi’s chief service to English and American poetry is perhaps that of interpreting to us the spirit of his own land, where every educated person is still a poet, and where everyone writes a spring poem with as much regularity as every American purchases a straw hat. His little book The Spirit of Japanese Poetry (Dutton) is really a door into the Japanese mind, a door through which the western reader can take the first steps towards understanding, and therefore loving, the sharp, condensed, almost aching beauty of classical Japanese poetry. E. T. —Poetry, 15 (March 1920), 96-97. (Note: The Bruce Porter mentioned here was the husband of Moore’s close college friend, Peggy James.)

She published his work in The Dial repeatedly, and in the last three issues. In 1933, she wrote “The Poem and the Print” in Poetry (43 [November 1933] 92-95), a review of his  book on the Ukiyoye primitive painters. And she had in hand a copy of Noguchi’s article in The Spectator when she composed “Smooth Gnarled Crape Myrtle:” the clipping survives in her collection at the Rosenbach.

A biographical statement on Noguchi:

Father of Isamu Noguchi, Yonejiro (Yone) Noguchi (1875-1947) was the first Japanese national to publish poetry in English. Yone Noguchi was born near Nagoya in 1875, and traveled to the United States in 1893.  He soon established a reputation among the Imagist poets of San Francisco, and his first book of poetry was published there in 1897, Seen and Unseen or, Monologues of a Homeless Snail. After traveling to Great Britain Yone Noguchi went to New York, where he was helped with his English by writer Leonie Gilmour, mother of Isamu Noguchi.  . . . In addition to his long career as a poet and Professor of English at Keio University in Tokyo, Yone Noguchi published a number of books on Japanese art. He died in Tokyo in July 1947.” –The [Isamu] Noguchi Web Site.

July 16, 2010

“The Mind Is an Enchanting Thing:” Like Gieseking

“The Mind Is an Enchanting Thing”

“Like Gieseking playing Scarlatti”

The Nation 157 (December 18, 1943) 735

Pianist Walter Gieseking (1896-1956, first performed in New York in 1926. By 1929, Time Magazine had this to say:

“A tall, hulking man walked on to the stage at Carnegie Hall last week, bent himself into an awkward bow at the piano, and played superbly Bach’s Partita No. 2 in C Minor, three Scarlatti sonatas, Schumann’s C Major Fantasia and the first book of Debussy preludes. He was Walter Gieseking, come from Germany for another extended tour,* and he played, as he has always played, music that he himself has tried truly and found good.

“Three seasons have passed since Gieseking made an inconspicuous dé in Æolian Hall, Manhattan (TIME, Feb. 22, 1926). “His European notices were so superlative,” said Manager Charles L. Wagner afterward, “I knew no one would believe them so I decided to let his music speak for itself.”

His music spoke so eloquently that Sunday afternoon that members of the small audience told their friends. No one, according to some, had ever played Bach like Gieseking, and they rhapsodized over an amazing technic, a style that was as fluent and easy as it was immaculate. But his Bach, others said, could not compare with his Debussy which surely was the essence of poetry. The controversy, as over most artistic matters, might have been endless, for Gieseking is not a specialist.

“He is, critics say unanimously, a great musician. To appraise him seems almost impertinent and so they write of his playing in awkward, halting sentences which struggle with big words like “pellucid” and “perfection.”

–February 24, 1929 (online resource)

Among the Scarlatti sonatas in his repertoire were these: Sonata in E Major, L. 23; Sonata in E Minor, L. 275; Sonata in D Minor, L. 413; Sonata in D Major, L. 424. They are performed by him in the following clip recorded in the 1940s.

Gieseking remained in Germany during World War II, occasionally performing in Occupied France. Controversy about his affiliations arose after the war but he was later welcomed back to the United States.

“Armor’s Undermining Modesty:” Bock Beer Buck

“Armor’s Undermining Modesty”

“If tributes cannot be implicit,
give me . . .
the pale-ale-eyed impersonal look
which the sales placard gives the bock beer buck.”

The Nation 170 (February 25, 1950) 181

Eastern Beverage Company, Hammonton, NewJersey. Label from bottle of “Old Bohemian Bock Beer.” Moore’s footnote describes a poster, not a label, advertising this beer but it appears that the goat, or “buck,” above is the one used by this company on all its bock beer images.

Moore may have just liked the sound of “bock beer buck” but the reference to “faulty etymology” in line 13 alerts one to the sources of “bock” and “buck.”

The root of “bock” is from the German, bock, or bockbier, shortened from Eimbockbier, derived from Eimbeck, a town in Hanover. “In full, bock beer. Strong dark-colored variety of German beer.” (OED) It is brewed in the fall to be drunk the following spring. Among the OED citations is “1917 T.S.Eliot Prufrock 19 Let us . . . sit for half an hour and drink our bocks.” “Buck” is specifically the “he-goat,” now obsolete (OED), its etymological root tangled but perhaps Irish via Old English.

July 12, 2010

Mei Lan-Fang, Chinese Theater

Filed under: Marianne Moore — by moore123 @ 2:49 pm
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Moore wrote to Monroe Wheeler that she had enjoyed a performance by Mei Lan-Fang in New York (SL 502). Lan-Fang made only one tour of New York, in 1930 when his company played at the 49th Street Theater. A two-week run had been planned but so popular was the program that it was extended to five weeks and moved to the much larger National Theater. Among the pieces performed were “The Suspected Slipper,” “The End of the Tiger General,” and “The King’s Parting with His Favorite.”

In 1935,  Sergei Eisenstein met Lan-Fang in Moscow and persuaded him to permit filming of “The King’s Parting with His Favorite.” The film was never completed, but a short clip survives, a taste of what Moore would have seen. Lan-Fang,  following the custom of classical Chinese theater where only men acted, as always took the woman’s role.

Moore’s assessment of the performance she attended: ” I liked [Mei Lan-Fang] so much the one time I saw him in New York, that I was well satisfied not to go to anything else at the theatre afterward that season.” (SL 502)

Coincidentally, Bryher would publish Bertold Brecht’s article on Lan-Fang in Life and Letters Today in 1936, after Brecht had met the Chinese actor in Moscow.

July 5, 2010

“Nine Nectarines”

“William Billingsley (once poor,

like a monkey on a dolphin” (LL. 67-68)

refers to a fable by Aesop, “The Monkey and the Dolphin:”

Illustration by Milo Winter,

The Aesop for Children,

Chicago: Rand McNally,


Page 52

It happened once upon a time that a certain Greek ship bound for Athens was wrecked off the coast close to Piraeus, the port of Athens. Had it not been for the Dolphins, who at that time were very friendly toward mankind and especially toward Athenians, all would have perished. But the Dolphins took the shipwrecked people on their backs and swam with them to shore.

Now it was the custom among the Greeks to take their pet monkeys and dogs with them whenever they went on a voyage. So when one of the Dolphins saw a Monkey struggling in the water, he thought it was a man, and made the Monkey climb up on his back. Then off he swam with him toward the shore.

The Monkey sat up, grave and dignified, on the Dolphin’s back.

“You are a citizen of illustrious Athens, are you not?” asked the Dolphin politely.

“Yes,” answered the Monkey, proudly. “My family is one of the noblest in the city.”

“Indeed,” said the Dolphin. “Then of course you often visit Piraeus.”

“Yes, yes,” replied the Monkey. “Indeed, I do. I am with him constantly. Piraeus is my very best friend.”

This answer took the Dolphin by surprise, and, turning his head, he now saw what it was he was carrying. Without more ado, he dived and left the foolish Monkey to take care of himself, while he swam off in search of some human being to save.

One falsehood leads to another.

The Billingsley Rose (ll. 65-66)

It would appear that Billingsley and his hand-painted rose and his pottery invention are meant to stand in sharp contrast to Chinese porcelain–the fake versus the real:


Billingsley Rose


” ‘ Never heard of it,’ a gardener will answer you, even in the roseries at Kew; for few are aware of the Billingsley rose. It buds on no standard, it adorns no florist’s catalogue, and attar from it was never distilled. You may hunt it like the most precious of orchids, but the trail lies through Bloomsbury and the Kensingtons, and not in Amazonian forests or jungles of Mandalay. With patience and flair you may come upon it yet, though Glamorgan, Derbyshire, and ‘ the sweet shire of Cardigan’ have been scoured for it, Holland rifled of it, Cintra, Palermo, Montpellier, Tours, and all the haunts of the English resident abroad in the teens of last century meticulously searched for it, by keen-eyed votaries, illuminati, new Rosicrucians ready with gold for any disc of smooth and shining whiteness that bears the Billingsley rose.

It is a China rose, but it never bloomed in Cathay. Nippon nor Cashmere ever knew it; the European mainland never grew it; it flouts the flowers from Saxony and the valley of the Seine. In the Peak it budded, a century and a quarter ago, but still it lives in beauty; still the petals seem to throb with the sap of life; still this rose, as one enthusiast sings, ‘ has the soft bloom of youth and floats in being, as not by the agency of the brush but by the volition of the painter.’ For, yes, (perhaps you read the riddle at once?), a pencil of camel-hair produced the flower; it is upon suacers and cups and plates of old English porcelain that one finds the Billingsley rose.

Like every rare and peerless thing, it happened happily; the date of its blooming was fortunate. A little later there would have been no soft porcelain to paint on, a little earlier there was no English porcelain at all. The Billingsley rose is the very triumph and coronal of the efforts of English potters against invasions from the Orient, from Saxony and France. The illuminati know with their hearts the strange tale of that strife—how the Honourable East India Company kept pouring ‘ china’ in from the East; how Dresden and Sevres imposed upon us their splendid wares; how crowds of merchants and collectors awaited the ships and fought with their money-bags at the ports ; how ‘ Why should not we make porcelain ?’ said English potters, and how they began. Romance encircles the record of their doings; against royal subsidies and patronage by kings of Saxony and France they pitted private enterprise and petty capital; lacking the true material, they invented substitutes, composts, imitative amalgams and at last they came upon a kind of china that differed as much from the wares of Meissen and late Sevres as a lyric of Shelley’s contrasts with a page of Racine’s.

This English soft china was not true porcelain, I know. It was ‘ an ingenious and beautiful counterfeit,’ says Professor Church  but he does not rate the real thing the higher. No, it was something better than ‘ true’ porcelain; it was something unique and apart, something delicate and ephemeral, dainty and fragile, fit compeer for the Louis Seize fan, a pastel of Vigee Lebrun’s, or a Cosway miniature. It has left the china cupboard and the kitchen rack, to dwell in the realm of lost arts. The paste and the glaze of it, delightful in themselves, to the painter furnished a ‘ canvas’ opulently white, softly firm, and gently smooth, shot through with light, receptive, better than ivory; and upon such pleasant surfaces the pencil of William Billingsley began to play and create, at Derby, circa 1775. ”

–from J. H. Yoxhall, “The Billingsley Rose,” The Cornhill Magazine N. S. Vol. 22, January-June, 1907, pp, 365-76, via Google Books. The section above, pp, 365-66. The rest of the article confirms Billingsley’s successes and failures.

June 20, 2010

“The Steeple-Jack:” Albrecht Durer’s Presence

Filed under: Marianne Moore,Poem Sources — by moore123 @ 12:24 pm
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A candidate for

where a sea the purple of the peacock’s neck is

paled to greenish azure as Durer changed

the pine green of the Tyrol to peacock blue and guinea grey:

Albrecht Durer, “View of the Arco Valley,” Watercolor Drawing, 1496

This view of Arco, a rocky outcrop topped by a citadel to the north of Lake Garda, is one of Dürer’s finest and most elaborate landscapes. It was executed in 1495 when he was returning from his first trip to Italy, along the road from Venice to his native city of Nuremberg. On the way, Dürer executed about fifteen watercolor landscapes, now found in Vienna, Berlin, Bremen, and London. This is one of the best known.

The Return from Italy

One fine spring morning in 1495, when Dürer was traveling from Venice to Brenner via Trent, he stopped near Arco, a citadel perched on a rocky outcrop north of Lake Garda. He had come from Venice, where he could well have seen landscapes by Carpaccio, Cima da Conegliano, and Bellini, and was on his way to Nuremberg. No doubt he had wanted to see Lake Garda and was suddenly struck by the spectacle of nature coming to life in early spring and of a fortress, which perhaps stirred memories of his homeland. The annotation is believed to have been added circa 1502-1503; the monogram is also a later addition.

Two Phases

This work seems unfinished only in the centre right, whereas all the other watercolors painted during Dürer’s first Italian sojourn make good use of unfinished effects to suggest immediacy. Most of these watercolors date from the journey to Venice. The more elaborate appearance of this work may be due to greater stylistic maturity; however, the foreground may also have been added later – the colors are different and the style is rather drier than in the main subject. The pale tonalities of the watercolors may be the result of Mantegna’s influence.

Power, Balance, Clarity

Dürer’s watercolor landscapes have a special place in European art circa 1500 but generated no immediate imitators, even among his pupils. Here, while accurately describing the topographical features of the site, Dürer has tried to capture the poetic light and color of the spring landscape. The gray-blue of the olive trees and the very pale tones of the watercolors are evocative of the countryside in early morning. Dürer has admirably rendered the vegetation, especially the grape vines. The crenellations on the walls around the little village are perhaps slightly oversized, but they emphasize Dürer’s interest in protective fortifications. Similarly, the mountains that tower above the outcrop have been deliberately omitted to focus attention on the central motif. And indeed a feeling of tempered, balanced power emanates from this fresh, luminous watercolor.

Technical information:

Pen and brown ink, watercolor and gouache highlights, retouched in black ink
H. 22.3 cm; W. 22.2 cm
Jabach Collection; purchased for the Cabinet du Roi in 1671
Prints and Drawings
Annotated by Dürer in pen and black ink, upper right: “fenedier klawsen” (Venetian collar) and by another hand in pen and brown ink, the artist’s monogram

–From the Louvre Museum Website

Moore may have seen this often-reproduced image in a printed version, but it was owned by the Louvre when she visited in August, 1911; as a work on paper, its chances of being on display were slim.

T. Sturge Moore, in his Albrecht Durer (New York: Scribner’s, 1905) mentions Durer’s travels to Venice, if not a visit to the Val d’Isarco in the Dolomites of the South Tyrol. He does, however, discuss Durer’s search for a beached whale. He quotes from Durer’s diary:

Antwerp, November 22-December 3, 1520.

At Zierikzee, in Zeeland, a whale has been stranded by a high tide and a gale of wind. It is much more than 100 fathoms long, and no man living in Zeeland has seen one even a third as long as this is. The fish cannot get off the land; the people would gladly see it gone, as they fear the great stink, for it is so large that they say it could not be cut in pieces and the blubber boiled down in half a year. (151)

December 9-—Early on Monday we started again by ship and went by the Veere and Zierikzee and tried to get sight of the great fish,* but the tide had carried him off again.

* The object of the whole expedition was, doubtless, that Durer might see and sketch the whale. (152)

And he noted that:

In the Netherlands, Durer’s curiosity to see a whale nearly resulted in his own shipwreck, and indirectly produced the malady which finally killed him. But Durer’s curiosity was really most scientific where it was most artistic; in his portraits, in his studies of plants and birds and the noses of stags, or the slumber of lions. (136)



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