Marianne Moore: Poetry

June 4, 2010

“Egyptian Fish Pulled Glass Bottle” for Scofield Thayer

“Polychrome Vase in Form of a Fish, El-Amarna, XVIIIth Dynasty, about 1365, B.C.

Glass (Height, 2 3/4 in.) No. 55193, The British Museum B 379″

–British Museum Postcard

Moore and her mother went to England in the summer of 1911 and on a trip to the British Museum might have seen this glass bottle among the Egyptian treasures (in the 1980s it rested there on the top shelf of a display of Egyptian glass). But whether she encountered it first hand, she certainly met it in the pages of the Illustrated London News for August 6, 1921 and created her “An Egyptian Glass Bottle in the Shape of a Fish.” She published the poem in Observations (New York: Dial Press, 1924), with the company founded by Lincoln MacVeagh which shared space with The Dial magazine, owned by Scofield Thayer and J. Sibley Watson.

With Observations, Moore received The Dial Award for “service to literature,”  joining Eliot, Sherwood Anderson, Van Wyck Brooks, and later, Williams,  Pound, Cummings, and Kenneth Burke. Moore presented Scofield Thayer with an extra-illustrated copy of her book. One of her additions  is this tracing of the black-and-white photograph from The Illustrated London News, identified thusly in her hand. The book is in the American Literature collection at the Beinecke Library at Yale where The Dial papers are also housed.

” From Tell El Amarna Fish-shaped glass bottle

London Ill[ustrated] News – May 6 – 1921″

May 25, 2010

1987 Exhibition Catalog

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Marianne Moore: Vision into Verse, the exhibition catalog from the Rosenbach Museum & Library, is available through Google Books.  This link can be reached  through the column to the right of this post under “Marianne Moore: Vision into Verse” in the section “Essays on Poems.”

April 5, 2010

Posts on This Blog

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The posts that follow this one are now listed in the order created on the right-hand side of this page. When their number exceeds 20, the oldest go into “Archives” for the month in which they were created.

March 28, 2010

Tolstoy’s Diary and “Poetry”

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Leo Tolstoy, 1851 (P. 76)

“Business documents and school books” famously quoted in “Poetry,” from The Diaries of Leo Tolstoy, translated by C. J. Hogarth (New York: Dutton, 1917) appear in Moore’s 1916-1921 reading notebook. She noted the following passages from the Diaries, transcribing only the words printed here in bold type.

Lamartine says that writers neglect the composition of popular literature; that the greatest number of readers is to be found among the masses; and that writers write only for the circle in which they themselves move, despite the fact that the masses, which comprise persons hungering for enlightenment, have no literature of their own, and never will have until writers shall begin to write also for the people. This does not refer to books written with the aim of finding many readers: such works are not compositions, but mere products of the literary cult. What is meant is educational and erudite works which do not come within the province of poetry.
(Where the boundary between prose and poetry lies I shall never be able to understand. The question is raised in manuals of style, yet the answer to it lies beyond me. Poetry is verse: prose is not verse. Or else poetry is everything with the exception of business documents and school books.) To be good, literary compositions must always be, as Gogol said of his Farewell Tale, “sung from my soul,” sung from the soul of the author. (Pp. 44-45)

Only now have I come to understand that it is deceptive to feel sure of one’s actions in the future, and that men may rely upon themselves only in so far as they have had previous experience, and that that reliance annuls their very strength, and that one should regard no occasion as too insignificant to apply the whole of one’s strength to it. (P. 124)

Vanity is an unintelligible passion—one of those evils, such as involuntary diseases, hunger, locusts, and war, with which Providence is wont to punish humanity. The sources of it lie beyond discovery; but the causes which develop it are inactivity, luxury, and absence of cares and privations. (P. 129)

I should frame my testament approximately thus (unless in the meanwhile I should write another one,) it would run precisely as follows:
I desire to be buried wheresoever I may die, and in the cheapest possible burial ground (if my death should occur in a town), and in the cheapest possible coffin, such as is used for paupers. And I desire no flowers or wreaths to be laid upon me, and no speeches to be recited. And, if possible, let there be neither priest nor requiem. (P. 236)

March 26, 2010

Balbus the Elusive

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“It Makes No Difference to Balbus Whether He Drinks Wine or Water” (Poems 2003, p. 58) offers this titular character as a lead-in to contrasting statements about aesthetic preferences. Were we students of Latin composition from about 1839 through the early Twentieth Century—or even today—we might have used A Practical Guide to Latin Prose Composition by Thomas Kerchever Arnold or its successors. This work appeared in countless editions before being reissued in 1884 by G. G. Bradley and known today as Bradley’s Arnold Latin Prose Composition.

Moore may have had her own experience of this manual: she took Latin composition both semesters of her freshman year at Bryn Mawr; but as we will see, she might have gone elsewhere for her inspiration.

Here is an exercise from the New York, Appleton, 1873, edition of the original Arnold work:

“Exercise 30.

What are the various ways of translating whether—or? What difference does it make to Caius, whether he drinks wine or water?.lt makes a great difference to me why he did this.” (Pp. 75-76.)

Note, though, that the one who cares not what he drinks is “Caius,” not Balbus. But A. D. Whittemore, a member of the Yale class of 1873, wrote in the Yale Literary Magazine (83: May 1873, pp. 339-43) a satirical story “Balbus; A Sketch of College Life 2000 Years Ago,” in which he strings together many of the sentences from Arnold’s exercises that use both Balbus and Caius as subjects: ” ‘I will enquire of Caius whether Balbus should be consulted,” among scores of examples. Small wonder, then, if some of the activities Arnold assigned to Caius became those of Balbus.

When Yale president Arthur Twining Hadley, class of 1876, published The Education of the American Citizen (New York: Scribner’s, 1902), he remembered Balbus. He argued that once colleges taught principles rather than specific knowledge and that by 1902, the reverse prevailed: “In whatever studies we may select for our school course, we should lay emphasis on training in principles rather than on attention to details. . . . The pupil’s natural tendency to lay stress on accessories and incidents is so great that it needs no artificial encouragement. I can testify personally that, though I spent nearly a year in the study of Arnold’s Latin Prose Composition, the salient facts which remain in my mind are that Balbus built a wall, and that it makes no difference to Balbus whether he drinks wine or water; while the methods of translating these things into Latin have passed wholly out of mind.”(P. 184)

Hadley was not the only Yalie to conflate Caius and Balbus. So oddly memorable was Latin composition to the class of 1873 that its 40th reunion documents bring it up again:

” Here [at Yale] dwells the Benignant Mother, under whose elms I learned the baccalaureate arts of keeping a base-ball score, balancing on a fence, and other such knowledge, which is perfectly invaluable . . . . Here we acquired that information of Balbus, the reckless Roman youth, of whom it was stated, ‘It makes no difference to Balbus whether he drinks wine or water,’ and so on in his checkered career down to that final ‘stunt,’ ‘Balbus, being struck by lightning, lighted his funeral pyre with an equal mind.’” (Frederick K. Shepard, ed.) History of the Yale Class of 1873, New Haven, 1904. p. 305)

Moore must have found her Balbus in one of the Yale sources (her brother was class of 1908) or something similar. When Bradley put his stamp on Arnold’s work in the 1880s, he banished Balbus and Caius, perhaps sensitive to a hilarious spoof in The Illustrated Magazine, 1880, pp. 318-19, “Balbus: A Biography” by W. E. Wilcox, frequently reprinted.

This is a long footnote on twelve words from a 1920 poem, its length in proportion to the years I have been hunting for Balbus. As always, where Moore found something is subordinate to what use she made of it. In this case, there may be a clue from a 1964 reflection. She answered a questionnaire on “Classics and the Man of Letters” for Arion as follows:

“Q. Claims are still made for a living continuity between Graeco-Roman civilization and our own. If these claims are anything more than familiar cultural gestures, at what levels, and in what contexts, can they still be valuably made?

“A. Opportunity  to compare standards of beauty and acquire innate speech.”(Prose, 688-69)

One might argue that the poem compares standards of beauty, wine and water. For anyone interested in pursuing the point, there is an unpublished, quite different version of the poem (at Rosenbach) entitled “He Said” written at Chatham, NJ, between the fall of 1916 and summer of 1918. The poem as “It Makes No Difference. . .” was submitted to The Dial on October 4, 1920, and rejected.

March 23, 2010

Cellini in “Reprobate Silver” (1915)

Benvenuto Cellini, 1545-54

“Perseus with the Head of Medusa,” Benvenuto Cellini, 1545-54. In Florence, in the Loggia dei Lanzi gallery on the edge of the Piazza della Signoria.

Moore wrote to her brother on October 3, 1915, “I have just finished [Benvenuto] Cellini’s memoirs and if anything is calculated to make Don Quixote ‘look like a Cumberland timetable.’ they are. He had a ‘large hairy dog black as mulberry,’ which stood by him on may occasions and his intrepidity is beyond belief. He says on one occasion, ‘swelling like an asp, I resolved on a desperate thing,’ and again, ‘I clothed myself with patience than which nothing is harder to me.‘ You will have to read it for yourself.” (Selected Letters, 100-101)

She was reading The Autobiography of Benvenuto Cellini, translated by John Aldington Symonds, New York: P. F. Collier, 1910 (or if not that printing, at least that translation). The raw material from which she quoted is as follows:

I had a dog, black as a mulberry, one of those hairy ones, who followed me admirably when I went out shooting, and never left my side. During the night he lay beneath my bed, and I had to call out at least three times to my servant to turn him out, because he howled so fearfully. When the servants entered, the dog flew at them and tried to bite them. They were frightened, and thought he must be mad, because he went on howling. . . . At the stroke of four the Bargello came into my room with a band of constables. Then the dog sprang forth and flew at them with such fury, tearing their capes and hose, that in their fright they fancied he was mad. But the Bargello, like an experienced person, told them : “It is the nature of good dogs to divine and foretell the mischance coming on their masters.” (P. 229)

Cellini had been arrested for some choleric misbehavior. “Albeit just then I felt as though I had been massacred, I sent for one of my cousins, . . . desiring that he should go bail for me. He refused to come, which made me so angry, that, fuming with fury and swelling like an asp, I took a desperate resolve. At this point one may observe how the stars do not so much sway as force our conduct. When I reflected on the great obligations which this Annibale owed my family, my rage grew to such a pitch that, turning wholly to evil, and being also by nature somewhat choleric, I waited till the magistrates had gone to dinner; and when I was alone, . . . in the fire of my anger, I left the palace, ran to my shop, seized a dagger and rushed to the house of my enemies, who were at home and shop together. I found them at table; and Gherardo, who had been the cause of the quarrel, flung himself upon me. I stabbed him in the breast, piercing doublet and jerkin through and through to the shirt, without however grazing his flesh or doing him the least harm in the world.” (P. 31)

In France, where he exercised his silver- and goldsmith craft on behalf of the King, Cellini fell out with an aristocratic woman. “I took the handsome little vase which I had made at the request of Madame d’Etampes, hoping, if I gave it her, to recover the favour I had lost. With this in my hand, then, I announced my presence to her nurse, and showed the gift which I had brought her mistress; the woman received me with demonstrations of good-will, and said that she would speak a word to Madame, who was still engaged upon her toilette; I should be admitted on the instant, when she had discharged her embassy. The nurse made her report in full to Madame, who retorted scornfully: “Tell him to wait.” On hearing this, I clothed myself with patience, which of all things I find the most difficult. Nevertheless, I kept myself under control until the hour for dinner was past. Then, seeing that time dragged on, and being maddened by hunger, I could no longer hold out, but flung off, sending her most devoutly to the devil.” (Pp. 296-297)

Clearly, if Don Quixote can be compared to the little trolley that plied between Harrisburg and Carlisle, Cellini’s memoirs are like “Panshin’s horse,” “Thor’s hammer,” or “Flaubert’s Carthage” (Salammbo). The latter trio appear in “Reprobate Silver” (The Poems of Marianne Moore, 2003, p. 43), used by Moore to describe the Cellini of his Autobiography.

The choice of the Cellini Perseus image, above, is a long shot: “Perseus to Polydectes” is a working title for Moore’s very early “I May, I Might, I Must,” a poem also about an intrepid person. For a while, I thought “Reprobate Silver,” as a phrase, must refer to one of Cellini’s exquisitely wrought pieces, like the famed gold and enamel salt-cellar. But “reprobate” to a Presbyterian probably invoked the doctrine of reprobation, the eternally lost condition of persons not elect, or given salvation. Cellini, who got away with murdering several people, may well have qualified in Moore’s mind, however intriguing his memoir.

March 15, 2010

The Arctic Ox on a Stairway

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March 8, 2010

Lord Cromer on the Greek Anthology, 1913

In her notebook 1250/1 in which she jotted down interesting passages from her reading, Moore writes “Spectator, 12 May” and transcribes the following lines: “On entre, on crie,/ et c’est la vie;/ on crie, on sort,/ et c’est la mort.” The lines appear as the epigraph to “As You Know”,” a four-line poem about the persistence of the soul after death, written in the summer of 1914 (she first sent it out to a little magazine on 14 August 1914, according to her list of submissions). The poem itself appears in the advance uncorrected proofs of The Poems of Marianne Moore (2003) but was dropped from the first edition.

The Spectator (London) for 10 May 1914 carried a review essay by Evelyn Baring, Earl of Cromerr of Ancient Gems in Modern Settings;Being Versions of the Greek Anthology in English Rhyme, by Various Writers, ed. by G.B. Grundy, Oxford, B.H. Blackwell; London, New York : H. Frowde, 1913. Cromer collected this essay, “The Greek Anthology” in his Political and Literary Essays, 1908-1913. London: Macmillan, 1913. In addition to the lines noted, Moore would have found several other passages of interest.

Cromer addresses the translators’ challenges, writing: “Then again, the translator must struggle with the difficulties arising from the fact that the Greeks regarded condensation in speech as a fine art. Demetrius, or whoever was the author of De Elocutione, said: ‘The first grace of style is that which results from compression.’” See “To a Snail,” “If ‘compression is the first grace of style,’ / you have it.” To be fair, W. Rhys Roberts in his edition of De Elocutione (Cambridge, 1902) translates this sentence “The very first grace of style . . .” and it is possible that Moore read his bi-lingual edition.

A few paragraphs later, Cromer ponders why most of the Anthology’s poems, insubstantial as they are compared to the greatest literature of Greece, continue to fascinate readers. “The reasons are not far to seek. In the first place, no productions of the Greek genius conform more wholly to the Aristotelian canon that poetry should be an imitation of the universal. Few of the poems in the Anthology depict any ephemeral phase or fashion of opinion, like the Euphuism of the sixteenth century. All appeal to emotions which endure for all time, and which it has been aptly said, are the true raw material of poetry.” The phrase “the raw material of poetry” had some currency in the period 1910-1917 which might be called the years of gestation for Moore’s “Poetry”; it appears most often in the context of Greek poetry. An unsigned piece on “Free Verse” in The Outlook for August, 1915, blasts that form with: “It would be foolish to deny that some poetry of surpassing worth has been written in the less formal manner. It would be impossible to deny that much free verse contains a rhythm and a cadence that are both effective in the excitation of emotion and as a vehicle for the conveyance of thought. It would be equally foolish to deny that much of what currently passes for free verse is at best little more than the raw material of poetry, that its formlessness results from laziness rather than imagination, and that its span of life will be as brief as its rhythm is breathless.”

Cromer continues his remarks on poetic brevity: “Then again, the pungent brevity of such of the poetry of the Anthology as is epigrammatic is highly attractive. Much has at times been said as to what constitutes an epigram, but the case for brevity has probably never been better stated than by a witty Frenchwoman of the eighteenth century. Madame de Boufflers wrote: ‘Il faut dire en deux mots / Ce qu’on veut dire; / Les longs propos / Sont sots.’ In this respect, indeed. French can perhaps compete more successfully than any other modern language with Greek. Democritus (410 B.C.) wrote ‘O kosmos skene, ‘o Bios Parados, / elthes, eides, apelthes.’ [The world is a stage, life is a performance; you come, you see, you go away.] The French version of the same idea is in no way inferior to the Greek: ‘On entre, on crie,/ Et c’est la vie! / On crie, on sort / Et c’est la mort!’ Here Cromer joins the last pithy verse, the one Moore noted in 1913 and used in “As You Know” to the first verse of Boufflers’ “Sentir Avec Ardeur,” Moore waited exactly forty years to use the latter in “Tom Fool at Jamaica,” the title appearing in the text of her work and the entire French poem in its notes.

We cannot know for certain whether Moore’s use of these elements in her poems came directly from Cromer’s piece in The Spectator—with the exception of “As You Know.” But in any case, there is real pleasure in finding them all in one essay.

Two online sources for Cromer’s Poltical and Literary Essays, 1913:

This address goes to a full reproduction of the Cromer’s book at “”. The essay “The Greek Anthology” is at pages 226-36.,+on+crie%22+spectator&ei=sgKVS-SmL5KCywSri4ncAg&cd=2#v=onepage&q=&f=false

This address is for Google Books’ limited preview of the book; the last page of the essay is suppressed.

March 6, 2010

Hobohemia in “George Moore”

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Published in Others 1.6 (December 1915): 105-6,  “George Moore” asks whether

Habitual ennui

Took from you, your invisible, hot helmet of anaemia–

While you were filling your “little glass” from the decanter

Of a transparent-murky, would-be-truthful “hobohemia”–

And then facetiously

Went off with it?

Both the OED and Webster’s offer historical instances of the use of “hobohemia” from 1919 or later. But it is likely that Moore noticed an article in Current Opinion for June, 1915, (Vol. 59, p. 429). In an article on “Sad and Serious Reflections on the First Salon of American Humorists,” there appears a reproduction of a print by Stuart Davis entitled “Hobohemia.”  In it, a group of men and women stand and sit chockablock in a café and the caption reads:  “As depicted by Stuart Davis, one of the youngest and most original humorists of the brush, there is nothing particularly fascinating in this strange field of feminism, futurism, and free verse.” The reviewer most of the exhibition less than amusing.

It should be noted that the index to this volume of Current Opinion gives the Davies image as “’Humorist’ Picture,” the same title given accompanying works by  Edith Dimock and Edward Glackens. Two years later, Sinclair Lewis published his short story “Hobohemia” [Saturday Evening Post 189 ( 7 April 1917)], a thinly veiled portrait of Mabel Dodge’s Fifth Avenue Salon and of other Greenwich Village literati.

Whatever Moore means in making a connection with George Moore, whose autobiographies she had recently read, and American artists, does not come readily to mind.

The link to the issue of Current Events at Google Books is:

Tricorne Hats

Frances Perkins, left, with Mary W. Dewson of the Social Security Administration, January, 1938.

“Fannie Coralie Perkins knew by the age of ten that she would never be a conventional beauty. . . . Her mother, Susan Bean Perkins, delivered the message when she took her daughter shopping for a hat. . . . [She] passed by the pretty hats and pointed instead to a simple three-cornered tricorn style, similar to the ones worn by Revolutionary War soldiers.

“There, my dear, that is your hat. . . .

“The hat would come to symbolize the plain, sturdy and dependable woman who became Francis Perkins,” Secretary of Labor under Franklin Roosevelt and the first female member of the Cabinet.

Perkins graduated from Mount Holyoke in 1902; this incident dates from about 1890.

from Kirstin Downey. The Woman behind the New Deal: The Life of Francis Perkins, FDR’s Secretary of Labor and His Moral Conscience. New York: Nan A. Talese/Doubleday, 2009, p. 5.

    May 31, 2007

    About the Marianne Moore Blog

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    Marianne C. Moore, 1887-1972, American modernist poet. This site is dedicated to postings and conversation about the poet’s work and to gathering available poem texts, essays, and other scholarly materials from internet sources and individuals. Please submit articles, bibliographic references, links, and other useful information. If you wish to contact me about this site directly (rather than through a blog comment) please use I look forward to your interest and participation in this venture. –Patricia C. Willis

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