Marianne Moore: Poetry

June 2, 2012

“Then the Ermine” and Katherine Anne Porter

“Then the Ermine,” Poetry 81 (October 1952) 55-56.


On January 1, 1957, Katherine Anne Porter wrote to thank Moore for a copy of Like a Bulwark, her new book that contained “Then the Ermine,” a poem which Porter

G. P. Lynes, 1932

said gave her “a special kind of personal feeling.” (Isabel Bailey, ed. Letters of Katherine Anne Porter, Atlantic Monthly Press, 1994, p. 519)­ 

Porter  refers to the lines:

So let the palisandre settee express

Change, “ebony violet,”

Master Corbo in full dress.

Porter’s apartment held an antique settee, upholstered in purple velvet. After Moore paid Porter a visit, Porter wrote to her on 27 November 1951 (A.L.S., Moore papers, Rosenbach), recalling how Moore looked  seated on the settee: “on the heliotrope velvet, that palissandre will never look so well again . . . .” Porter’s papers at the University of Maryland contain a manuscript of the finished poem.

Porter lived in Paris for four years beginning in 1933. That year, Harrison of Paris published her French Song-Book, an elegant slim volume designed by Monroe Wheeler, one of her, and Moore’s, best friends. The Song-Book covered early French music and provided original French texts, Porter’s translations, and the songs’ notation.  Moore, who surely knew about the book, no doubt forged a connection between Porter’s French efforts and her own. Moore’s lines about the crow

Master Corbo in full dress

And shepherdess

at once—exhilarating hoarse crow note

and dignity with intimacy

refer to La Fontaine’s second fable in Book I, “The Fox and the Crow,” which Moore was, in 1951, in the process of translating. In brief, a crow held a piece of cheese that the fox wanted. “Ah, superb Sir Ebony, well met. / How black! who else boasts your metallic jet” the fox said, and praised the crow’s “warbling.” “All aglow, Master Crow tried to run a few scales. / Risking trills and intervals, / Dropping the prize as his huge beak sang false.” (Marianne Moore. The Fables of La Fontaine, Viking, 1952, pp 14-15.)

But “shepherdess?” It is tempting to associate Porter’s French song “Shepherdess, Be Kind,” a charming poem containing a reference to a bird.  But

Louis XV Bergère Chairs

the purple-black settee is upholstered in the color of the crow and made in the shape of une bergère, ordinarily a shepherdess, but in terms of furniture, a French armchair from the same period as the settee, late Eighteenth Century.

Porter’s settee now adorns the Katherine Anne Porter room at the University of Maryland.  If Moore is right to call it palissandre, it is made from a Madagascar wood by that name. At Maryland, it is called an “eighteenth-century Louis XV fruitwood sofa.” Sadly, its purple upholstery had to be replaced some years after this poem appeared, having been adversely affected by a cat.

Palissandre Settee

Palissandre Settee

April 27, 2012

“The Jerboa” and Dr. Ditmars

Filed under: Poem Sources — by moore123 @ 10:29 am

“[The jerboa] launching

As if on wings, from its match-thin hind legs”

“The Jerboa” Hound and Horn 7 (October-December 1932) 108-113, ll 117-118.

Moore offers a note to these lines, citing a highly respected source. Raymond L. Ditmars (1876-1942) served as curator of the New York Zoological Garden (The Bronx Zoo) for many years. Originally a herpetologist, he worked with mammals, insects, and other animals, building the zoo’s collection. His Animals I Have Known (available at describes various collecting trips, including one to Africa. There, he encountered the “Yellow Wind” outside Algiers, a violent sandstorm of the kind that jerboas routinely survive. [Amid tumultuous, blinding sand storms . . . ] it would seem as if all types of life would abandon such areas, but this is not the case. There are remarkable forms of adaptation. There are little rats called jerboas which run on long hind-legs as thin as a match. The forelimbs are mere tiny hands. They are fleet and coloured like the sand. They have a long balancing tail, with decorative pad of black and white fur at the tip. This tip is, in fact, more than decorative, as the pad is like a little snow-shoe to keep the end from sinking in the sand. The tail is carried in upward curve when the creatures run. When they stop it is rested on the ground so that the whole body is little tripod. The feet have furry pads to prevent their becoming imbedded in the soft sand. I kept one for several years, not giving it a drop of water. It fed on dry corn and loved stems of dry grass. The only moisture it had came from occasional bits of greens, of which it was not over fond.

–Raymond L. Ditmars. Strange Animals I Have Known. New York: Blue Ribbon Press, 1931, pp 274-75

April 25, 2012

Invitation to Friends of MM

Welcome to a blog on Moore’s poetry.  Please comment and join the conversation. –Pat Willis

A New Column

Moore Poet-Scholars

It has been a tradition at conferences on Marianne Moore to feature poets who acknowledge an affinity with her and her work. Jeredith Merrin is one of them who has just published a new book, Owling, winner of the Grayson Books Chapbook Award for 2016.  It is her fourth collection of poetry. I asked her to begin this series with some remarks about her work’s connection to Moore’s:

owling.Moore is inimitable.  But my new chapbook , OWLING, is indebted to Moore’s both outward- and inward-looking poetry

To write it, I took Moore-like notes on individual species of owls (19 different species); and in some lyrics I do use quotations.  Also, as Moore readers will note, I use syllabics when the occasion seems to call for them. I never knew where an individual species would take me (in subject matter or in form), so a pleasure of composing this little parliament of owls was that I was surprised each time—which I hope means that the reader will find these poems surprising.  They move from natural history to Marilyn Monroe, to Alzheimer’s, to The National Book Award, to Blue Whales, to. . . .

A poet-friend who e-mailed just today called my owl poems “capaciously swervy” (a phrase which might describe “Peter” or “An Octopus”)!

I thought OWLING might be of particular interest to those who are teaching Moore poems and to those who are interested in the study of Literature and Environment (I’m a member of ASLE).

Jeredith can be reached at and she is available for readings and classes. OWLING: There is an author page at


March 29, 2012

“Dress and Kindred Subjects” I

Demonstrating her interest in fashion, Moore wrote an essay on “Dress and Kindred Subjects, a kind of  list by one who “[deplores] digressions from dignity and behavior in dress.” ( Women’s Wear Daily, February 17, 1965, pp 4-5.)  Were she to read this blog, she might be annoyed to find that pictorial images make bold to illustrate her superb verbal images. But as years pass, some readers will not easily call to mind why “Sandals require a thin White Rock fairy to wear them,” or how a suit by Ben Zuckerman looks, “roomy but snug.” Here, then, are some of the images imaged.

The White Rock Fairy

White Rock Beverages, known for their sparkling water, from the White Rock Products Corp.  located in Waukesha, Wisconsin.


Military cape with “Chinese straight-up collar”

The Borsalino Hat


Borsalino hats have been manufactured in Alessandria, Italy since 1857. Giuseppe Borsalino, the Company founder, developed from a 14 year old boy working in a hat factory to one of the most important Italian industrialists of the nineteenth century. When Giuseppe Borsalino died in 1900, his business employed almost one thousand workers and had an annual production of one million hats.

The Borsalino hat factory continues to be located in Alessandria. In 1986 it moved to a modern suburban location. The underlying style and craftsmanship that have symbolized Borsalino Hats since its founding remain unchanged.

The Stetson


Buffalo Bill in a Stetson

“In 1865, with $100 in his pocket, John B. Stetson rented a small room, bought the tools he needed and $10 worth of fur; and the John B. Stetson Hat Company was born. A year later the “Hat of the West” or the now famous “Boss of the Plains” hat was born

“Stetson hats are the most well known hats in the world. Wherever and whenever hats are discussed, Stetson will be recognized with distinction.

“Stetson is the standard in hats, the essence of the spirit of the West and an icon of everyday American lifestyle.” (From the Stetson Company website)

Ben Zuckerman

For I Magnan in Vogue, 15 August 1963

Romanian born fashion designer

My Fair Lady’s Evolution

Julie Andrews as Eliza Doolittle, Unreformed

And as Eliza, Transformed, from the Broadway Production, 1956

My Fair Lady, by Lerner and Lowe, tells of the transformation of Eliza Doolittle from humble flower seller to elegant lady

Madame Mensendieck

Bess Mensendieck Teaching Body Mechanics

An American physician, Bess Mensendieck (1864–1957) worked in Vienna to establish schools to teach exercises that would improve women’s posture

Fashion in the First Empire

First Empire Fashion

Napoleon strove to improve fashion after he became Emperor of France in 1804. His wife, Josephine, became a model of the new style.

Empress Eugénie

Empress Eugénie Mounted

Eugénie de Montijo (5 May 1826 – 11 July 1920), Spanish born wife of Napoleon III and  the last empress of France

March 14, 2012

Hercules in “The Paper Nautilus”

Filed under: Poem Sources — by moore123 @ 4:58 pm
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“as Hercules, bitten / by a crab loyal to the hydra, / was hindered to succeed”

“The Paper Nautilus” Kenyon Review 2 (Summer 1940) 287-88.

Moore’s familiarity with Greek myth dated to her childhood. While we do not know precisely what books she saw as a young girl, the following work is contemporary to the period. The telling of the second labor of Hercules, the conquering of the Hydra, sometimes includes mention of the crab that nipped at Hercules’ legs during the fight; it occurs in this telling.


On his return to Argos to report the successful termination of his first task, Hercules was told to repair to the marshes of Hydra of Lema, where lurked a seven-headed serpent, the Lema. Hydra, and put an end to its career of rapacity, for this snake devoured man and beast. Armed with a great sword, Hercules succeeded in cutting off one of the seven heads; but he had nosooner done so, than, to his dismay, he saw seven other heads suddenly spring from the bleeding stump. To prevent a repetition of this unpleasant miracle, Hercules bade his friend Iolaus, who had accompanied him thither to view his prowess, take a lighted brand and sear the wounds as soon as inflicted. Thanks to this wise plan, the monster was finally slain, although a friendly crab sent by Juno to defend Hydra continually pinched Hercules’ feet. The hero, angry at this intervention, crushed the crab, which, however, received its reward, for the Queen of Heaven placed it in the sky as the constellation of Cancer (the Crab). The country was thus freed from its long state of thraldom; but, before leaving the scene of his second labor, Hercules dipped his arrows in the Hydra’s venomous blood, knowing well that any wound they inflicted, however slight, would be sure to prove fatal.

–Hélène Adeline Guerber, Myths of Greece and Rome: narrated with special reference to literature and art. New York: American Book Company, 1893, pp. 175-76.

March 11, 2012

Henry and Barbara Church, Wallace Stevens

While Moore and Wallace Stevens had interacted in print and perhaps from some distance at literary events, their relationship deepened at the

Mt. Holyoke, 1943

Entretiens de Pontigny, a symposium hosted by Mount Holyoke College and presided over by Jean Wahl in 1943. Moore’s talk resulted in “Feeling and Precision,” Stevens’ in “The Figure of the Youth as Virile Poet.” At that gathering, Moore met Stevens’ good friends Henry Hall Church (1880-1947)and his wife Barbara S. Church (1879-1960), caught for the duration of World War II in New York without access to their Le Corbusier-designed estate outside Paris.

Henry came from the  Arm & Hammer Baking Soda family (in 1934 he inherited $90 million—in today’s dollars) and became a philanthropist, supporting little magazines such as Mesures edited in Paris by Jean Paulhan and acquiring modern art. Barbara, born in Wurtzburg, Bavaria, to a wealthy family, became a New York personage in her own right after Henry’s sudden death in 1947. At about that time, Stevens decided that Barbara Church and Moore should spend time together, as each had suffered a bereavement, Moore’s mother having died in July, 1947.  In the early 1950s, Stevens thought that Moore should take a break from her translation La Fontaine’s fables and go to Europe with Barbara.

Moore tactfully refused and, according to Robin Schultze, wrote “The Web One Weaves of Italy” to offer her reasons (The Web of Friendship: Marianne Moore and Wallace Stevens, p. 216).

Pictured here, the Mesures group, meeting at the Church home in Ville d’Avray outside Paris; from left to right, are Sylvia Beach, Barbara Church, Vladimir Nabokov (standing behind her), Adrienne Monnier, Germaine Paulhan, Henry Church, Henri Michaux, Michel Leiris, and (standing behind him) Jean Paulhan.

Le Corbusier designed the Church house in Ville d’Avray

February 15, 2012

“Masks” and Egyptian Vultures

“Egyptian vultures, clean as cherubim, / All ivory and jet”

“Masks,” Contemporary Verse 1.1 (January 1916), 6.  Later “A Fool, A Foul Thing, A Distressful Lunatic” in Observations, 1924, greatly revised.

Moore submitted her poem about three maligned birds to Harper’s in January, 1915, and published it a year later in Contemporary Verse. This version, “Masks” differs in its first half from the Observations “A Fool, A Foul Thing, A Distressful Lunatic,” but the passage about Egyptian vultures remains unchanged.

Moore found the passage on the vultures in a weekly she seems to have read regularly, The Living Age.  Published in Boston, it brought  together full articles from other magazines. “A Naturalist in North America” was reprinted from Nineteenth Century and After, the British journal. Here is the passage in question, bold face added:

Meantime those Griffons had taken alarm: a covey of vultures, huge birds, as big as swans and far wider of pinion, took wing silently, casting

Egyptian Vulture

reproachful glances over their shoulders as they swept out and up, a sight which drew cries of wonder and delight from the stupid Arabs above. Twenty times did these great and reverend-looking creatures pass and repass beneath the eyes of the solitary cragsman. Their anxieties drew other birds into their orbits. A pair of Black Kites flickered and whinnied above them: they may have had young in some neighboring cleft, for the tail of a lizard stuck out beyond the bill of the mother-bird and wriggled as she flew. A Red Kite, handsomer, more agile, and with more deeply cleft tail, came to see and to protest in shriller tones. So did a couple of Ravens hoarsely, and a Peregrine imperatively. This last, being spitefully minded, was for knocking the kites about had they not avoided his stoops with graceful ease; one beard the clash of penfeathers in contact overhead. As if these were insufficient, Egyptian Vultures, clean as cherubim, all ivory and jet, swung slowly in rings above the tangle of crossing, diving aud crying birds, and grandly did these latecomers contrast now with the blue sky, and now with the smoke-gray of the wlld-ollve covert across the glen.

-–H. M. Wallis, “A Naturalist in North Africa.” Living Age,  LXVI (January 16, 1915), 162.

Henry Marriage Wallis (1854-1941) was a British corn and seed merchant who wrote novels and verse and contributed to magazines articles on many subjects, including travel and natural history, often under the pseudonym Ashton Hilliers.  Ornithology was his favorite subject, particularly the birds of Algeria and Morocco. A correspondent of Charles Darwin, he often spent part of the winter in North Africa and there recorded many discoveries among its birds.

January 26, 2012

Gustavus Adolphus and George Washington

“Washington and Gustavus

Adolphus, forgive our decay.” (ll. 14-15)

“A Carriage from Sweden,” The Nation 158 (March 11, 1944) 311.

Written in 1943, this complex, wartime poem salutes Sweden’s seventeenth-century king and America’s eighteenth-century founding president as

Gustavus Adolphus

a pair. While Americans readily recognize Washington’s deeds and qualities, (“father of his country,” “the American Cincinnatus,” “first in war, first in peace, first in the hearts of his countrymen”) his parallel with Sweden’s king is less obvious. Gustavus Adolphus has been called “the founder of modern warfare,” “the protector of Protestantism,” “the lion of the north.” He came to the throne at seventeen in 1611 and died in battle in 1632. As ruler, he reformed Sweden’s government by establishing four estates (nobles, clergy, burghers, and peasants) in the Riksdag (Diet), thus promoting unity within the groups; he fostered secondary and university education; he promoted the Swedish economy through immigration and infusion of foreign capital. As a military leader, he reformed the conduct of wars through the use of light artillery and coordination of military branches during battle. As a Protestant king, he opposed the Catholic League and preserved German Protestantism from the ravages of the Counter-Reformation. In short, he brought Sweden into the modern era.

“[F]orgive our decay” contrasts the world of 1943 with that of 1632 and 1781. In 1632, Gustavus Adolphus refused to compromise his principles and died fighting in Battle of Lützen, a turning point in the Thirty Years’ War in favor of his side, a Protestant victory.  In 1781, George Washington, who refused to compromise or give up even during the long siege at Valley Forge, received the

George Washington

surrender of British General Cornwallis at Yorktown, the site of the final battle of the Revolutionary War.  But “our decay” in 1943 may refer to the tensions created by Sweden’s neutrality during World War II which led the country to provide aid to both Axis and Allied powers, a position maintained in 1943 although later revised to refuse contributions to the Axis cause and to support the Allies. And if this position represents Sweden’s “decay,” perhaps the thinking, in 1943, about post-war recriminations against Germany suggested to Moore the kind of compromises that followed World War I and set the stage for the next war.

January 15, 2012

“Melchior Vulpius”

“Melchoir Vulpius,” Atlantic Monthly 201 (January 1958), 59.

Choir at Cologne Cathedral singing the anthem “Now God Be Praised in Heav’n Above” in German

Moore attended the Lafayette Avenue Presbyterian Church while she lived in Brooklyn. She made notes from a Sunday church bulletin for June 30, 1957 which contained an anthem by Melchior Vulpius, a German composer (c. 1560?-1615). She copied the text of the anthem into a notebook, placing the second verse first, followed by the first and third, thus:

Now God be praised for conquering faith,

Which feareth neither pain nor death,

But trusting God, rejoicing saith,


Now God be praised in heaven above

Praised be He for His great love,

Wherein all creatures live and move,


His grace defends us from all ill;

His Christ shall be our leader still

Till heaven and earth shall do His will,


According to a notebook (for which she used a 1956 calendar), Moore also consulted Baker’s Biographical Dictionary of Musicians, probably the fourth edition (New York: G. Schirmer, 1940) which contains an entry on Melchior Vulpius on page 1144, giving several elements she noted: born in Wasungen, died at Weimar where he was a cantor from 1596, published two books of Cantiones sacrae as well as Lateinische Hochzeitstücke or the “wedding-hymns to Latin words” of the poem.

For an interpretation of the poem, please see Kirby Olson’s website:

November 23, 2011

“Pedantic Literalist” and a “Paper Muslin Ghost”

“Prince Rupert’s drop, paper muslin ghost”

“Pedantic Literalist,” line 1.

Moore published “Pedantic Literalist” in The Egoist for June 1, 1916 (See Schulze 211) and Bryher and H. D. placed it first in Poems, 1921. Paper muslin is a glazed cotton fabric said by most online dictionaries to be “used for linings, etc.” There is a reference to a ballet skirt made of “pink paper muslin” as well as an article in St. Nicholas Magazine on how to make a cabana for bathing-suit-changing  out of it and an umbrella (tie  9-foot strips of paper muslin to the edges and hang it from a tree).  But “paper muslin ghost” occurs in a popular verse found, among other sources, in the Yale University College Courant for January 28, 1871, p. 43. Perhaps unsavory by today’s standard, the verse had a long life among favorites for children.

The Unlucky Lovers

Fanny Foo-Foo was a Japanese girl,

A child of the great Tycoon;

She wore her head bald, and her clothes were made

Half petticoat, half pantaloon;

Her face was the color of lemon peel,

And the shape of a table spoon.

A handsome young chap was Johnny Hi-Hi,

And he wore paper muslin clothes;

His glossy black hair on the top of his head

In the form of a shoe brush rose,

His eyes slanted downward, as if some chap

Had savagely pulled his nose.

Fanny Foo-Foo loved Johnny Hi-Hi,

And when, in the usual style,

He popped, she blushed such a deep orange tinge,

You’d have thought she’d too much bile,

If it hadn’t been for her slant-eyed glance

And her charming wide mouth smile.

And oft in the bliss of their new born love,

Did these little pagans stray

All around in spots, enjoying themselves

In a strictly Japanese way:

She howling a song to a one string lute,

On which she thought she could play.

Often he’d climb to a high ladder’s top,

And quietly there repose,

As he stood on his head and fanned himself

While she balanced him on her nose,

Or else she would get in a pickle tub,

And be kicked round on his toes.

The course of true love, even in Japan,

Often runs extremely rough,

And the fierce Tycoon, when he heard of this,

Used Japanese oaths so tough

That his courtiers’ hair would have stood on end

If only they’d had enough.

So the Tycoon buckled on both his swords,

In his pistol placed a wad,

And went out to hunt for the truant pair,

With his nerves braced by a “tod,”

He found them enjoying their guileless selves

On top of a lightning rod.

Sternly he ordered the gentle Foo-Foo

To “come down out of that there!”

And he told Hi-Hi to go to a place—

I won’t say precisely where.

Then he dragged off his child, whose spasms evinced

Unusually wild despair.

But the Tycoon, alas! was badly fooled,

Despite his paternal pains,

For John, with a toothpick, let all the blood

Out of his jugular veins;

While with a back somersault on to the floor

Foo-Foo battered out her brains.

They buried them both in the Tycoon’s lot,

Right under a dogwood tree,

Where they could list to the nightingale and

The buzz of the bumble-bee;

And where the mosquito’s sorrowful chant

Maddens the restless flea.

And often at night, when the Tycoon’s wife

Slumbered as sound as a post,

His almond shaped eyeballs looked on a sight

That scared him to death almost—

‘Twas a bald headed spectre flitting about

With a paper muslin ghost.

November 9, 2011

George Bernard Shaw, “Prize Bird,” J. B. Kerfoot

Moors submitted her poem “To Bernard Shaw: A Prize Bird” to The Egoist on 8 June 1915 where it was published the following 2 August. The following December, during a trip to New York, she met J. B. Kerfoot, a literary critic who had recently published in Life a paragraph lauding Others Magazine and its “revolutionary” poetry (see Selected Letters, 108-09). During this meeting, she told Kerfoot how she liked “his review of Shaw  (ptomaine and caviar)”, a reference to Kerfoot’s August 29, 1914 piece in the magazine. While Kerfoot’s review may or may not be a source for the “prize bird,” it does mention chicken and egg, and it clearly is the source of “ptomaine and caviar.” The article in full:


JUST as there are tricks in all trades, so there are prides that go with all predicaments. This is one of Nature’s compensations. We could not get along otherwise. And the peculiar and persistent pride that belongs to people who find themselves in the predicament of having children to bring up, is that they arrogantly believe themselves to be better posted on the proper methods of parental procedure than are the only people who have the least chance of knowing anything about the matter—namely, the childless.

Of course to all unbiased observers the fallacy of their position is obvious. Those who marry young and have large families are so busy learning the practical lesson of how children treat parents, that they have neither leisure nor strength left for considering the more abstract question of their own ideal attitude as the supposed controllers of the situation. Whereas any observant celibate with a decently widespread and reasonably intimate acquaintance among the married must have a singularly non-deductive mental make-up if he docs not end by becoming something of an expert on hypothetical parenthood.

Some day, no doubt, matters will be so arranged that all children will be eugenically born of intellectually celibate couples and will be properly trained by married bachelors and old-maid mothers who are conscious of no relation to them. But for the present we are unfortunately faced by a complete deadlock wherein parents continue to furnish terrible examples to leisured lookers-on, but are estopped by that very pride which saves them from despair from profiting by the wisdom they induce in the unwed. And this being the case, one can not conscientiously recommend George Bernard Shaw’s latest volume—Misalliance, the Dark Lady of the Sonnets, and Fanny’s First Play; with a Treatise on Parents and Children” (Brentano’s, $1.-25)—except to such readers as have ceased to be children without becoming fathers or mothers, and to those others who have ceased to be, engrossedly, fathers and mothers without as yet becoming children for the second time.

The present volume contains a typical variety of prefaces and plays. And, as with the chicken and the egg, so, as between the Shaw play and the Shaw preface, the matter of critical precedence has never been satisfactorily settled. Is the preface an exegesis of the play? Or is the play an exemplification of the preface? We can not tell. But—again as with the chicken and the egg—it doesn’t matter, since both, just as they are, lend themselves to so many uses. Beginners generally scramble Shaw’s prefaces. Many professionals poach them. And Americans are only gradually learning that they are delicious just eaten from the shell with a little salt. As for the plays, they are usually roasted. But smothering makes them succulent, and they are sometimes served “supreme”. In the new volume, “Misalliance” deals with “the family” and rings the changes in the familiar Shavian comedy manner upon the unmasking of the hypocrisies and apparent mutual ignorances so carefully maintained between the generations. It was written in 1910 and has never been produced. In other words, it is in process of being “smothered” and will doubtless come out tender and spring-chicken-like some time during the next decade. “Fanny’s First Play” we all know. The treatise on “Parents and Children” is a commentary that runs amusingly amuck through the themes dealt with in both of these. As for “The Dark Lady of the Sonnets”, it is a skit written for and produced at a National Theatre project benefit in 1910, and beyond the pleasing conceit of showing us Shakespeare in the act of gleaning some of his most celebrated phrases from the unconscious lips of those around him, is here little more than a hook from which is hung a delightful Shakespearean essay.

Certain disqualifications for enjoying this book have already been hinted at, but a further word of warning is possibly needed. Shaw is ptomaine to the literal-minded. To the intellectual eclectic his writings are caviar—incidentally a food, but primarily an appetizer. One heralds the publication of a new book of his, therefore, not so much with general urgings to partake as by way of a special notification that he is in season.

J. B. Kerfoot.  Life, Vol. 64, No. 1660, August 29, 1914, p. 308.

John Barrett Kerfoot, 1865-1920, was born in Chicago, attended Columbia University, and became Life’s literary editor in 1900. He was close to his contemporary, Alfred Stieglitz, and spent his career in NewYork. At left is a caricature of Kerfoot by Marius de Zayas made in 1910 from the collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

September 7, 2011

Daniel Boone in “Virginia Britannia”

“[a rose stem] As thick as Daniel Boone’s grape / vine”

“Virginia Britannica”

Life and Letters Today (December 1935) 66-70, ll. 44-45.

The legends that grew up around Daniel Boone include one about his escape from Indians by means of a grapevine swing. Moore could have encountered this tale in many books, but one published for American children when she was eight is as likely as any:

From the book

     He made long journeys alone in the woods. One day he looked back through the trees and saw four Indians. They were fol-low-ing Boone’s tracks. They did not see him. He turned this way and that. But the Indians still fol-lowed his tracks.

     He went over a little hill. Here he found a wild grape-vine. It was a very long vine, reaching to the top of a high tree. There are many such vines in the Southern woods. Children cut such vines off near the roots. Then they use them for swings.

     Boone had swung on grape-vines when he was a boy. He now thought of a way to break his tracks. He cut the wild grape-vine off near the root. Then he took hold of it. He sprang out into the air with all his might. The great swing carried him far out as it swung. Then he let go. He fell to the ground, and then he ran away in a different di-rec-tion from that in which he had been going.

     When the Indians came to the place, they could not find his tracks. They could not tell which way he had gone. He got to his cabin in safety. [Hyphenation in the original]

–Edward Eggleston, Stories of Great Americans for Little Americans, New York: American Book Company, 1895, p. 78.

September 2, 2011

“Silence” and Miss A. M. Homans


Many an interpretation of “Silence” has pointed to Moore’s father as the source of the quotation at the beginning of the poem—despite the note that has accompanied the poem since Observations (1924).  In the note, “Miss A. M. Homans” is the author, quoting her father. Not falling into the “father” trap, Jeanne Heuving (Omissions Are Not Accidents, 1992, p. 118) and others point to the original note which describes Homans as “Professor Emeritus of Hygiene” at Wellesley College.

Moore must have encountered Homans about 1917 when she wrote in her reading diary for July 17: “Miss Homans” and went on to transcribe what she said about her father, superior people, Longfellow’s grave, and the “wax” flowers—close to what Moore publishes as the note in Observations.  In any case, Moore knew enough about Homans to call her “Professor Emeritus” when she published the poem in 1924, since

Glass Flowers, Harvard

Homans retired in 1918 after a distinguished career. She had co-founded the Boston Normal School of Gymnastics in 1889, at a time when strenuous physical activities, let alone team sports, for women were considered possibly dangerous to their well-being.  The BNSG strove “to supply the best opportunities in America for men and women who desire to prepare themselves to conduct gymnasia, or to direct physical training, according to the most approved modern methods. To this end thorough and scientific instruction is provided, not only in the Ling, or Swedish, system of gymnastics, but also in those general principles of physiology, psychology, and the hygiene of the human body, upon which sound physical training must always depend “(BNSG Annual Catalogue, 1895).”

In 1909, Wellesley College imported the BNSG, making it the Department of Hygiene and Physical Education with Homans as its chair. By the time Homans retired, the department offered 34 courses, including gymnastics, kinesiology, history of physical education, folk dancing, and organized sports to undergraduates and to special students who, post-bachelors’ degrees, pursued a two year certificate that qualified them to teach such subjects and to direct athletic programs. In 1967, the National Association for the Physical Education of Women established the Amy Morris Homans Commemorative Lecture, today hosted by the National Association for Kinesiology and Physical Education in Higher Education.

August 28, 2011

“Tell Me, Tell Me,”and Admiral Nelson’s Tricorne

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“Lord Nelson’s revolving diamond rosette”

“Tell Me, Tell Me,” The New Yorker (April 30, 1960) 44.

Sir Horatio Nelson, Admiral of the British Fleet, led his ships to victory in August, 1798 against the French Fleet in Aboukir Bay on

Guzzardi's Nelson

the Nile, near Alexandria, Egypt. Among the many diplomatic gifts Nelson received afterwards was a diamond

Abbott's Nelson

aigrette sent by Selin III, Sultan of Turkey, from an imperial turban along with a petition to the King of England to allow Nelson to wear it.  The broach, or chelengk, represented the highest Turkish reward for valor (Nelson suffered a head wound during the battle). It consisted of a spray of Brazilian diamonds; at its base was a rosette or star whose center revolved due to a watch mechanism wound from behind.

It is uncertain whether Moore actually saw the aigrette. Her note to the poem says that it was “In the museum at Whitehall.” In a letter of 16 June 1911 to her brother, she writes from London that she visited Whitehall but that the broach was out on loan (see Marianne Moore Newsletter,  2, 2 (Spring, 1989), pp. 5-7). However, she reports what the keeper said about it and how it revolved.  More likely is that she saw a portrait of Nelson with the aigrette pinned to his tricorne hat, either that by Lemuel Abbott, 1798, or the one by Leonardo Guzzardi, 1898, both now in the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, London. At the time of Moore’s visit, the latter was probably in an admiralty building in Whitehall.

For more about the Chelengk, see the website for the Ottoman Bank Archives and Research Center. Moore would have appreciated its discussion of the “bird feather” worn in the turban as a sign of bravery. Selim III is pictured wearing one of his aigrettes.

August 23, 2011

“New York”, Henry James, Dixon Scott

“it is not the plunder,

it is the “accessibility to experience”

“New York”

The Dial 71 (December 1921), 637, ll 25-26.

In 1918, John Warner Moore gave up his pastorship of the Ogden Memorial Presbyterian Church in Chatham, New Jersey; he had entered the Navy as a chaplain and been

14 St. Luke’s Place

sent to sea. As a result, Marianne and her mother, who had lived at the Manse in Chatham, had to find another home. The choices appeared to include their previous home in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, and New York. The latter lay a mere 25 miles away by the Lackawana Railroad, commuting distance. As the editors of Selected Letters point out, Moore’s reading diaries of the time note her frequent trips to the city beginning when she moved to Chatham in 1916 (p. 77).  An apartment on the ground floor of 14 St. Luke’s Place, near the southern border of Greenwich Village, became her home for the next eleven years.

One might argue that “New York” (unless metaphorically) does not much allude to the literary life Moore found in the city. We know from her letters that she had made important friendships by the time she wrote the poem, chief among them The Dial editors Scofield Thayer and James Sibley Watson, as well as Lola Ridge, Robert McAlmon, and Mina Loy. But the quotation in poem’s last two lines, “[New York] is not the plunder, / but ‘accessibility to experience[,]’”  Moore attributes to Henry James.

While considerable research by Leon Edel for his James bibliography has determined that James wrote book-jacket copy for The Finer Grain in which he used that expression (see the Adeline R. Tintner’s “The Metamorphoses of Edith Wharton in Henry James’s The Finer Grain, Twentieth Century Literature, Vol. 21, No. 4 [Dec., 1975], pp. 355-379 for a discussion that includes Edel’s findings), Moore likely did not see the jacket or jacket-band copy but found the phrase closer to home. Mary Warner Moore, in her notebook entitled “My American Trip,” copied out a passage from Man of Letters. Here is the passage from the original book (which Mrs. Moore took exactly):

 For the elder Henry James had a sunny loathing for the literal (“caring for our spiritual decency supremely more than for anything else,” he could still stand, in the way of Virtue itself, only the kind that is “more or less ashamed” of its title), and educative specialization would seem to him a sort of deformity suffered for the sake of “success “—and “success” was a thing he had no use for. All he cared to produce was that condition of character which his son calls “accessibility to experience.” You were only interested when you were disinterested—your very conscience ought to work unconsciously—and so our Henry James was equipped for life without plundering it [. . . .] (Dixon Scott. Men of Letters. London, New York” Hodder and Stoughton, 1917, p. 96, boldface added.)

From its position in the notebook, this passage appears to have been copied out near the end of May, 1921. Moore submitted her poem—in a revised version which added “accessibility to experience”—to the Dial on 14 July 1921.

To examine the text of The Finer Grain (1910) for associations with or source for “New York” may well be a fool’s errand, but Moore did own the book, purchased on her birthday in 1910 (see letter to JWM of that date). In any case, the phrases in the poem that are noted above do not appear in that work.

August 11, 2011

“An Expedient–Leonardo da Vinci’s–and a Query” and an Uncited Source

Leonardo da Vinci, Self Portrait, c 1512

When “An Expedient—Leonardo da Vinco’s—and a Query” appeared in the New Yorker for April 18, 1964, it included a head note: “(WITH THANKS TO SIR KENNETH CLARK, DR. HENRY W. NOSS, EDWARD MACCURDY, AND IRMA A. RICHTER).” Moore’s notes, added for the poem’s book appearance, cite the first three people and their work but omit anything by Richter. Richter was an expert on Da Vinci and Moore had studied her edition of Selections from the Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci (New York: Oxford, 1952) and quoted from it.

The first quotation in the poem, found in lines three and four, derives from a passage on page 258:


“Patience serves us against insults precisely as clothes do against cold. For if you put on more garments as the cold increases, the cold cannot hurt you; in the same way increase your patience under great injustices, and they cannot vex your mind.”

 The second, in lines eight and nine, is found on page 237:

      “After raving in vain for some days because the grasp of the gourd was sure and firm as to forbid such plans, it saw the wind go by and commended itself to him.”

 To be fair, a closer look at Richter’s book than a limited online search allows, might repay the reader with a source for the quotation in stanza two. But the quotations above and their Moore-manipulations are instructive because the poet is not using the source material out of context but rather sticking to her announced subject, Leonardo.

August 7, 2011

“To a Snail,” “New York,” and Duns Scotus

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John Duns Scotus (c. 1266-8 November 1308), Scottish Franciscan theologian, was known as the Subtle Doctor for the intricacy of his theological arguments.

John Duns Scotus

Whether in tribute to his methods or simply to their characterizations found in her reading, Moore quotes twice from a work that discusses his writings, first in “To a Snail” (lines 10-11­) and later in “New York (lines 15-16).” The notes in Observations (1924) provide references to the quotations in “To a Snail;” no text of “New York” gives any reference to Scotus or her source.

The work Moore had in hand was Henry Osborn Taylor, The Mediaeval Mind: A History of the Development of Thought and Emotion in the Middle Ages, Vol. 2 New York: Macmillan, 1911. Here is the text from which the quotations are drawn {bold face added):

The constructive processes of his genius appear to issue out of the action of its critical energies. Duns was the most penetrating critic produced by scholasticism. Whatever he considered from the systems of other men he subjected to tests that were apt to leave the argument in tatters. No logical inconsequence escaped him. And when every point had been examined with respect to its rational consistency, this dialectic genius was inclined to bring the matter to the bar of psychological experience. On the other hand he was a churchman, holding that even as Scripture and dogma were above question, so were the decrees of the Church, God’s sanctioned earthly Civitas.

Having thus tested whatever was presented by human reason, and accepting what was declared by Scripture or the Church, Duns proceeds to build out his doctrine as the case may call for. No man ever drove either constructive logic or the subtilties of critical distinctions closer to the limits of human comprehension or human patience than Duns Scotus. And here lies the trouble with him. The endless ramification and refinement of his dialectic, his devious processes of conclusion, make his work a reductio ad absurdum of scholastic ways of reasoning. Logically, eristically, the argumentation is inerrant. It never wanders aimlessly, but winding and circling, at last it reaches a conclusion from some point unforeseen. Would you run a course with this master of the syllogism? If you enter his lists, you are lost. The right way to attack him, is to stand without, and laugh. That is what was done afterwards, when whoever cared for such reasonings was called a Dunce, after the name of this most subtle of mediaeval metaphysicians. . . . (pp. 513-514)

Is theology, then, properly a science? Duns will not deny it; but thinks it may more properly be called a sapientia, since according to its nature, it is rather a knowledge of principles than a method of conclusions. It consists in knowledge of God directly revealed. Therefore its principles are not those of the human sciences: for example, it does not accept its principles from metaphysics, although that science treats of much that is contained in theology. Nor are the sciences—we can hardly say the other sciences —-subordinated to it; since their province is natural knowledge obtained through natural means. Theology, if it be a science, is one apart from the rest. The knowledge which makes its substance is never its end, but always means to its end; which is to say, that it is practical and not speculative. By virtue of its primacy as well as character, theology pertains to the Will, and works itself out in practice: practical alike are its principles and conclusions. Apparently, with Duns, theology is a science only in this respect, that its substance, which is most rational, may be logically treated with a view to a complete and consistent understanding of it. (p. 516)

July 14, 2011

“Camellia Sabina” and the Abbé Lorenzo Berlѐse

And they keep under

Glass also, camellias catalogued by

Lines across the leaf. . . .

. . . . .

. . . Gloria mundi

With a leaf two lines, nine lines broad, they have; and

The smaller, Camellia Sabina

With amanita-white petals; there are several of her

Pale pinwheels, and pale

Stripe that looks as if on a mushroom the

Sliver from a beet-root carved into a rose were laid.  ‘Dry

The windows with a cloth fastened to a staff.

Inside the camellia-house there must be

No smoke from the stove, nor dew on the windows, lest

The plants ail,’ the amateur is told;

‘mistakes are irreparable and nothing will avail.’

Selected Poems, p. 12

Moore sent “Camellia Sabina” to Ezra Pound on April 7, 1933, for his Active Anthology where it appeared later that year.  The previous August, as she noted in a letter to her brother on the 21st (RML, not in SL), she had been to Macy’s Department Store where she noticed a French book about camellias. She singled out the Camellia Sabina, a white one with a “sliver of pink.”

It would appear that the book Moore saw was the Iconographie du genre camellia by the Abbé Lorenzo Berlѐse (Paris:  1841-43) in three volumes. The Camellia

Camellia Sabina, Abbé Lorenzo Berlѐse

Sabina appears in Volume 2 (unpaged), its sliver of pink evident in the hand-colored copper plate.

In 1837 the Abbé Berlѐse published his foundational tome,  Monographie du Genre Camellia (Paris, 1837), and this popular work prompted an English, edition the next year.  Moore must have seen this version because she quotes directly from it. Translated by Henry A. S. Dearborn and printed by Breck in New York in 1838, it contains the matter of the French edition with no illustrations. Here Moore found the description of the Camellia Gloria Mundi at page 86:

234. C. Gloria Mundi.—There are, under this name, two different Camellias; the first has leaves 2 inches 9 lines broad, and 4 inches long ; form, color, and dimensions of C. Imperialis, when this is very vigorous; bud large, obtuse, with greenish scales ; flower of a white ground, striped with rose, as in the Camellia above named, from which it differs but very little ; only the heart is slightly yellowish. The second has leaves very nearly like those of C. Grandiflora simplex; its flower is double, cherry-red, No. 2, and very regular.

And of Camellia Sabina at page 87:

242. C. Sabina.—Leaves of a medium size, roundish-oval, slightly acuminated, bud pyramidal, with green scales;  flower large, full, and of a very pale or whitish carnation color.—Superb.

In Berlѐse’s description, “carnation” as a color means slightly pinkish.  When Moore assigns the Camellia Sabina

Aminata aprica

“amanita-white petals” and a “mushroom” color, she may refer to one of the 600-plus varieties of the genus aminata mushroom. This highly poisonous fungus grows widely in the United States; the tops of many of the varieties have a slightly pinkish cast.

Moore took an interest in the author’s instructions for growing camellias in a greenhouse, quoting from (with some massaging) a passage on the “proper kind of greenhouse:”

“The confined heat of the green-house produces a vapor, which attaches itself to the ceiling, glass and walls, where it is condensed and falls in drops upon the plants. This concentrated vapor, is injurious to the Camellias which receive it, if they are suffered thus to remain, for any considerable time. In order to promptly remove it, it is useful, when the exterior atmosphere will permit, to open some of the sashes, and kindle, at the same time, a fire in the furnace, to temper the fresh admitted air. If this mode is impracticable, in consequence of the intensity of the cold, it must be attempted to remove the moisture, where it is collected on the glass, by the use of cloths, fastened to a staff. When it is necessary to keep up the fire for a long time, on account of the cold, it must not be forgotten to water the Camellias, which are near the furnace and funnel, and even all the others, if it is requisite; for if the earth becomes too dry, it causes, as we have experienced, irreparable disasters.”(p. 27)

Monographie du genre camellia, 1843

Moore provides  an endnote:  “Monographie du Genre Camellia (H. Cousin).” That 1845 edition may have been on her agenda during a trip to the New York Public Library at 42nd Street; a copy of it was housed there at the time she composed the poem, having been part of the Astor Library from its accession in the Nineteenth Century.  But the French text of that edition does not specify the size of the Camellia Gloria Mundi in lines and inches, as does Moore’s direct quotation from the American edition of 1838. Further, the three-volume 1843 French edition appears to be the only one bearing an illustration of Camellia Sabina. Is it possible that Moore saw the 1843 at Macy’s, consulted the 1838 American edition at the New York Public Library, but offered the more available 1845 French edition in her note as the most “helpful” to her readers?

June 13, 2011

“Camellia Sabina” and Tom Thumb

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Tom Thumb upon his mouse-steed figures in the seventh stanza of “Camellia Sabina” (Complete Poems, p. 17). The tale of Tom Thumb originated in England in the Seventeenth Century and, in the manner of fairy tales, moved through the years with permutations. Consistently present in the story are tiny Tom (no bigger than his father’s thumb), his desire to ride among King Arthur’s knights, and his snaring a mouse for a steed. Here is one version of the tale Moore might have read; in any case, her Tom aboard musculus is key to the stanza, although surrounded by elements not present in the story.


The night after Tom Thumb had been received into office, his former suit of clothes was taken away by unseen hands, and another laid in the place where it had been, such as might better befit a court-page.

The doublet was of butterflies’ wings, and the boots of chicken’s skin, for you must know that Tom needed boots.40 It vexed him that,

Tom Thumb, p. 52

when King Arthur and his knights rode out hunting, or went to seek for deeds of high adventure, he must needs be left at home; so after bethinking himself, he resolved to purvey himself of a charger. For this end he begged from the good Lady Bienpensante a long thread of her silk for broidery, wherewith he made a coil, and lay softly in wait near a mouse’s hole. By and by, forth came the grey mouse-mother with her six long-whiskered sons and daughters, and what doth our brave page, but gallantly throw his noose over the head of the likeliest-looking of the brood, and vaulting on his back, sat perched on his grey steed. Master mouse did in truth curvet and dash about wildly, but in vain did he seek to unseat his valiant little rider, who, after having let him weary himself with his antics, led him to a chess-castle, which served him for a watch-tower, and fastened him up at the entrance, with a crumb of cheese for provender.

Anon, when the knights held their jousts and games, and curbed their mettled steeds in the Castle court, forth rode Tom Thumb on his mouse, which he had named Sleekfoot; and though the knights and squires had much ado not to tread on him, so well did he rule him, with his whip made of Greymalkin’s whisker, that he taught him, in due time, to obey the rein, nor was he behind in the fairest feats of horsemanship, so that it was a marvel to all beholders.

It was a goodly sight, when King Arthur went to the chase, to see the knights and squires come forth in full array, and the little page, bravely equipped, with his hunting-spear made of a darning-needle, and his bow and arrows at his back, spring into his saddle and ride off with them, fearing no leap over any thistle, however tall. Often would his mother stand at her door to see the gallant train sweep by, with her own boy among them; and Tom often would turn his mouse’s head towards her cottage, and what king so happy as he while he sat on her shoulder, and told her all his doings?

His game was usually the fierce dragon-fly, the well-armed stag-beetle, and dangerous hornet; and skilfully did he manoeuvre to avoid the hard grip of the stag-beetle’s jaws, and to pierce the hornet’s body with his spear, before it could bring its sting to bear upon him. It was he who kept every wasp, spider, or chafer, from entering the palace to torment such ladies of Queen Guenever as chanced to be troubled with fears; and as for gnats, and all their stinging race, not one had a chance of feasting on the fair cheeks of the dames and damsels of Caerleon, while Tom Thumb with his spear was on the watch.

–Charlotte Mary Yonge, The History of Sir Thomas Thumb (Edinburgh: Thomas Constable, 1855), pp. 51-53.

June 7, 2011

“Elephants” and Sophocles

Filed under: Poem Sources — by moore123 @ 7:29 pm
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Lateran Sophocles, Vatican

In “Elephants,” Moore writes of Sophocles and the image of a bee carved on his grave in lies 49-52 (Complete Poems, p. 129). She does not footnote her source but the images come together in the following passage:

“Nor have [the tragedies] of Sophocles escaped the injury of  time better, though one hundred and seventeen in number, and according to some one hundred and thirty. He retained to extreme old age all the force and vigour of his genius, as appears from a circumstance in his history. His children, unworthy of so great a father, upon pretence that he had lost his senses, summoned him before the judges, in order to obtain a decree, that his estate might be taken from him, and put into their hands. He made no other defence, than to read a tragedy he was at that lime composing, called Oedipus at Colonos, with which the judges were so charmed, that he carried his cause unanimously; and his children, detested by the whole assembly, got nothing by their suit, but the shame and infamy due to so flagrant ingratitude. He was twenty times crowned victor. Some say he expired repenting his Antigone, for want of power to recover his breath, after a violent endeavour to pronounce i long period to the end ; others, that he died of Jot upon his being declared victor, contrary to his expectation. The figure of a hive was placed upon his tomb, to perpetuate the name of Bee, which had been given him, from the sweetness of his verses [bold added], whence it is probable, the notion was derived of the bees having settled upon his lips, when in his cradle. He died in his ninetieth year, the fourth of the ninety-third Olympaid.”

–Charles Rollin, The Ancient History of the Egyptians, . . . Grecians and Macedonians Including a History of the Arts and Sciences of the Ancients  Vol. I (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1839). P. 404

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