Marianne Moore: Poetry

January 19, 2012

Jacob Abbott, Children’s Book Author

Jacob Abbott

Jacob Abbott (1803-1879) graduated from Bowdoin College, pursued ministerial studies at Andover-Newton, taught mathematics at Amherst, and founded the Mount Vernon School for girls in Boston. He was the author of more than 180 books for young people. His many series included three from which copies survive in Moore’s library: the Rollo books about a young boy with a feisty personality and enough naughtiness to give his parents ample opportunity for correction; The Franconia Stories, about a brother and sister schooled by their mother; and Historical Biographies. Considered among the first serious books for children, Abbott’s works offered language adult enough to foster intellectual inquiry and development along with examples of stout moral rectitude.

Moore’s published comments on Abbott’s books suggest that she had internalized some of their elements. For example, in reviewing George Moore’s Conversations in Ebury Street she wrote: “[Moore’s writing recalls] some of Jacob Abbott’s most dramatically lifelike colloquies. . . .” (Complete Prose, 103); and when asked “What books did most to shape your vocational attitude and your philosophy of life?” she replied: “Beechnut, Grimkie, Florence and John and the Rollo books, by Jacob Abbott.” (Complete Prose, 670).

Rollo in Paris

The books that remain in her library at the Rosenbach Museum & Library are:

From the Rollo Series:

Rollo in Paris. NY: Mershon, 1858

From the Franconia Stories:

Beechnut. NY: Harper’s, 1878

Rudolphus. NY: Harper and Brothers, 1852

The entire series of the Florence Stories:

The English Channel.  NY: Sheldon, 1868

Excursion to the Orkney Islands.  NY: Sheldon, 1868

Florence and John.  NY: Sheldon, 1869

Florence’s return.  NY: Sheldon,1869

Grimkie. NY: Sheldon, 1868

Visit to the Isle of Wight. NY:  Sheldon, 1869

From the Historical Biographies Series:

History of Alexander the Great. NY: Harpers, 1870

History of Cyrus the Great. NY: Harper and Brothers, 1850

Histories of Xerxes the Great. NY: Harper and Brothers, 1854.

The texts of Abbott’s books are available online through googlebooks,, and Project Gutenberg.

December 6, 2011

MM Meets Sappho

Filed under: Marianne Moore,Resources — by moore123 @ 3:35 pm
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Moore writes to her family on 28 February, 1909, that she has attended a Bryn Mawr lecture on Sappho by Kirby Flower Smith (Rosenbach). She

Kirby Flower Smith

adds that she had been a bit “scared” to be introduced to him but that he was “a pansy—looked expectant” (pansy, here, a term of approval).  Smith (1862-1918) was a professor of Latin and Greek at Johns Hopkins, a specialist in the work of Tibullus. According to an obituary by Gordon J. Laing (The Classical Journal , Vol. 14, No. 9 [Jun., 1919], pp. 567-569). Smith was as good a philologist as the best of them but he never lost sight of the “summum bonum of classical studies, the life and literature of Greece and Rome.”

In 1908, Smith had delivered the annual address at the meeting of the Classical Association of Middle States and Maryland on “The Legend of Sappho and Phaon” (Records of the Past Exploration Society, 1908, Vol. 7, p. 164). It is highly likely that he spoke on the same topic at Bryn Mawr ten months later. In his lecture, Smith detailed the various stories attached to Sappho and Phaon, ending with his own version. He probably made reference to Alexander Pope’s rendering of Ovid on Sappho and Phaon, as evidenced from his take on Ovid’s Heroides:

As the name indicates, the Heroides are a collection of letters supposedly written by famous women of poetry or mythology to their husbands or lovers. In three cases (Paris to Helen, Leander to Hero, Acontius to Cydippe) we have the man’s letter to the woman and her reply.

The Heroides fully deserved the enthusiasm with which they were greeted. Here for the first time we meet with one of the most striking features of Ovid’s maturer genius. This is his marvellous ability to analyze, understand, and sympathize with all the subtler phases and cross-currents of feminine character and impulse, and his consummate skill in bringing them home to the reader through the woman herself.

The Heroides have always been popular, and to this day have lost but little of their intrinsic interest. They were a favorite with Boccaccio, the main source of Chaucer’s Legend of Good Women, the model of Drayton’s Heroical Epistles. The much disputed letter of Sappho to Phaon, which lives for us in the translation of Pope, is—perhaps for that very reason—the best known.

—Kirby Flower Smith. “The Poet Ovid,” in Martial, the Epigrammatist and Other Essays. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins Press, 1920, pp 60-61.

To what poetic use did Moore put this experience? Hard to tell, except to note that in May, she requested for a graduation present “Wharton’s Sappho” (SL 71). In full, that is  Sappho, Memoir, Text, Selected Renderings, and a Literal Translation by Henry Thornton Wharton (New York; London : J. Lane, 1907).

April 15, 2010

“Diligence Is to Magic as Progress Is to Flight”

Published in The Egoist 2 (October 1, 1915), 158, and reprinted in Poems, 1921, and Observations, this poem disappeared from Moore’s canon after 1925.

Diligence Is to Magic as Progress Is to Flight

With an elephant to ride upon—“with rings on her fingers and bells on her toes,”

she shall outdistance calamity anywhere she goes.

Speed is not in her mind inseparable from carpets. Locomotion arose

in the shape of an elephant; she clambered up and chose

to travel laboriously. So far as magic carpets are concerned, she knows

that although the semblance of speed may attach to scarecrows

of aesthetic procedure, the substance of it is embodied in such of those

tough-grained animals as have outstripped man’s whim to suppose

them ephemera, and I have earned that fruit of their ability to endure blows

which dubs them prosaic necessities—not curios.


The popular nursery rhyme about rings and fingers goes as follows:

Ride a cock horse to Banbury Cross
To see a fine lady upon a white horse
With rings on her fingers and bells on her toes
She shall have music wherever she goes.

However, there was a contemporary lyric that seems to have more of the elements of the poem. “I’ve Got Rings on My Fingers and Bells on My Toes” was popular song written by R. P. Weston and J. F. Barnes and introduced in 1909 by singer Ada Jones. Recordings abounded over the next decades, with the version by Judy Garland (Babes on Broadway, 1941) available today as a ring tone. The lyrics suggest a male narrator singing to his little Irish Rose but they were usually sung by a woman, often (even Judy Garland) with an Irish brogue.

Now Jim O'Shea was cast away
Upon an Indian Isle.
The natives there they liked his hair,
They liked his Irish smile,
So made him chief Panjandrum,
The Nabob of them all.
They called him Jij-ji-boo Jhai,
And rigged him out so gay,
So he wrote to Dublin Bay,
To his sweetheart, just to say:

Sure, I've got rings on my fingers, bells on my toes,
Elephants to ride upon, my little Irish Rose;
So come to your Nabob, and next Patrick's Day,
Be Mistress Mumbo Jumbo Jij-ji-boo J. O'Shea.

Across the sea went Rose Magee
To see her Nabob grand.
He sat within his palanquin,
And when she kissed his hand,
He led her to his harem,
Where he had wives galore.
She started shedding a tear;
Said he, "Now have no fear,
I'm keeping these wives here
Just for ornament, my dear."

In emerald green he robed his queen,
To share with him his throne.
'Mid eastern charms and waving palms
They'd shamrocks, Irish grown,
Sent all the way from Dublin
To Nabob J. O'Shea
But in his palace so fine
Should Rose for Ireland pine,
With smiles her face will shine
When he murmurs, "Sweetheart mine.”

A recording by Ada Jones is available on Wikipedia under “I’ve Got Rings on My Fingers.”Alternatively, you can click on or paste in your browserthe following URL.

A note: I hunted for this source for years and stumbled upon the 1909 song recently. When I played it for my husband, he said he’d known it since childhood when he and his sister sang it drying dishes with their dad—a confirmation of its popularity.

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