Marianne Moore: Poetry

August 28, 2011

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

Filed under: Poem Sources — by moore123 @ 6:31 pm
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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.

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