Marianne Moore: Poetry

August 6, 2012

“Like Bertram Dobell” and Thomas Traherne

Filed under: Poem Sources — by moore123 @ 3:18 pm
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Traherne, 1906

Moore’s library contains two volumes of poems by Thomas Traherne. The first is Poetical Works of Thomas Traherne, . . . now first published from the original manuscripts, ed. by Bertram Dobell, with a memoir of the author … Second Edition, London, Pub. by the editor, 1906. The second, Centuries of Meditations by Thomas Traherne (1636?-1674) now first printed from the author’s manuscript. Edited by Bertram Dobell. London. Published by the Editor, 77 Charing Cross Road, W.C., 1908, has the inscription: “Marianne Craig Moore March 13, 1909.”

In a short poem written by April, 1915, Moore saluted Traherne’s editor; “Like Bertram Dobell, you Achieve Distinction by Disclaiming It. [sic]” is the manuscript version of the title (See Schulman’s edition of Poems, p. 63, for the printed version). Dobell had the good fortune to come upon Traherne’s manuscripts, previously credited to Henry Vaughan, but unpublished. An antiquarian bookseller and scholar housed in London’s famous bookish street,  Dobell came to Moore’s notice when he published an article on “The Earliest Poems of Robert Browning” in The Cornhill Magazine for January, 1914 (Moore makes a note of this article in a small ring notebook containing alphabetical entries of writiers and writing). While we cannot be sure that she actually read this piece before she wrote the poem, we do know that she already owned Centuries of Meditations edited by Dobell.

What can we draw from this interwoven if unclear picture? The poem address a “you” who is like Dobell in his editor’s modesty and like the speaker

Dobell 1842-1914

in his “selfprotectiveness.”  The “you” suggests the modest Traherne who never published his poems (and probably not the Browning who suppressed the two poems Dobell rediscovered).  A further note: Moore’s poem  praises silence in support of “selfprotectiveness.” In a notebook maintained in the 1920s, she copied out from his Poetical Works the first 27 lines of Traherne’s “Silence,” beginning:

A QUIET silent person may possess

All that is great or high in Blessedness.
The inward work is the supreme for all
The other were occasioned by the fall.

It would be pleasing to think that when in London in 1911, Moore made her way to 77 Charing Cross Road and met the modest Dobell himself.  It would be interesting to know for certain whether Moore meant to honor Traherne as well as his editor.

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