Marianne Moore: Poetry

December 6, 2011

MM Meets Sappho

Filed under: Marianne Moore,Resources — by moore123 @ 3:35 pm
Tags: , ,

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 9, 2010

Sound Mind and Sound Body at Bryn Mawr

Filed under: Biographical Essays — by moore123 @ 12:47 pm
Tags: , , , ,

Constance Applebee. 1873-1981

British born Constance Applebee graduated from the British College of Physical Education. When she came to Harvard to take a summer course, classmates asked her to demonstrate field hockey, then popular in England. She soon became Director of Aathletics at Vassar and she traveled among women’s colleges introducing the sport.

In 1904, M. Carey Thomas appointed Constance Applebee Athletic Director at Bryn Mawr College. Many “scientists” of the era thought that women were too frail for active sports or–worse–that vigorous physical activity endangered their reproductive ability. Miss Applebee, in establishing the school’s Department of Health, is said to have told President Thomas: “You want all these students to go out and do something in the world, to get the vote. What’s the good of their having the vote if they’re too ill to use it?”

Moore, of course, played field hockey and underwent all the other strenuous athletic assignments Applebee demanded (tennis was the sport that stuck). But Applebee did not limit her advice to the athletic field. In a letter home of February 21, 1909, Moore says that Applebee gave her a book to read, a kind of manual for success that advocated memory training and bemoaned  “vagueness” and lauded “docility and initiative” and memory training.

The book was Rational Living: Some Practical Inferences from Modern Psychology by Henry Churchill King (New York: Macmillan, 1908).  Chapter VII, “The Unity of the Mind: Suggestions for Living,” has this to say: “Among the intellectual hindrances to character, there should be named one special effect of intellectual vagueness. It is intellectual vagueness, I believe, which gives the chief danger to many forms of temptation.” (p. 130).

And concerning Josiah Royce’s promoting docility and initiative: “[Royce says:} ‘The sort of mental initiative which is especially in question in the present discussion is that which appears when already acquired, and intelligent habits are decidedly altered, or are decidedly recombined, in such fashion as to bring to pass the novel readjustment to our environment.’ This is the recognition of “critical points” in our development. Now, our mental life and growth manifestly require both docility and initiative; each must have its due place and recognition.” (p. 34)

Churchill exalts memory training: “But the most direct intellectual help to a wise conduct of life comes from clearness and definiteness in memory, imagination, and thinking. To remember with distinctness the entire and exact consequences of previous experiences, to be able to set before oneself with vivid and detailed imagination even the remote results of the action now contemplated—this is to be able to call to one’s aid the strongest motives to righteousness.”

“Vagueness” is of interest to Moore’s readers since it was a theme of her English professors’ lamentations about her prose and is perhaps not far from her later “obsurity.” Docility and initiative and give the reader of Moore’s early poems that take critical stances much to ponder. Memory training certainly served the poet well, at least as an aid to observation.

But as Moore concludes in her letter, in the words of philosophy professor Thedore De Laguna, Churchill is “a little pious.” Moore was studying with De Laguna that semester and taking psychology as well.

Blog at