Marianne Moore: Poetry

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

Filed under: Poem Sources — by moore123 @ 6:17 pm
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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.

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