Marianne Moore: Poetry

August 23, 2011

“New York”, Henry James, Dixon Scott

“it is not the plunder,

it is the “accessibility to experience”

“New York”

The Dial 71 (December 1921), 637, ll 25-26.

In 1918, John Warner Moore gave up his pastorship of the Ogden Memorial Presbyterian Church in Chatham, New Jersey; he had entered the Navy as a chaplain and been

14 St. Luke’s Place

sent to sea. As a result, Marianne and her mother, who had lived at the Manse in Chatham, had to find another home. The choices appeared to include their previous home in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, and New York. The latter lay a mere 25 miles away by the Lackawana Railroad, commuting distance. As the editors of Selected Letters point out, Moore’s reading diaries of the time note her frequent trips to the city beginning when she moved to Chatham in 1916 (p. 77).  An apartment on the ground floor of 14 St. Luke’s Place, near the southern border of Greenwich Village, became her home for the next eleven years.

One might argue that “New York” (unless metaphorically) does not much allude to the literary life Moore found in the city. We know from her letters that she had made important friendships by the time she wrote the poem, chief among them The Dial editors Scofield Thayer and James Sibley Watson, as well as Lola Ridge, Robert McAlmon, and Mina Loy. But the quotation in poem’s last two lines, “[New York] is not the plunder, / but ‘accessibility to experience[,]’”  Moore attributes to Henry James.

While considerable research by Leon Edel for his James bibliography has determined that James wrote book-jacket copy for The Finer Grain in which he used that expression (see the Adeline R. Tintner’s “The Metamorphoses of Edith Wharton in Henry James’s The Finer Grain, Twentieth Century Literature, Vol. 21, No. 4 [Dec., 1975], pp. 355-379 for a discussion that includes Edel’s findings), Moore likely did not see the jacket or jacket-band copy but found the phrase closer to home. Mary Warner Moore, in her notebook entitled “My American Trip,” copied out a passage from Man of Letters. Here is the passage from the original book (which Mrs. Moore took exactly):

 For the elder Henry James had a sunny loathing for the literal (“caring for our spiritual decency supremely more than for anything else,” he could still stand, in the way of Virtue itself, only the kind that is “more or less ashamed” of its title), and educative specialization would seem to him a sort of deformity suffered for the sake of “success “—and “success” was a thing he had no use for. All he cared to produce was that condition of character which his son calls “accessibility to experience.” You were only interested when you were disinterested—your very conscience ought to work unconsciously—and so our Henry James was equipped for life without plundering it [. . . .] (Dixon Scott. Men of Letters. London, New York” Hodder and Stoughton, 1917, p. 96, boldface added.)

From its position in the notebook, this passage appears to have been copied out near the end of May, 1921. Moore submitted her poem—in a revised version which added “accessibility to experience”—to the Dial on 14 July 1921.

To examine the text of The Finer Grain (1910) for associations with or source for “New York” may well be a fool’s errand, but Moore did own the book, purchased on her birthday in 1910 (see letter to JWM of that date). In any case, the phrases in the poem that are noted above do not appear in that work.

November 4, 2010

“Picking and Choosing” and Henry James

“. . . that James is all that has been

said of him but is not profound” (ll. 9-10 in The Dial 68 [April 1, 1920] 420)

Here is one expression of this idea that Moore may have seen, relevant section in bold type:

“The early edition of the collection of essays on “French Poets and Novelists,” by Mr. Henry

Henry James by John LaFarge, N.d.

James, has been out of print for some time, and the Macmillans have now prepared a new and cheaper one. It is exceedingly fortunate that they have done so, for these essays form one of the most notable contributions thus far made to literary criticism in this country, and should be easily accessible to students and the general reader. It must be said of them at once that they are not profound. They are nearly everything else that literary criticism should be. They show in a high degree delicacy of touch and sympathetic appreciation of the works dealt with. They have about them a subtle quality which gives a keen delight to their perusal. The two essays on Balzac, and those on Gautier and Tourguenieff, are perhaps the most valuable. With these latter writers, Mr. James himself has certain affinities, and this enables him to treat of them with peculiar sympathy. At the same time, the limitations of his own nature are seen in this treatment. Those excellences in the work of Tourguenieff, for example, which are noticed by Mr. James, do not constitute its real claim to greatness, but they are what appeal the most strongly to his imagination, and he gives them an undue prominence, so that the essay, while most delightful reading, leaves one with a sense of its insufficiency. What is here said applies also in a certain degree to his treatment of George Sand and others. As far as his appreciation goes, it leaves nothing to be desired; but still there is much which it does not embrace. One is hardly made to realize the genius of Gautier or of Baudelaire, of George Sand or of Tourguenieff, by a perusal of these pages; but to make up for what he thus feels to be wanting, he gets a good many side lights thrown upon them and their work.”

The review refers to James’s French Poets and Novelists (London: Macmillan, 1884).

–in “Briefs on New Books,” The Dial, 5 (May 1884) 16.

October 15, 2010

“Sea Unicorns”and Henry James

Filed under: Poem Sources — by moore123 @ 8:50 am
Tags: , , ,

Henry James by Swinnerton

In her notes to “Sea Unicorns and Land Unicorns,” Moore credits Henry James’s English Hours with these lines:

” ‘in politics, in trade, law, sport, religion,

china-collecting, tennis, and church-going.’ “

But in fact, the three lines preceding these,

“Thus personalities by nature much opposed,

can be combined in such a way

that when they do agree, their unanimity is great”

also derive from James. In the selection from James that follows, some of the words chosen to compose these lines have been rendered in bold type. One can see Moore’s creative use of quotation marks set around something she has put together, as well as the three lines supposedly NOT derived from James. Caveat lector, as always: quotations are slippery assets in Moore’s verse.

An English Easter

Rev. Arthur Tooth, Imprisoned for Use of Incense and Candles, "The Christian Martyr," Punch

IT may be said of the English, as is said of the council of war in Sheridan’s farce of The Critic by one of the spectators of the rehearsal, that when they do agree, their unanimity is wonderful. They differ among themselves greatly just now as regards the machinations of Russia, the derelictions of Turkey, the merits of the Reverend Arthur Tooth, the genius of Mr. Henry Irving, and a good many other matters; but neither just now nor at any other time do they fail to conform to those social observances on which respectability has set her seal. England is a country of curious anomalies, and this has much to do with her being so interesting to foreign observers. The national, the individual character is very positive, very independent, very much made up according to its own sentiment of things, very prone to startling eccentricities; and yet at the same time it has beyond any other this peculiar gift of squaring itself with fashion and custom. In no other country, I imagine, are so many people to be found doing the same thing in the same way at the same time—using the same slang, wearing the same hats and neckties, collecting the same china-plates, playing the same game of lawn-tennis or of polo, admiring the same professional beauty. The monotony of such a spectacle would soon become oppressive if the foreign observer were not conscious of this latent capacity in the performers for great freedom of action; he finds a good deal of entertainment in wondering how they reconcile the traditional insularit of the private person with this perpetual tribute to usage. Of course in all civilised societies the tribute to usage is constantly paid; if it is less apparent in America than elsewhere the reason is not, I think, because individual independence is greater, but because usage is more sparsely established. Where custom can be ascertained people certainly follow it; but for one definite precedent in American life there are fifty in English. I am very far from having discovered the secret; I have not in the least learned what becomes of that explosive personal force in the English character which is compressed and corked down by social conformity. I look with a certain awe at some of the manifestations of the conforming spirit, but the fermenting idiosyncrasies beneath it are hidden from my vision. The most striking example, to foreign eyes, of the power of custom in England is certainly the universal church-going. In the sight of the English people getting up from its tea and toast of a Sunday morning and brushing its hat, and drawing on its gloves, and taking its wife on its arm, and making its offspring march before, and so, for decency’s, respectability’s, propriety’s sake, wending its way to a place of worship appointed by the State, in which it repeats the formulas of a creed to which it attaches no positive sense and listens to a sermon over the length of which it explicitly haggles and grumbles—in this exhibition there is something very impressive to a stranger, something which he hardly knows whether to estimate as a great force or as a great futility.

–Henry James. English  Hours,London, Heinemann, 1905, pp. 117-118

September 21, 2010

“Monkey Puzzle:” Henry James

Filed under: Poem Sources — by moore123 @ 4:42 pm
Tags: , ,

Monkey Puzzle Tree

Among the novels of Henry James that Moore mentions having read is The Princess Casamassima. Here, from the Scribner’s 1908 edition, taken from James’s Preface, page xxii, is the paragraph on which she might have drawn her line in “The Monkey Puzzle,” “these woods in which society’s not knowing is colossal.” [Boldface has been added.]

“Face to face with the idea of Hyacinth’s subterraneous politics and occult affiliations, I recollect perfectly feeling, in short, that I might well be ashamed if, with my advantages— and there wasn’t a street, a corner, an hour, of London that was not an advantage — I should n’t be able to piece together a proper semblance of those things, as indeed a proper semblance of all the odd parts of his life. There was always of course the chance that the propriety might be challenged — challenged by readers of a knowledge greater than mine. Yet knowledge, after all, of what ? My vision of the aspects I more or less fortunately rendered was, exactly, my knowledge. If I made my appearances live, what was this but the utmost one could do with them ? Let me at the same time not deny that, in answer to probable ironic reflexions on the full licence for sketchiness and vagueness and dimness taken indeed by my picture, I had to bethink myself in advance of a defence of my ” artistic position.” Should n’t I find it in the happy contention that the value I wished most to render and the effect I wished most to produce were precisely those of our not knowing, of society’s not knowing, but only guessing and suspecting and trying to ignore, what ” goes on” irreconcileably, subversively, beneath the vast smug surface ? I could n’t deal with that positive quantity for itself— my subject had another too exacting side; but I might perhaps show the social ear as on occasion applied to the ground, or catch some gust of the hot breath that I had at many an hour seemed to see escape and hover. What it all came back to was, no doubt, something like this wisdom—that if you have n’t, for fiction, the root of the matter in you, have n’t the sense of life and the penetrating imagination, you are a fool in the very presence of the revealed and assured; but that if you are so armed you are not really helpless, not without your resource, even before mysteries abysmal.”

Monkey Puzzle Tree Branch

In the novel, Hyacinth Robinson, the son of a French seamstress and an English aristocrat, joins Princess Casamassima and vows to pursue a working-class revolution in London. Just at the point that Hyacinth begins to detach himself from this cause, disillusioned about the “undeserving poor,” he is sent on a secret mission to murder an aristocrat but, instead, takes his own life.

Blog at