Marianne Moore: Poetry

March 11, 2012

Henry and Barbara Church, Wallace Stevens

While Moore and Wallace Stevens had interacted in print and perhaps from some distance at literary events, their relationship deepened at the

Mt. Holyoke, 1943

Entretiens de Pontigny, a symposium hosted by Mount Holyoke College and presided over by Jean Wahl in 1943. Moore’s talk resulted in “Feeling and Precision,” Stevens’ in “The Figure of the Youth as Virile Poet.” At that gathering, Moore met Stevens’ good friends Henry Hall Church (1880-1947)and his wife Barbara S. Church (1879-1960), caught for the duration of World War II in New York without access to their Le Corbusier-designed estate outside Paris.

Henry came from the  Arm & Hammer Baking Soda family (in 1934 he inherited $90 million—in today’s dollars) and became a philanthropist, supporting little magazines such as Mesures edited in Paris by Jean Paulhan and acquiring modern art. Barbara, born in Wurtzburg, Bavaria, to a wealthy family, became a New York personage in her own right after Henry’s sudden death in 1947. At about that time, Stevens decided that Barbara Church and Moore should spend time together, as each had suffered a bereavement, Moore’s mother having died in July, 1947.  In the early 1950s, Stevens thought that Moore should take a break from her translation La Fontaine’s fables and go to Europe with Barbara.

Moore tactfully refused and, according to Robin Schultze, wrote “The Web One Weaves of Italy” to offer her reasons (The Web of Friendship: Marianne Moore and Wallace Stevens, p. 216).

Pictured here, the Mesures group, meeting at the Church home in Ville d’Avray outside Paris; from left to right, are Sylvia Beach, Barbara Church, Vladimir Nabokov (standing behind her), Adrienne Monnier, Germaine Paulhan, Henry Church, Henri Michaux, Michel Leiris, and (standing behind him) Jean Paulhan.

Le Corbusier designed the Church house in Ville d’Avray

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