Marianne Moore: Poetry

August 11, 2011

“An Expedient–Leonardo da Vinci’s–and a Query” and an Uncited Source

Leonardo da Vinci, Self Portrait, c 1512

When “An Expedient—Leonardo da Vinco’s—and a Query” appeared in the New Yorker for April 18, 1964, it included a head note: “(WITH THANKS TO SIR KENNETH CLARK, DR. HENRY W. NOSS, EDWARD MACCURDY, AND IRMA A. RICHTER).” Moore’s notes, added for the poem’s book appearance, cite the first three people and their work but omit anything by Richter. Richter was an expert on Da Vinci and Moore had studied her edition of Selections from the Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci (New York: Oxford, 1952) and quoted from it.

The first quotation in the poem, found in lines three and four, derives from a passage on page 258:


“Patience serves us against insults precisely as clothes do against cold. For if you put on more garments as the cold increases, the cold cannot hurt you; in the same way increase your patience under great injustices, and they cannot vex your mind.”

 The second, in lines eight and nine, is found on page 237:

      “After raving in vain for some days because the grasp of the gourd was sure and firm as to forbid such plans, it saw the wind go by and commended itself to him.”

 To be fair, a closer look at Richter’s book than a limited online search allows, might repay the reader with a source for the quotation in stanza two. But the quotations above and their Moore-manipulations are instructive because the poet is not using the source material out of context but rather sticking to her announced subject, Leonardo.

May 13, 2011

“An Expedient–Leonardo Da Vinci’s–and a Query”

Moore’s note takes us to the Da Vinci’s Notebooks for lines 21-22, “Nature the text.” It is likely that the following passage is the one consulted:


The painter will produce pictures of little merit if he takes the works of others as his standard; but if he will apply himself to learn from the objects of nature he will produce good results. This we see was the case with the painters who came after the time of the Romans, for they continually imitated each other, and from age, to age their art steadily declined.

After these came Giotto the Florentine, and he,— reared in mountain solitudes, inhabited only by goats and such like beasts—turning straight from nature to his art, began to draw on the

Da Vinci's "Leda and the Swan"

rocks the movements of the goats which he was tending, and so began to draw the figures of all the animals which were to be found in the country, in such a way that after much study he not only surpassed the masters of his own time but all those of many preceding centuries. After him art again declined, because all were imitating paintings already * done; and so for centuries it continued to decline until such time as Tommaso the Florentine, nicknamed Masaccio, showed by the perfection of his work how those who took as their standard anything other than nature, the supreme guide of all the masters, were wearying themselves in vain. Similarly I would say as to these mathematical subjects, that those who study only the authorities and not the works of nature are in art the grandsons and not the sons of nature, which is the supreme guide of the good authorities. [pp. 164-65]

Leonardo Da Vinci’s Notebooks Arranged and Rendered into English with Introductions by Edward MacCurdy. London:  Duckworth; New York: Scribner’s, 1908.

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