Moore’s notes provide many a ho-hum to the casual reader and often, but not always, source information for the diligent student. Moore began this practice early, as evidenced, for example, by the manuscript of the unpublished (until Schulman 2003) “Flints, Not Flowers.” Written between 1912 and 1916, the manuscript includes a note directing the reader to The Letters of George Meredith from which she quotes in the body of the poem. Magazines were not in the habit of including poets’ notes, were there any to consider
When she might have had a chance to append notes in Poems, 1921, Moore was not offered a choice because Bryher and H. D. produced the book without truly consulting the author. Her opportunity arose in 1924 with Observations, and as we can see from Robin Shulze’s Becoming Marianne Moore (2002), she went at it with a vengeance: 53 poems, 158 notes. The poems are in largely chronological order as written, beginning about 1915, and the notes are at first intermittent, then one or two per poem, until about 1920 when they begin to abound, culminating in elaborate documentation for the long “Marriage” and “An Octopus.” For her next book, Selected Poems (1935) Moore adds eight new poems, “The Steeple-jack” and “The Hero” presented as parts of one poem, “Part of a Novel, Part of a Poem, Part of a Play.” All but the last-named double poem have notes.
This is not to say that the notes remained unchanged. For example, the notes to “An Octopus” diminished from 29 to 16 between Observations and Selected Poems through merger and omission. Just as she felt free to recast a poem from her syllabic rhyme to free verse (“A Grave”) or to drop lines (the fifteen-line catalog of flowers in “An Octopus), Moore also reworked her notes. What follows is a single but curious example.
Moore published “Tom Fool at Jamaica” in 1953 in The New Yorker without notes, as was the magazine’s custom. But when she included it in her Like a Bulwark in 1956, she appended extensive notes and a French poem to account for the horse’s having become “magnetized by feeling” in his effort to win a race: “Sentir avec ardeur,” by eighteenth century Mme de Boufflers. The poem came to her from Achilles Fang, a multi-lingual classical Chinese and comparative literature professor at Harvard and author of a dissertation on classical allusions in Pound’s Cantos.
To complicate the issue, Moore explained in her note that her quotation there from Fang’s work, in which she quoted his interest in “Sentir avec ardeur,” was derived from a note in Fang’s “Rhymeprose on Literature,” his scholarly translation in the Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies of Wen Fu by third century Chinese Lu Chi, in which he referred to Mme de Boufflers. Her quotation from his note reads: “I am at one with a contemporary of Rousseau’s: ‘Il faut dire en deux mots / Ce qu’on veut dire; . . .’ But I cannot claim ‘J’ai réussi,’ especially because I broke Mme de Boufflers’s injunction (‘Il faut éviter l’emploi / Du moi, du moi’).” Among her papers is a copy of the poem, typed out by her, and noted as obtained from Achilles Fang. When it appears in three of her subsequent books, “Tom Fool” is always accompanied by this note and the full text of the French poem.
Moore published “In Lieu of the Lyre” in the Harvard Advocate in 1965 at the invitation of its editor, the nephew of a friend in New York. She used half her lines to thank Harvard’s Achilles Fang, Harry Levin, Kirkland House and Lowell House for literary help over the years. Then she appended precisely the same note about Fang and Mme de Boufflers; she continued this practice for the poem’s first book appearance, in Tell Me, Tell Me.
But when it came time to include both this poem and “Tom Fool” in Complete Poems in 1967, the note caused a problem, solved by using the full note for “Tom Fool” and a “see also” note for “In Lieu of the Lyre,” referring back to the “Tom Fool” note and text of the French poem. In the latter case, Moore names “Sentir avec ardeur” and its author but does not print its text.