Marianne Moore: Poetry

March 8, 2011

“Virginia Britannia” and Captain Smith’s Coat of Arms

“ostrich, Latin motto,

and small gold horse-shoe”

Life and Letters Today, 13 (December 1935), 66.

In writing about Virginia, Moore investigated the arms of Captain John Smith. She reports the

Captain John Smith, Jamestown

motto, Vincere est vivere (to conquer is to live), and the image of an ostrich with a horse-shoe in its beak (Collected Poems, 1951, note,  p. 171-72).  Representations of Smith’s arms are legion. Their chief components are three Turks’ heads, recalling a slaughter of three Turks by Smith in a battle in Europe before his Virginia adventure, the ostrich with horseshoe, and the motto.

Moore may have met the coat of arms of Captain John Smith during her summer visit in 1935 to Norfolk, Virginia. No doubt she stopped at the site of historic Jamestown and viewed the statue of Smith by Couper which displays the arms on its base. The detail is difficult to see in a photograph but all three elements are present. The statue was erected in 1909..

In any case, Moore writes of an ostrich with a horseshoe that was both small and gold. Only one source found so far supplies the detail of the gold horseshoe, namely The True Story of Captain John Smith by Katherine Pearson Woods (New York: Doubleday, Page, 1901), p. 61. To shorten a long story, Smith received his coat of arms after his battle with the Turks through the offices of Sigismund Báthory, a prince of Transylvania where the fighting took place. The resulting arms represent Smith’s mother and father (wheat sheaves and fleurs de lis) and Smith himself (Turk’s heads).  Page continues:

The crest of Smith of Hough, in Cheshire, which was confirmed in July, 1579, is “An ostrich

Smith's Coat of Arms

argent, holding in its beak a horseshoe, or.” This crest was probably the foundation of our hero’s; the significance of the ostrich (Oestrich or Austria) and of the lucky horseshoe, was likely to suggest itself to a herald of the times. . . . This coat-of-arms was not entered at the Heralds’ College until after the publication in 1625 of Purchas’s “Pilgrims,” in vol. ii, of which may be found a full account of Smith’s doings in Transylvania, taken from “A Booke intituled, The Warres of Transylvania, Wallachia and Moldavia, written by Francisco Farnese, a learned Italian, Secretarie to Sigismundus Bathor, the Prince.”

Woods provides an image of this coat of arms; although uncolored, we know from the description that the ostrich is silver and the horseshoe gold.

February 6, 2011

“People’s Surroundings,” Bluebeard, and St. Thomas

“Bluebeard’s tower above the coral reefs

. . . . . . . .

and the Chinese vermilion of the poincianas

set fire to the masonry” ll. 34, 39-40.

U.S.S. Mercy, 1918, under Brooklyn Bridge

During the summer of 1920, Moore and her mother traveled from New York to San Pedro, California,  on the U.S.S. Mercy, a Navy hospital ship. Their destination was the home of John Warner Moore, brother and son, who was stationed there with his family. The ship must have called at Charlotte Amalia in St. Thomas in the U. S. Virgin Islands at least long enough for Moore to spot “Bluebeard’s tower” and some of the flora.

Bluebeard’s tower in Charlotte Amalia served as a Danish fort in the 18th Century.

Poinciana regia Bojer

According to legend, Edouard de Barbe Bleue, a notorious pirate, captured the lovely Senorita Mercedes and built a tower in which to keep her while he sailed in search of plunder. While he was away, Mercedes discovered not only his gold and jewels but many letters from paramours. She took her revenge by inviting the women to share his treasures. The women turned on her and threatened to kill her—but Bluebeard returned in time to save her.

” The harbor of Charlotte Amalia, coveted by commercial and naval interests, is the most striking coastal feature of

Bluebeard's Tower

the islands, indenting the southern coast of St. Thomas. It is something less than a mile in diameter, a little longer than wide, and is nearly enclosed by the hills, its mouth being approximately 900 feet wide. It is as safe an anchorage as any tropical harbor can be, and affords anchorage for as many vessels as would be at all likely to need it at any one time, in water which is up to 37 feet deep. It is not as spacious as Guantanamo Bay on the southeast coast of Cuba, but as a naval base, with the hills fortified, would immediately command the Virgin Passage.” (P. 24)

[Among the flora is] “Delonix Regia (Bojer) Raf. [Poinciana regia Bojer.] Spontaneous after planting, St. Thomas; St. Croix.”  (P. 5)

–from Nathaniel Lord Britton. The Flora of the American Virgin Islands. New York Botanical Garden, 1918.

February 1, 2011

“Bowls” and Lawn Bowling

Filed under: Marianne Moore,Poem Sources — by moore123 @ 2:08 pm
Tags: , ,


“on the green

with lignum vitae balls and ivory markers”

Secession 5 (July 1923) 12, ll 1-2.

Bowling at Stanley Park, Vancouver

When Moore went to the Pacific Northwest in the summer of 1922, she stopped in Vancouver where she saw a game of lawn bowling. [There is a letter to this effect, not in Selected Letters; reference welcome.] She finished her poem “Bowls” by October of that year. In lawn bowls, there are no “pins planted in wild duck formation, / and quickly dispersed” (ll. 3-2); possibly Moore extended her image to nine-pins played indoors.  Here follows a description of lawn bowling:

“Bowls” is a corruption of the word “balls,” which in its way is an evidence of the ancient origin of the game. Before the Revolution, it was the favourite sport of New Yorkers, when the Battery was the centre of the city’s fashion—and the end of its main thoroughfare still retains the name of the “Bowling Green.”

The game is played with balls about four or five inches in diameter, so that they are held easily in the hand, and made of lignum vitas, enamelled in colours, so as to be gaily effective on the grass. They are slightly flattened at the poles, and are sometimes made oval for scientific play, in order to give them a bias direction at will. A small, round white ball, called the “Jack,” is first thrown to one end of the lawn.

The bowlers, each using two balls, which are numbered to distinguish them, take up their positions at a certain distance from the “Jack,” and each in turn bowls toward it. He whose ball comes nearest counts one. The game is usually fixed at twenty. When there are more than two players, sides are formed, the balls being played alternately, and the ball that comes nearest to the “Jack” counts one point for the side that threw it.

When there are but two players they stand side by side to deliver their balls, but when there are several on a side the usual plan is to bowl from opposite sides of the “green,” the Jack having been placed in the middle. The art in bowling consists in knocking away the opponents’ balls from their positions near the Jack, or in carrying off the Jack itself from among the opponents’ balls, and in bowling nearer than any other without disturbing one’s own balls or the Jack. If, when sides are taken, and both sides have delivered their balls, two balls of one side are nearer than any balls of their opponents’, they count a point for. every ball.

A “green” is about seventy feet square, level, and with the grass closely cut. A bank as a boundary is desirable—where spectators may sit to watch the game. . . .

Balls and Bowling Mat

Balls and Bowling Mat

Each contestant plays two balls alternately, and the privilege of playing first is tossed for. The starting-point in a game is that portion of the green on which the “Footer” is laid—a cloth about a yard square, of carpet or canvas. The player places his foot upon this when about to roll the ball. In a match-game the “Skip” has entire charge of his side in the contest.

Points Of Play

The main point is first to roll the ball as near to the Jack as possible. The next point is to “guard” or “block” it—that is, to roll the next ball so that it may form an obstruction to the attempt to drive the counting ball from its position near the Jack. The “riding” of a ball is rolling it with great force, and is only employed in emergencies. “Raking” the ball is rolling it with force enough to strike the opponent’s ball out of position and put your own ball in its place. “Chucking” is striking a counting ball out of range, and thereby adding to your own counting balls, or striking one of the balls of your own side into a counting place.  An “in-wick” is a ball that curves in to the Jack; an “out-wick,” one curving from the opposite direction— points made by oval balls. An “end” is the completion of an inning on each side, and the playing of so many “ends”—mutually agreed upon—constitutes the completion of a game.

–from Florence Kingsland. In and Out Door Games. New York: Sully and Kleinteich, 1904. Pp. 192-194.


Early 20th Century

At the time, 1922, Moore lived in Greenwich Village, not far from New York’s Bowling Green,

Bowling Green Park Today

located at the foot of Broadway.  Its history as an actual bowling green receives various treatments in contemporary accounts, some insisting that players bowled there in the 17th Century.  By the time of Moore’s New York years, it was a pocket park and looked much as it does today.




January 23, 2011

“To Yvor Winters”

American Badger

Sequoia Magazine, put out by Stanford University students, planned a special issue on honor of Yvor Winters for Vol VI, Winter, 1961, and asked Moore for a contribution.  The two poets had a long history, beginning in the 1920s when Moore sent Winters library books while he recuperated from TB in New Mexico and he, in 1924, produced a remarkably astute and positive review of Observations for Poetry. “To Yvor Winters” appears on page vi in calligraphy, not typeset.

The poem addresses well-known characteristics of Winters‘ literary criticism: his insistence the poetry emanate from reason rather than emotion and his preference for formalism.  Moore calls Winters a “badger-Diogenes.”  The American badger, Taxidea taxus, known for its ability to root out smaller animals in their dens and its willingness to take on much larger animals such as bears and wolves, suggests the fierceness of some of Winters’ criticisms.

Diogenes of Sinope (404-323 BC), known as The Cynic (from Κύων—dog  or kynikos

"Diogenes" by Jean-Léon Gérôme, 1860

—cynical, doggish), held that man should live by reason, close to nature, and eschew feelings and worldly pleasures. He is symbolized as a man carrying a lamp in the daytime, claiming to be looking for an honest man.  He is also pictured as living in a tub in an Athenian square. In choosing Diogenes as an epithet for Winters, Moore evokes, again, Winters the critic. For example, Winters on several occasions lambasted T. S. Eliot for his “Inconsistencies;” Eliot, he said, calls upon two, opposing processes in his work: reason to determine his critical standards, emotion to create poetry. Winters thought only the former was necessary for both criticism and poetry.  (See The Anatomy of Nonsense , 1943.)

Winters the formalist might have had thoughts about the structure of Moore’s apparently “free verse” tribute.  One wonders whether he might have seen the strict syllabic meter hovering beneath the surface of the poem. If one copies out the poem on the following grid, using the title as the first line (a practice Moore followed with some regularity), one finds two stanzas of counted syllables rhymed at the ends of the lines in colors:

5 11  13  18  4 4 11 ; 5  11  13  18  4 4 11

Or, expressed as rhyme alone:  a b b b b c d; a b b b b c d

We’ll never know.

This poem has never been collected in books of Moore’s poems. It is available in Sequoia and in Sequoia: Twentieth Anniversary Issue, Poetry 1956-1976, ed. Michael J. Smith (Stanford: Associated Students of Stanford University, 1976) p. 63.

January 10, 2011

The Dial Press, Lincoln MacVeagh, Observations

Filed under: Marianne Moore — by moore123 @ 12:40 pm
Tags: , , ,

Lincoln MacVeagh, from "Life"

Lincoln MacVeagh  (1890-1972) began The Dial Press, housed in the same building as The Dial magazine, in 1923. He published Moore’s Observations in 1924 (and in a second edition in 1925). MacVeagh spent much of his career as a diplomat and so does not figure as prominently in the history of Modernist letters as his literary efforts warrant.

The description of some of MacVeagh’s papers at Princeton outlines his birth, education, and diplomatic career. Because those papers concern only the years 1932-45, it is understandable that the description does not focus on The Dial Press.

MacVeagh went to work for Henry Holt and Company in 1915. There he might have had a hand in the publication of work by Robert Frost, Padraic Colum, Dorothy Canfield Fisher, Carl Sandburg, Stephen Vincent Benet, and A. E. Houseman, whose work Holt featured before MacVeagh left in 1923. Clearly his own choices, the backlist of The Dial Press, includes work by Ralph Mottram, Glenway Wescott, E. E. Cummings, Maxim Gorky, Sylvia Townsend Warner, Theodore Dreiser, Elizabeth Bowen, Bravig Imbs, and Jean Giraudoux, among many others.  MacVeagh’s list overlaps that of Dial magazine contributors in many instances. MacVeagh sold the press in 1933 when President Roosevelt appointed him Minister Plenipotentiary to Greece, the first in a series of posts that would include Iceland, South Africa, Egypt, Portugal  and  Spain.

The papers of The Dial Press are at the Beinecke Library at Yale:

January 6, 2011

“Sea Unicorns” and Leigh Hunt

Filed under: Marianne Moore,Poem Sources — by moore123 @ 2:12 pm
Tags: , ,

In Observations (1924), Moore offers a note to her phrase “deriving agreeable terror.”

Leigh Hunt (1784-1859)


and she cites Leigh Hunt.  Wherever Hunt originally published his comments, probably in a magazine, they were repeated frequently, most often by Sir John Lubbock in a chapter on the pleasure of reading called “A Song of Books.” The extended reference follows:

“The lover of reading,” says Leigh Hunt, ” will derive agreeable terror from Sir Bertram and the Haunted Chamber; will assent with delighted reason to every sentence in Mrs. Barbauld’s Essay; will feel himself wandering into solitudes with Gray; shake honest hands with Sir Roger de Coverley; be ready to embrace Parson Adams, and to chuck Pounce out of the window instead of the hat; will travel with Marco Polo and Mungo Park; stay at home with Thomson; retire with Cowley; be industrious with Hutton; sympathizing with Gay and Mrs. Inchbald; laughing with (and at) Buncle; melancholy, and forlorn, and self-restored with the shipwrecked mariner of De Foe.”

–in Sir John Lubbock, The Pleasures of Life Complete (Philadelphia: Henry Altemus, 1894), pp. 39-40.

January 2, 2011

“Apparition of Splendor” and Goldsmith

The note to “Apparition of Splendor” for lines 16-17 refers to a passage from an “essay” by Oliver Goldsmith. The passage below includes the phrases Moore used (or paraphrased) in bold.

Letter XLIX

[Prince Bonbennin circles the earth in search of a precious white mouse with green eyes. Accompanying him, as a cat, is his wife. He meets an old fairy crone who asks what he sought:]

“Well,” says the old fairy, for such she was, ” I promise to put you in possession of the white mouse with green eyes, and that immediately too, upon one condition . . .  that you instantly consent to marry me; . . . if you demur, I retract my promise; I do not desire to force my favours on any man. Here, you my attendants,” cried she, stamping with her foot, “let my machine be driven up; Barbacela, Queen of Emmets, is not used to contemptuous treatment.”

Porcupine Quill Box Owned by Moore --Moore Collection, RML

. . . [Then] the Prince reflected, that now or never was the time to be possessed of the white mouse; and  . . .taking the young Prince by the hand, [she]conducted him to a neighbouring church, where they were married together in a moment. As soon as the ceremony was performed, the prince, who was to the last degree desirous of seeing his favourite mouse, reminded the bride of her promise. ” To confess a truth, my Prince.” cried she, ” I myself am that very white mouse you saw on your wedding-night in the royal apartment. I now, therefore, give you the choice, whether you would have me a mouse by day, and a woman by night, or a mouse by night, and a wonan by day.” . . . [and] he thought it would for several reasons be most convenient, if she continued a woman by day and appeared a mouse by night.

The old fairy was a good deal mortified at her husband’s want of gallantry, though she was reluctantly obliged to comply: the day was therefore spent in the most polite amusements, the gentleman talked smut, the ladies laughed, and were angry. At last, the happy night drew near,

Quills, Moore Collection, RML

the blue cat still stuck by the side of its master, and even followed him to the bridal apartment. Barbacela entered the chamber, wearing a train fifteen yards long, supported by porcupines, and all over beset with jewels, which served to render her more detestable. She was just stepping into bed to the Prince, forgetting her promise, when he insisted upon seeing her in the shape of a mouse. She had promised, and no fairy can break her word; wherefore, assuming the figure of the most beautiful mouse in the world, she skipped and played about with an infinity of amusement. The Prince, in an agony of rapture, was desirous of seeing his pretty play-fellow move a slow dance about the

Porcupine, from a Magazine, Framed by Moore. RML

floor to his own singing; he began to sing, and the mouse immediately to perform with the most perfect knowledge of time, and the finest grace and greatest gravity imaginable; it only began, for Nunhoa, who had long waited for the opportunity in the shape of a cat, flew upon it instantly without remorse, and eating it up in the hundredth part of a moment, broke the charm, and then resumed her natural figure.

–Oliver Goldsmith.  “Letters from a Citizen of the World to His Friends in the East,” in The Miscellaneous Works of Oliver Goldsmith, ed. Washington Irving, Philadelphia: Chrissy and Markley, 1859, p. 309.

December 9, 2010

“New York” Albino Deer

Filed under: Marianne Moore,Poem Sources — by moore123 @ 4:17 pm
Tags: , ,

George Shiras Photo

“deer skins–white with white spots

‘as satin needlework in a single color may carry a varied pattern'”

“New York,” l. 6,

First published in The Dial 71 (December 1921) 637.

In her note when this poem appeared in Observations, Moore offered a long quotation from an article by George Shiras in The Literary Digest. The article discussed Shiras’s experience of albino deer on Grand Island, off the Michigan shore of Lake Superior. It was Shiras who described the fawn’s coat as looking like satin needlework. The Shiras piece originally appeared in The National Geographic for August, 1921, and it is from that issue that this photograph is taken. 

The black and white photographs cannot do justice to the white-on-white coat, better seen in a contemporary color photograph by Michael Crowley. The fawn to the right gives a sense of the lightly shaded coloration. Click on the photograph to enlarge it.

December 8, 2010

“He Wrote the History Book” and Taught at Bryn Mawr

During her second semester at Bryn Mawr, Moore spent an afternoon skating with her friends and some faculty children.  Among the latter was the son of Evangeline and Charles McLean Andrews who said “I am John Andrews. My father wrote the English History” (Letter to Mary and John Warner Moore, February 11, [1906], Rosenbach). With the substitution of just three words, this statement became the footnote to “’He Wrote the History Book” when it appeared in Observations. Moore finished the poem in early, 1916, just ten years after its inspiration, and first published it in The Egoist (5.3 May 1, 1916. 71).

In the fall of 1906, as a sophomore, Moore took Charles M. Andrews’s course in Medieval History. In letters home she noted that his course was difficult but that she wished she could do more advanced work with him (13 November), that Andrews had written on her paper that she should “try to express yourself more clearly and accurately” (11 December), a refrain echoed by other teachers, and that  Andrews was the “’biggest’” professor she had yet encountered (13 November). By “biggest” she meant the most professionally accomplished.

Andrews did indeed write the “English History book:” A History of England, Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1903, was a textbook for American

History of England

schools and colleges. However, his chief accomplishments lay in American history, particularly of the colonial period. The following short biography has been adapted from Encyclopedia of World Biography, 2004.

Charles McLean Andrews was born in Wethersfield, Conn., on Feb. 22, 1863. He graduated from Trinity College in 1884 pursued graduate studies at Johns Hopkins. There he worked under Herbert B. Adams, a leading figure in the movement to professionalize history.

Andrews took his first teaching position at Bryn Mawr in 1889. He married Evangeline Walker in 1895 and continued to teach at Bryn Mawr, taking a leave sponsored by the Carnegie Institution in 1903-1904 to work on a guide to manuscripts in the British Museum. In 1904 he saw publication of his Colonial Self-Government, 1652-1689. By 1907 Andrews’s reputation was such that he was asked by Johns Hopkins to fill Adams’s chair. He moved to Johns Hopkins and published with Francis G. Davenport the Guide to the Manuscript Materials for the History of the United States to 1783 in the British Museum and Other Depositories (1908).

In 1910, Andrews moved to Yale to become professor of American history, edit the Yale Historical Series, and teach graduate courses in American colonial history. In 1912 another of his works, The Colonial Period, appeared. He became president of the American Historical Association. In 1925 His Colonial Background of the American Revolution (1924), regarded as one of his best books, maintains that an understanding of British colonial policy is essential to understanding the American Revolution. The next year Andrews became president of the association.

After his retirement from Yale in 1931, Andrews continued to labor on his final major work, The Colonial Period of American History (4 vols., 1934-1938), the first volume of which won a Pulitzer Prize. He died on Sept. 9, 1943.

John Williams Andrews was about seven when he pronounced on his father’s success. He and his parents left Bryn Mawr in the fall of 1907 and by the time John was ten, his father had moved to Yale. John attended the Taft School and Yale College where he was an editor of The Yale Book of Student Verse ((1919) with Stephen Vincent Benét and John Chipman Farrar. After college he worked as a journalist in China and New Haven, attended Yale Law School, and joined the New York law firm Root, Clark Buckner & Ballantine. In 1940 he moved to the United States Justice Department as chief of the Federal-State Relations Section, and later served as a trial attorney in the anti-Trust Division. He later turned to a career in public relations. He became editor of  the quarterly journal Post Lore. In 1963 he was co-recipient of the Robert Frost Poetry Award and edited Literary Quarterly.  The John Williams Andrews Narrative Poetry Prize was offered by Poet Lore in his honor. His books include Prelude to Icaros (Farrar & Rinehart  1936), Hill Country North (Branden Press, 1965), The Story of Flying (Robert J. Tyndall, 1968), and Triptych for the Atomic Age (Branden Press, 1970).

November 29, 2010

Ellen Thayer, Bryn Mawr Friend, Dial Colleague

The Dial Office (today) Built 1846

When Moore was a sophomore at Bryn Mawr, she occasionally wrote home about her friendship with Ellen Thayer: that she planned to take her to a dance and composed a Valentine verse for her (SL p. 24), that she took tea with classmates including Ellen (SL p. 27). Thayer graduated with a degree in Latin and French in 1907, two years ahead of Moore.  In 1925, Ellen became Assistant Editor at The Dial, the same year Moore became Editor. The two women worked closely together until the magazine’s demise in 1929.

Ellen (1885-1971) was the daughter of Albert Smith Thayer (1854-1942). His siblings were Ernest Lawrence Thayer (1863-1940), famous as the author of “Casey at the Bat,” Ellen Olive Thayer (1861-1932), later Mrs. Samuel H. Clary, and Edward Darling Thayer (1856-1907), father of Scofield Thayer, founder of The Dial. The Thayer patriarch Edward Davis Thayer owned woolen mills in various Massachusetts towns, sources of great wealth. His son Edward continued to manage the mills without his siblings.

Albert Thayer graduated from Harvard, as did his father and brothers, and became a real estate lawyer, practicing in New York City. He married Josephine Ely and they had two daughters, Ellen, born December 15, 1885, and Lucy Ely, born November 9, 1887, in Flushing, Long Island. Both girls attended Flushing Seminary, a girls’ boarding school.

After Bryn Mawr, Ellen spent the years 1909-11 at the Sorbonne, taught French at Wolf Hall, in Denver, for the next two years, and after some time abroad, taught at the Phoebe Ann Thorne

The Dial Garden (Today)

Model School in Bryn Mawr. At the same time, she served as “Reader in French” at Bryn Mawr, 1916-1916. The next year she matriculated for an advanced degree in English at Johns Hopkins, switching to French in 1918. By 1920, she was working as a governess in the home of Milton and Mildred Gundersheimer in Baltimore, presumably in charge of their daughter Jane, age seven.

While in Baltimore, Ellen met Hildegard Nagel, a native of St. Louis working on her degree in social work at Hopkins. They became lifelong companions. Hildegard (1886-1985) was the daughter of Fannie Brandeis (sister of Justice Louis Brandeis) and Charles Nagel, Secretary of Commerce and Labor under President Taft (1909-12), and Hildegard, having finished her schooling at Bennett College in Millbrook, New York, became part of the social set in the capitol, attending parties with Helen Taft, the president’s debutante daughter.  Nagel went on to a career as a psychiatric social worker in New York, a founding member of the Analytical Psychology Club of New York, a student and translator of Carl G. Jung, and a prolific translator of German works, largely in the field of psychology.

In 1925 Ellen and Hildegard lived at (or at least gave as their address on a ship’s manifest as) 152 W. 13th Street, the building that housed The Dial. Both women translated essays and reviews for the magazine, prompting Moore to recall that “foreign letter translations- -unsigned in accordance with Dial practice –should make the ghost of the magazine intensively apologetic to . . . Ellen Thayer and Hildegard Nagel” (Nicholas Joost, Scofield Thayer and The Dial (1964) p. 186). Ellen joined Hildegard in the Analytical Psychology Club of New York, an organizations of Jung enthusiasts, attended Jungian conferences in Switzerland, and assisted in translations of Jung’s work. She was present in 1937 when Jung delivered to the Club his lectures that became Psychology and Alchemy.

Moore and Thayer kept in touch over the years. They attended Four Saints in Three Acts together in 1934. In 1954, Moore inscribed a copy of her translation of The Fables of La Fontaine to her. Moore and Norvelle and Frances Brown ran into Ellen and Hildegard at Stonehenge during a 1965 trip. No doubt there were many more encounters than survive in the published correspondence.

November 24, 2010

“In the Days of Prismatic Color” and Adam

“when Adam

was alone . . .

. . . . . . . . .

. . .nor did the once blue red yellow band

of incandescence that was colour, keep its stripe . . .”

Version from The Lantern 27 (Spring 1919) 35, ll. 1-2, 10-11.

The image of Adam alone, or being created by God, brings to mind Michaelangelo’s Sistine Chapel ceiling; however, that work has no prominent “band of incandescence.”  Blake’s “Elohim Creating Adam,” on the other hand, has what might be considered such a band:

“Elohim Creating Adam,” William Blake, 1795/circa 1805, Tate Online

The gift of W. Graham Robertson to the Tate, London, in 1939, this work was owned by Robertson in 1907 when an edition of Alexander Gilchrist’s Life of William Blake was reprinted from the 1863 original, this time with an introduction by Robertson.  Commenting on “Elohim Creating Adam,” Robertson says:

In all the works of Blake are to be found deep and original thoughts.

As we look at his “Creation of Adam” we realise with a touch of awe that its suggestions of the gradual development of man from the elements were formulated many years before the Theory of Evolution dawned upon the world.

Despite his horror of Natural Science, his poetical insight leads him truth-wards almost against his will.

His philosophy and teaching were not for his own time. (p. ix)

This work was reproduced in color and described thus in the catalog accompanying the text: “18. 1795.—*Elohim creating Adam. [Capt. Butts.] Colour printed. The Creator is an amazingly grand figure, worthy of a primeval imagination or intuition. He is struggling, as it were, above Adam, who lies extended on the ground, a serpent twined around one leg. The colour has a terrible power in it; and the entire design is truly a mighty one—perhaps on the whole the greatest monument extant of Blake’s genius. Reproduced at page 406.” (p. 417)

Moore would have seen these texts and the image in November, 1910, when she had a copy of the Gilchrist book (letter to her brother, 1 November 1910, Rosenbach, not in SL).

Gilchrist, himself, has this to say about the image:

In the grand composition, “Elohim creating Adam,” he enters the lists with his life-long idol, Michael Angelo, yet avoids comparison by the complete originality of his conception. In the “Creation” of Michael Angelo—perhaps the noblest picture the world possesses—God sweeps past upborne by Cherubim and, with a touch of His extended finger, kindles life in man. Blake, on entirely different lines, sets before us an almost equally haunting vision.

A weary God, spent with ages of labour, broods over Adam on flagging wings. Virtue is gone out of Him and, as the great sun of the Sixth Day sinks below the newmade world, for the drawing of a breath He pauses before the final effort is made.

Michael Angelo represents the Creation of Man by the Deity. Blake shows the mystery of all Creations; the birth of anything or of everything, born of the Maker’s Agony and leaving Him weary—for God rested the Seventh Day.

Beneath His hands the first man takes shape and is resolved out of the elements; a piteous, helpless creature, marl-stained and almost without form, his weak limbs wrapped about by a monstrous worm.

Beyond the two figures the golden disk of the setting sun shoots forth dark purple rays across blue tracts of sky, lighting the overhanging cloud-canopies with a dim radiance. The great wings of God are golden, tinged here and there with crimson, and the colour throughout the picture is sombrely magnificent.

The whole surface has been so carefully worked over by hand that few traces of printing remain.

Please comment! Are there other candidates for “when Adam was alone?”

November 21, 2010

“People’s Surroundings” and “Instant Beauty”

“medicaments for ‘instant beauty’ in the hands of all”

“People’s Surroundings” in Observations, 1924, p. 67, l. 32.

Moore dropped this reference to a beauty product after Selected Poems (1935); she had supplied a short note in 1924,  “‘instant beauty’ :  advertisement.” It is likely she referred to an advertisement for three “instant beauty” products, Pompeian Beauty Powder, Pompeian Day Cream, and Pompeian Bloom, offered as a bonus to buyers of a yard-tall print of actress Marguerite Clark entitled “Absence Cannot Hearts Divide.”

Clark (1883-1940) played ingenue and young women roles on Broadway and in early silent films, starring as both Topsy and Little Eva in Uncle Tom’s Cabin. She retired in 1921 to be with her husband on their Louisiana plantation. Compared to Mary Pickford, she had a large following, and in 1920, she posed for this color panel for the Pompeian Company. For “a dime,” readers of Cosmopolitan for November could acquire the print and the beauty products and “instant beauty.”

November 18, 2010

“Reinforcements” and Greeks

” . . . .The words of the Greeks

Ring in our ears, but they are vain in comparison with a sight like this.”

Reinforcements,” The Egoist 6.5 (June-July 1918): 83

About the time of  the United States’ declaration of war on Germany on 8 April 1917, or perhaps at the time her brother filed his draft card on 5 June 1917, Moore began a poem about going to war.


“The words of the Greeks / Ring in our ears” goes undocumented by footnote but I would like to suggest a possible source. In Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War, Alcibiades’ speech to the Athenians, urging them to attack Sicily in an effort to control the Mediterranean world, whips his audience  into fighting readiness. He deplores non-intervention, the policy of President Wilson until World War I had blasted our European allies for nearly three years. Moore certainly had thoughts about involving the United States in the war–her brother was already in the Naval Militia, and were he to enlist as a Navy chaplain (as he subsequently did), Marianne and her mother would lose their home in his Manse in Chatham, New Jersey, and have a very real reason to fear the war machine.

Below is the end of the speech, from Benjamin Jowett’s translation: Thucydides Translated into English. . . . Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1881, pp. 421-23.

Never were the Peloponnesians more hopeless of success than at the present moment; and let them be ever so confident, they can only invade us by land, which they will equally do whether we go to Sicily or not. But on the sea they cannot hurt us, for we shall leave behind us a navy equal to theirs.

What reason can we give to ourselves for hesitation? Why then what excuse can we make to our allies for denying for an them aid? We have sworn to them, and have no right to argue that they never assisted us. In seeking their true policy alliance we did not intend that they should come and help us here, but that they should harass our enemies in Sicily, and prevent them from coming hither. Like probably all other imperial powers, we have acquired our dominion
by our readiiness to assist any one, whether Barbarian or Hellene, who may have invoked our aid. If we are all to sit and do nothing, or to draw distinctions of race when our help is requested, we shall add little to our empire, and run a great risk of losing it altogether. For mankind do not await the attack of a superior power, they anticipate it. We cannot cut down an empire as we might a household but having once gained our present position, we must keep a firm hold upon some, and contrive occasion against others; for if we are not rulers we shall be subjects. You cannot afford to regard inaction in the same light as others might, unless you impose a corresponding restriction on your policy. Convinced then that we shall be most likely to increase our power here if we attack our enemies there, let us sail. We shall humble the pride of the Peloponnesians when they see that, scorning the delights of repose, we have attacked Sicily. By the help of our acquisitions there, we shall probably become masters of all Hellas; at any rate we shall injure the Syracusans, and at the same time benefit ourselves and our allies. Whether we succeed and remain or depart, in either case our navy will ensure our safety; for at sea we shall be more than a match for all Sicily. Nicias must not divert you from your purpose by preaching indolence, and by trying to set the young against the old; rather in your accustomed order, old and young taking counsel together, after the manner of your fathers who raised Athens to this height of greatness, strive to rise yet higher. Consider that youth and age have no power unless united ; but that the lighter and the more exact and the middle sort of judgment, when duly attempered, are likely to be most efficient. The state, if at rest, like everything else will wear herself out by internal friction. Every pursuit which requires skill will bear the impress of decay, whereas by conflict fresh experience is always being gained, and the city learns to defend herself, not in theory, but in practice. My opinion in short is, that a state used to activity will quickly be ruined by the change to inaction; and that they of all men enjoy the greatest security who are truest to themselves and their institutions even when they are not the best.

Alcibiades got it wrong. Athens was badly defeated at Syracuse, having lost most of its military force; the Peloponnesian wars drew to a close, Athenian democracy yielded to oligarchy, and Sparta became the dominant force, occupying Athens. Was this bit of history the words of the Greeks that Moore heard in the summer of 1917?

November 12, 2010

“When I Buy Pictures” and Blake

Filed under: Marianne Moore,Poem Sources — by moore123 @ 12:55 pm
Tags: , ,

“Michael taking Adam by the wrist” (l. 11)

Blake's "Paradise Lost" No. 12

From the Rosenbach website we learn that Moore purchased three Blake prints “in Boston during a 1918 visit to see John Warner Moore and Constance Eustis Moore just after they married. These ‘Copley prints of Blake’s’ were sent to Marianne on approval after she arrived home. [Her mother said Marianne] had been considering buying such prints for 9 years (since graduating from Bryn Mawr) and approved their purchase. See MWM to JWM, Oct. 18, 1918.” One of those prints was “The Expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden.”

The Copley Prints of Messers Curtis and Cameron of Boston, began  in 1895 as an educational project to provide Americans with access to some of the great art held by museums and collectors in the country.  In their history of the project, The Copley Prints (Boston:  Curtis and Cameron, 1915), the company’s owners explained that they would take mail orders and send prints on approval. The catalog lists prints of Blake’s illustrations to Paradise Lost from the set of watercolor drawings at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts (the “Butts set”). They were priced at $4.50 each. Moore’s prints are not in color.

When Moore obtained the prints, she framed them and hung them in her apartment. They stayed with her throughout her life, hanging above her livingroom desk in her last apartment, now on view at the Rosenbach Museum & Library in Philadelphia. Photographs of these prints are available on Rosenbach’s website by searching for research/objects catalog/blake Copley.

November 9, 2010

“Voracities and Verities” and Louise Crane

“I don’t like diamonds”

Moore’s 1947 poem “Voracites and Verities Sometimes Are Interacting” contains a hidden reference to Louise Crane: a copy of the Quarterly Review of Literature (4, 2, 1948, 124) among Moore’s papers has an inscription that reads in part “said by you to me, Louise,” referring to the diamonds.  Moore met Crane in the 1930s and their friendship lasted the rest of Moore’s life.

Crane and Bishop, 1937, Crane Papers, Yale

Louise Crane (1913-1997) was born in Dalton, Massachusetts, the daughter of Josephine Boardman and W. Murray Crane. The Crane family had long owned Crane & Company, the Dalton-based manufacturer of cotton papers on which national currencies are printed. Her father served as Governor of Massachusetts and later United States Senator from Massachusetts, all before Louise was born. Her mother was a founder of the Museum of Modern Art and of the Dalton School in New York as well as a philanthropist and cultural leader.

Vassar and MoMA

Louise graduated from Vassar College where she made friends with Eleanor Clark (wife of Robert Penn Warren), Margaret Miller (later of the Museum of Modern Art), and Elizabeth Bishop. After her father’s death in 1920, Louise and her mother moved to New York where their large Fifth Avenue apartment became a mecca for artists, writers, musicians, and intellectuals.

After college, Louise organized “Coffee Concerts” at MoMA, introducing audiences to such

Belle Rosette by Carl Van Vechten, 1941

artists as Trinidadan singer Belle Rosette (Beryl McBurnie), jazz composer Mary Lou Williams, classical German composer Lukas Foss, and singer and guitarist Utah Smith.  Time for November 17, 1941, tried to characterize the Coffee Concerts: “The program, called ‘Salon Swing,’ included subdued riffs by Benny Carter’s Septet, tap dancing by an extraordinary young Negro named Baby Lawrence, songs by Maxine Sullivan, three of them to harpsichord accompaniment. The recital got chastely in the groove when the harpsichord, precisely pecked by willowy, red-haired Sylvia Marlowe, gave forth Pine-top’s Boogie, rolling bass and all.” Billboard for January 9, 1943, reported that “Louise Crane has opened a management office to handle cocktail combos. On her books now are the Leonard Ware Trio and the Harlem Highlanders” (p. 23).

Patron and Publisher

In 1953, she published Iberica, a magazine dedicated to news of Franco’s Spain that went

Victoria Kent

unreported by the regime. Victoria Kent, the editor, was the first woman elected to the Spanish Parliament—before women were allowed to vote. A courageous reformer as Director of Prisons, she fled Spain when Franco came to power, finally living with Louise in New York, active with the magazine and with the Spanish Refugee Aid (SRA) founded in 1953 to assist refugees of the Spanish Civil War who were then residing in France.

Louise had an extensive correspondence with Moore, despite the fact that they saw each other often in New York.  To take a single example, Moore’s letter of June 5, 1941 (SL 413-415), parsing in great detail a Coffee Concert at MoMA, begins  “Last night has given me something to think about for fifteen years!” She refers to “Concert Swing,” the last evening in the series, June 4, and remarks on performers Billie Holiday and Zutty Singleton. Of the latter, she writes that “a born drummer,”  “he would have done something for us if he hadn’t done more than allow his name to appear.” Singleton on drums here:

The New York Times, reporting the next day, notes that Holiday sang “My Man Don’t Love Me,” “Forbidden Fruit,” “God Bless the Child,” and “I Cried for You.” Singleton, “one of the swing world’s peppiest drummers,” played “Caravan,” “Muskrat Ramble,” and “Bugle Blues” with his orchestra. Also on the bill were “Hot Lips” Page and his orchestra and the Palmer Brothers, a quartet. Billie Holiday’s “I Cried for You” here:

Moore takes advantage of the letter to comment on the May 28 Coffee Concert’s “South

Elsie Houston by Van Vechten, 1940

American Panorama” which included soprano Elsie Houston, the Grupo Incaico dancers from Peru, Belle Rosette (later Beryl McBurnie), the Trinidadan dancer, Alderson Mowbray, pianist, and the Haitian Rada Group. She was unable to stay to the end of the performance but she liked the Incacio dancers and the singing of Elsie Houston: “[she] is such a person, it was hard for me to really listen.”

Moore concludes: “I am constrained,–overwhelmed by the pleasure and benefit the concerts have been to me. My whole perspective is changed . . . .” Always interested in popular culture, Moore here manifests yet again her close attention to cultural life in New York.

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 31, 2010

Haute Couture

"With wrists like paper knives and feet like / the leaves of the willow" (ll. 1-2)

On November 28, 1918, Moore submitted to “Others” a poem entitled “Callot-Drecol-Cheruit- Jenny-Doucet-Aviotte-Lady”  (2003 edition, pp. 129-30). I see from my ancient notes that at one time I thought these names might have belonged to amusement park ponies (the “Chase through the Clouds” appears near the end of the poem).  But  no, they are all Parisian Houses of Haute Couture; all but Aviotte can be found quite easily, and that name may be a stand-in for Vionnet.

The illustration at left appeared in the Gazette du Bon Ton, Paris, and is captioned “Robe du soir de Doucet, 1914.” It seems to suggest the opening lines of the poem.

Below are the first five names, identified and illustrated, from the holdings of the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Callot Soeurs, run by four sisters, worked in Paris from 1895-1937. The sisters’ mother was a lacemaker and decorative laces became an early hallmark of their designs. Callot Soeurs clothing was known for its exotic detail. Gold and silver lamé dresses emerged first from their house. After World War I, their fashions were sought in the United States as well as in Europe.

Callot Soeurs

Dress, Evening, 1910–1914, Callot Soeurs, cotton, silk, metal.The Jacqueline Loewe Fowler Costume Collection, Gift of Jacqueline Loewe Fowler, 1981 (1981.380.2). Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The Maison Drecoll, famous for its theatrical costumes, originated in Amsterdam with Christoph von Drecoll. When it moved to Paris, it became known for taking on the “form and spirit of Paris.”


Dress, Evening, 1913–1914. House of Drécoll, silk, rhinestones. Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of the Brooklyn Museum, 2009; Gift of the estate of Mrs. William H. Crocker, 1954 (2009.300.2408)

Madeleine Cheruit, active 1906-1935, trained with the House of Raudnitz in Paris until she opened the House of Cheruit in 1904. By 1914, she became known for her walking suits and afternoon dresses. After World War I, she made cinema capes and evening gowns, heavily embroidered and ornamented.


Cape, Evening, ca. 1920. Madeleine Chéruit (French, 1906–1935), silk. Gift of the Estate of Mrs. Julia M. Weldon from Mary McDougall, 1978 (1978.337.1). Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Madame Jenny Sacerdote, of the House of Jenny, was trained to become a professor of French Literature. Turning to fashion, she was known for her aristocratic taste, jabots and narrow skirts.  Her little grey suit of 1915 marked her collection.




Wrap, Evening, early 1920s, Jenny (French), silk, fur, glass. Gift of Mrs. William F. Goulding, 1962 (C.I.62.14.2). Costume Institute, Metropolitan Museum of Art


Jacques Doucet, active 1880-1930, dressed  the famous French actresses  Réjane, Sarah Bernhardt,  and Liane de Pougy. He also collected modern art, even owning Les Demoiselles d’Avignon for a time. He inherited from his mother his Maison Doucet on the Rue de la Paix in Paris made it a leader in haute couture.


Dress, Evening, ca. 1910, Jacques Doucet (French),silk, fur, linen. Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of the Brooklyn Museum, 2009; Gift of Orme and R. Thornton Wilson in memory of Caroline Schermerhorn Astor Wilson, 1949 (2009.300.1154).

July 16, 2010

“The Mind Is an Enchanting Thing:” Like Gieseking

“The Mind Is an Enchanting Thing”

“Like Gieseking playing Scarlatti”

The Nation 157 (December 18, 1943) 735

Pianist Walter Gieseking (1896-1956, first performed in New York in 1926. By 1929, Time Magazine had this to say:

“A tall, hulking man walked on to the stage at Carnegie Hall last week, bent himself into an awkward bow at the piano, and played superbly Bach’s Partita No. 2 in C Minor, three Scarlatti sonatas, Schumann’s C Major Fantasia and the first book of Debussy preludes. He was Walter Gieseking, come from Germany for another extended tour,* and he played, as he has always played, music that he himself has tried truly and found good.

“Three seasons have passed since Gieseking made an inconspicuous dé in Æolian Hall, Manhattan (TIME, Feb. 22, 1926). “His European notices were so superlative,” said Manager Charles L. Wagner afterward, “I knew no one would believe them so I decided to let his music speak for itself.”

His music spoke so eloquently that Sunday afternoon that members of the small audience told their friends. No one, according to some, had ever played Bach like Gieseking, and they rhapsodized over an amazing technic, a style that was as fluent and easy as it was immaculate. But his Bach, others said, could not compare with his Debussy which surely was the essence of poetry. The controversy, as over most artistic matters, might have been endless, for Gieseking is not a specialist.

“He is, critics say unanimously, a great musician. To appraise him seems almost impertinent and so they write of his playing in awkward, halting sentences which struggle with big words like “pellucid” and “perfection.”

–February 24, 1929 (online resource)

Among the Scarlatti sonatas in his repertoire were these: Sonata in E Major, L. 23; Sonata in E Minor, L. 275; Sonata in D Minor, L. 413; Sonata in D Major, L. 424. They are performed by him in the following clip recorded in the 1940s.

Gieseking remained in Germany during World War II, occasionally performing in Occupied France. Controversy about his affiliations arose after the war but he was later welcomed back to the United States.

“Armor’s Undermining Modesty:” Bock Beer Buck

“Armor’s Undermining Modesty”

“If tributes cannot be implicit,
give me . . .
the pale-ale-eyed impersonal look
which the sales placard gives the bock beer buck.”

The Nation 170 (February 25, 1950) 181

Eastern Beverage Company, Hammonton, NewJersey. Label from bottle of “Old Bohemian Bock Beer.” Moore’s footnote describes a poster, not a label, advertising this beer but it appears that the goat, or “buck,” above is the one used by this company on all its bock beer images.

Moore may have just liked the sound of “bock beer buck” but the reference to “faulty etymology” in line 13 alerts one to the sources of “bock” and “buck.”

The root of “bock” is from the German, bock, or bockbier, shortened from Eimbockbier, derived from Eimbeck, a town in Hanover. “In full, bock beer. Strong dark-colored variety of German beer.” (OED) It is brewed in the fall to be drunk the following spring. Among the OED citations is “1917 T.S.Eliot Prufrock 19 Let us . . . sit for half an hour and drink our bocks.” “Buck” is specifically the “he-goat,” now obsolete (OED), its etymological root tangled but perhaps Irish via Old English.

July 12, 2010

Mei Lan-Fang, Chinese Theater

Filed under: Marianne Moore — by moore123 @ 2:49 pm
Tags: , , ,

Moore wrote to Monroe Wheeler that she had enjoyed a performance by Mei Lan-Fang in New York (SL 502). Lan-Fang made only one tour of New York, in 1930 when his company played at the 49th Street Theater. A two-week run had been planned but so popular was the program that it was extended to five weeks and moved to the much larger National Theater. Among the pieces performed were “The Suspected Slipper,” “The End of the Tiger General,” and “The King’s Parting with His Favorite.”

In 1935,  Sergei Eisenstein met Lan-Fang in Moscow and persuaded him to permit filming of “The King’s Parting with His Favorite.” The film was never completed, but a short clip survives, a taste of what Moore would have seen. Lan-Fang,  following the custom of classical Chinese theater where only men acted, as always took the woman’s role.

Moore’s assessment of the performance she attended: ” I liked [Mei Lan-Fang] so much the one time I saw him in New York, that I was well satisfied not to go to anything else at the theatre afterward that season.” (SL 502)

Coincidentally, Bryher would publish Bertold Brecht’s article on Lan-Fang in Life and Letters Today in 1936, after Brecht had met the Chinese actor in Moscow.

Next Page »

Blog at