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.

August 7, 2011

“To a Snail,” “New York,” and Duns Scotus

Filed under: Poem Sources — by moore123 @ 11:57 am
Tags: , , ,

John Duns Scotus (c. 1266-8 November 1308), Scottish Franciscan theologian, was known as the Subtle Doctor for the intricacy of his theological arguments.

John Duns Scotus

Whether in tribute to his methods or simply to their characterizations found in her reading, Moore quotes twice from a work that discusses his writings, first in “To a Snail” (lines 10-11­) and later in “New York (lines 15-16).” The notes in Observations (1924) provide references to the quotations in “To a Snail;” no text of “New York” gives any reference to Scotus or her source.

The work Moore had in hand was Henry Osborn Taylor, The Mediaeval Mind: A History of the Development of Thought and Emotion in the Middle Ages, Vol. 2 New York: Macmillan, 1911. Here is the text from which the quotations are drawn {bold face added):

The constructive processes of his genius appear to issue out of the action of its critical energies. Duns was the most penetrating critic produced by scholasticism. Whatever he considered from the systems of other men he subjected to tests that were apt to leave the argument in tatters. No logical inconsequence escaped him. And when every point had been examined with respect to its rational consistency, this dialectic genius was inclined to bring the matter to the bar of psychological experience. On the other hand he was a churchman, holding that even as Scripture and dogma were above question, so were the decrees of the Church, God’s sanctioned earthly Civitas.

Having thus tested whatever was presented by human reason, and accepting what was declared by Scripture or the Church, Duns proceeds to build out his doctrine as the case may call for. No man ever drove either constructive logic or the subtilties of critical distinctions closer to the limits of human comprehension or human patience than Duns Scotus. And here lies the trouble with him. The endless ramification and refinement of his dialectic, his devious processes of conclusion, make his work a reductio ad absurdum of scholastic ways of reasoning. Logically, eristically, the argumentation is inerrant. It never wanders aimlessly, but winding and circling, at last it reaches a conclusion from some point unforeseen. Would you run a course with this master of the syllogism? If you enter his lists, you are lost. The right way to attack him, is to stand without, and laugh. That is what was done afterwards, when whoever cared for such reasonings was called a Dunce, after the name of this most subtle of mediaeval metaphysicians. . . . (pp. 513-514)

Is theology, then, properly a science? Duns will not deny it; but thinks it may more properly be called a sapientia, since according to its nature, it is rather a knowledge of principles than a method of conclusions. It consists in knowledge of God directly revealed. Therefore its principles are not those of the human sciences: for example, it does not accept its principles from metaphysics, although that science treats of much that is contained in theology. Nor are the sciences—we can hardly say the other sciences —-subordinated to it; since their province is natural knowledge obtained through natural means. Theology, if it be a science, is one apart from the rest. The knowledge which makes its substance is never its end, but always means to its end; which is to say, that it is practical and not speculative. By virtue of its primacy as well as character, theology pertains to the Will, and works itself out in practice: practical alike are its principles and conclusions. Apparently, with Duns, theology is a science only in this respect, that its substance, which is most rational, may be logically treated with a view to a complete and consistent understanding of it. (p. 516)

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.

May 10, 2010

“New York:” Queen Full of Jewels, Beau with the Muff

Filed under: Poem Sources — by moore123 @ 2:58 pm
Tags: , , ,

New York, “the savage’s romance”

. . . is a far cry from the “queen full of jewels”

and the beau with the muff, . . .


Queen Anne, Less than Bejeweled

Queen Anne, the last Stuart monarch of England (1702-1714)  gave rise to styles in both architecture and furniture but not to one of fashion. Short and dumpy, she was no Elizabeth I. However, diarist John Evelyn reports that at the ceremonies commemorating the victory of the British at Blenheim, two years into her reign, Anne paraded “full of jewels.” He contrasts her raiment to that of the plain dress of the Duchess or Marlborough, whose husband had won the battle:

“7th September. This day was celebrated the thanksgiving for the late great victory [over the French and Bavarians, at Blenheim, August 13, 1704], with the utmost pomp and splendour by the Queen, Court, great Officers, Lord Mayor, Sheriffs, Companies, &c. The streets were scaffolded from Temple Bar, where the Lord Mayor presented her Majesty with the sword, which she returned. Every Company was ranged under its banners, the City Militia without the rails, which were all hung with cloth suitable to the colour of the banner. The Lord Mayor, Sheriffs, and Aldermen, were in their scarlet robes, with caparisoned horses; the Knight Marshal on horseback; the Foot Guards; the Queen in a rich coach with eight horses, none with her but the Duchess of Marlborough in a very plain garment, the Queen full of jewels. Music and trumpets at every City Company. The great officers of the Crown, Nobility, and Bishops, all in coaches with six horses, besides innumerable servants, went to St. Paul’s, where the Dean preached. After this, the Queen went back in the same order to St. James’s.”

John Evelyn. The Diary of John Evelyn. Edited by William Dent. New York: E. P. Dutton, 1914 (Third printing), first issued 1907.(Everyman’s Library). P. 374.

Queen Anne, Somewhat More Bejeweled

Tinted engraving from an atlas commissioned by Augustus the Strong (Duke of Saxony), 1706-1710.



MUFF. A warm covering for the hands. In a drawing by Gaspar Rutz of an English lady, 1588, she wears a small muff pendant from her girdle thus. In “Cynthia’s Revels,” 1601, Anaides says of Philantia, ” and she always wears a muff.” In the Wardrobe accounts of Prince Henry, 1608, is ” Embroidering two muffs, viz., one of cloth of silver, embroidered with purles, plates, and Venice twists of silver and gold, the other of black satten, embroidered with black silk and bugles, viz. for one £7, the other 60s.” In H. P(aine’s) ” Epigrams,” 1608, we have

” Should Spruso leave the wearing of his muffe.”

In Dekker’s ” Match me in London,” 1631, Tormiella asks, ” Is the embrodered muffe perfum’d for the Lady ? ” Two specimens of the time of Charles II. are given, from tapestry formerly in the possession of the late T. Crofton Croker, Esq. : the first is of yellow silk (probably thickly wadded), and edged with black fur ; the second, of white fur decorated with black tails, is further ornamented with a blue bow. In Davenant’s “The Wits, 1636,” Thwack says, ” I will waste her to her first wedding smock, her single ring, bodkin, and velvet muff.” They were not long confined to the ladies, but are mentioned as worn by gentlemen, in 1683 (see vol. i., p. 353), and were slung round the neck “by a silk ribbon, as there seen. In 1696, Dryden, in the epilogue to “The Husband his own Cuckold,” speaks of the monstrous muff worn by the beau.

From: Frederick W. Fairholt, Costume in England: A History of Dress to the End of the Eighteenth Century Volume 2.  London: George Bell, 1896, p. 291.

John Dryden’s Beau and Muff

IF Moore pursued Dryden’s original work, this passage salutes beau and muff:

John Dryden.




Like some raw sophister that mounts the pulpit,

So trembles a young poet at a full pit.

Unus’d to crowds, the parson quakes for fear,

And wonders how the devil he durst come there;

Wanting three talents needful for the place,

Some beard, some learning, and some little grace:

Nor is the puny poet void of care;

For authors, such as our new authors are,

Have not much learning, nor much wit to spare;

And as for grace, to tell the truth, there’s scarce one,

But has as little as the very parson:

Both say they preach and write for your instruction;

But ’tis for a third day, and for induction.

The difference is, that though you like the play,

The poet’s gain is ne’er beyond his day.

But with the parson ’tis another case,

He without holiness may rise to grace;

The poet has one disadvantage more,

That if his play be dull, he’s damned all o’er,

Not only a damned blockhead, but damned poor.

But dulness well becomes the sable garment;

I warrant that ne’er spoiled a priest’s preferment;

Wit’s not his business, and as wit now goes,

Sirs, ’tis not so much yours as you suppose,

For you like nothing now but nauseous beaux.

You laugh not, gallants, as by proof appears,

At what his beauship says, but what he wears;

So ’tis your eyes are tickled, not your ears.

The tailor and the furrier find the stuff,

The wit lies in the dress and monstrous muff.

The truth on’t is, the payment of the pit

Is like for like, dipt money for clipt wit.

You cannot from our absent author hope

He should equip the stage with such a fop.

Fools change in England, and new fools arise;

For, though the immortal species never dies,

Yet every year new maggots make new flies.

But where he lives abroad, he scarce can find

One fool for million that he left behind.

Blog at