Marianne Moore: Poetry

August 12, 2010

“Nine Nectarines” and Alphonse de Candolle

“Like the peach Yu, the red-

cheeked peach which cannot aid the dead,

but eaten in time prevents death . . .

. . .But was it wild?

Prudent de Candolle would not say”

Moore tells us in a note to “Nine Nectarines and Other Porcelain” that she has taken these lines from Alphonse de Candolle:

I will quote the article in which I formerly attributed a Chinese origin to the peach, a contrary opinion to that which prevailed at the time, and which people who are not on a par with modern science continue to reproduce. I will afterwards give the facts discovered since 1855.

” The Greeks and Romans received the peach shortly after the beginning of the Christian era. The names persica, malum persicum, indicate whence they had it. I need not dwell upon those well-known facts. Several kinds of peach are now cultivated in the north of India, but, what is remarkable, no Sanskrit name is known; whence we may infer that its existence and its cultivation are of no great antiquity in these regions. Roxburgh, who is usually careful to give the modern Indian names, only mentions Arab and Chinese names. Piddington gives no Indian name, and Royle only Persian names. The peach does not succeed, or requires the greatest care to ensure success, in the north-east of India. In China, on the contrary, its cultivation dates from the remotest antiquity. A number of superstitious ideas and of legends about the properties of its different varieties exist in that country.*

* Rose, the head of the French trade at Canton, collected these from Chinese manuscripts, and Noisette (Jard. Fruit., i. p. 76) has transcribed a part of his article. The facts are of the following nature. The Chinese believe the oval peaches, which are very red on one side, to be a symbol of a long life. In consequence of this ancient belief, peaches are used in all ornaments in painting and sculpture, and in congratulatory presents, etc. According to the work of Chin-noug-king, the peach prevents death. If it is not eaten in time, it at least preserves the body from decay until the end of the world. The peach is always mentioned among the fruits of immortality, with which were entertained the hopes of Tsinchi-Hoang, Vouty, of the Hans and other emperors who pretended to immortality, etc. (p. 221)

I laid stress, in 1855, on other considerations in support of the theory that the nectarine is derived from the common peach; but Darwin has given such a large number of cases in which a branch of nectarine has Unexpectedly appeared upon a peach tree, that it is useless to insist longer upon this point, and I will only add that the nectarine has every appearance of an artificial tree. Not only is it not found wild, but it never becomes naturalized, and each tree lives for a shorter time than the common peach. It is, in fact, a weakened form. (p. 227)

–Alphonse de Candolle. Origin of Cultivated Plants. New York:  D. Appleton, 1902. (Moore cites an 1886 edition.)

Alphonse de Candolle (1806-1893) was born in Paris but soon moved to Geneva with his father, a renowned botanist. He received degrees from the University of Geneva and, for fifteen years, directed the Botanical Garden and served as chair of Botany at the University. Elected to the French Academy of Sciences in 1851, he retired from teaching; although concentrating on research, he continued to be active in civic affairs in Geneva. (His house there is preserved as a museum.) In 1883, he published Origine des Plantes Cultivées, a major contribution to plant geography. Of international renown, he was elected to both the Royal Society of London and the American National Academy of Sciences.

July 5, 2010

“Nine Nectarines”

“William Billingsley (once poor,

like a monkey on a dolphin” (LL. 67-68)

refers to a fable by Aesop, “The Monkey and the Dolphin:”

Illustration by Milo Winter,

The Aesop for Children,

Chicago: Rand McNally,


Page 52

It happened once upon a time that a certain Greek ship bound for Athens was wrecked off the coast close to Piraeus, the port of Athens. Had it not been for the Dolphins, who at that time were very friendly toward mankind and especially toward Athenians, all would have perished. But the Dolphins took the shipwrecked people on their backs and swam with them to shore.

Now it was the custom among the Greeks to take their pet monkeys and dogs with them whenever they went on a voyage. So when one of the Dolphins saw a Monkey struggling in the water, he thought it was a man, and made the Monkey climb up on his back. Then off he swam with him toward the shore.

The Monkey sat up, grave and dignified, on the Dolphin’s back.

“You are a citizen of illustrious Athens, are you not?” asked the Dolphin politely.

“Yes,” answered the Monkey, proudly. “My family is one of the noblest in the city.”

“Indeed,” said the Dolphin. “Then of course you often visit Piraeus.”

“Yes, yes,” replied the Monkey. “Indeed, I do. I am with him constantly. Piraeus is my very best friend.”

This answer took the Dolphin by surprise, and, turning his head, he now saw what it was he was carrying. Without more ado, he dived and left the foolish Monkey to take care of himself, while he swam off in search of some human being to save.

One falsehood leads to another.

The Billingsley Rose (ll. 65-66)

It would appear that Billingsley and his hand-painted rose and his pottery invention are meant to stand in sharp contrast to Chinese porcelain–the fake versus the real:


Billingsley Rose


” ‘ Never heard of it,’ a gardener will answer you, even in the roseries at Kew; for few are aware of the Billingsley rose. It buds on no standard, it adorns no florist’s catalogue, and attar from it was never distilled. You may hunt it like the most precious of orchids, but the trail lies through Bloomsbury and the Kensingtons, and not in Amazonian forests or jungles of Mandalay. With patience and flair you may come upon it yet, though Glamorgan, Derbyshire, and ‘ the sweet shire of Cardigan’ have been scoured for it, Holland rifled of it, Cintra, Palermo, Montpellier, Tours, and all the haunts of the English resident abroad in the teens of last century meticulously searched for it, by keen-eyed votaries, illuminati, new Rosicrucians ready with gold for any disc of smooth and shining whiteness that bears the Billingsley rose.

It is a China rose, but it never bloomed in Cathay. Nippon nor Cashmere ever knew it; the European mainland never grew it; it flouts the flowers from Saxony and the valley of the Seine. In the Peak it budded, a century and a quarter ago, but still it lives in beauty; still the petals seem to throb with the sap of life; still this rose, as one enthusiast sings, ‘ has the soft bloom of youth and floats in being, as not by the agency of the brush but by the volition of the painter.’ For, yes, (perhaps you read the riddle at once?), a pencil of camel-hair produced the flower; it is upon suacers and cups and plates of old English porcelain that one finds the Billingsley rose.

Like every rare and peerless thing, it happened happily; the date of its blooming was fortunate. A little later there would have been no soft porcelain to paint on, a little earlier there was no English porcelain at all. The Billingsley rose is the very triumph and coronal of the efforts of English potters against invasions from the Orient, from Saxony and France. The illuminati know with their hearts the strange tale of that strife—how the Honourable East India Company kept pouring ‘ china’ in from the East; how Dresden and Sevres imposed upon us their splendid wares; how crowds of merchants and collectors awaited the ships and fought with their money-bags at the ports ; how ‘ Why should not we make porcelain ?’ said English potters, and how they began. Romance encircles the record of their doings; against royal subsidies and patronage by kings of Saxony and France they pitted private enterprise and petty capital; lacking the true material, they invented substitutes, composts, imitative amalgams and at last they came upon a kind of china that differed as much from the wares of Meissen and late Sevres as a lyric of Shelley’s contrasts with a page of Racine’s.

This English soft china was not true porcelain, I know. It was ‘ an ingenious and beautiful counterfeit,’ says Professor Church  but he does not rate the real thing the higher. No, it was something better than ‘ true’ porcelain; it was something unique and apart, something delicate and ephemeral, dainty and fragile, fit compeer for the Louis Seize fan, a pastel of Vigee Lebrun’s, or a Cosway miniature. It has left the china cupboard and the kitchen rack, to dwell in the realm of lost arts. The paste and the glaze of it, delightful in themselves, to the painter furnished a ‘ canvas’ opulently white, softly firm, and gently smooth, shot through with light, receptive, better than ivory; and upon such pleasant surfaces the pencil of William Billingsley began to play and create, at Derby, circa 1775. ”

–from J. H. Yoxhall, “The Billingsley Rose,” The Cornhill Magazine N. S. Vol. 22, January-June, 1907, pp, 365-76, via Google Books. The section above, pp, 365-66. The rest of the article confirms Billingsley’s successes and failures.

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