Marianne Moore: Poetry

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.

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