Marianne Moore: Poetry

January 6, 2011

“Sea Unicorns” and Leigh Hunt

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

October 15, 2010

“Sea Unicorns” and Edmund Spenser

Filed under: Poem Sources — by moore123 @ 6:07 pm
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London: Printed for Wm. Ponsonbie, 1590-95

The sea unicorns, land unicorns, and their respective lions, are “mighty monoceroses with immeasured tayles” at the beginning of Moore’s poem, the very ones imaged by the “cartographers of 1530” (see post below). Moore credits “Edmund Spenser” with the long-tailed animals. We will not quibble here about the niceties of textual criticism in The Faerie Queene; suffice it to say that Moore chose a text in which the monoceros appeared in its plural form, in Book II, the tale of Guyon and Palmer at sea.

Here is a version of Book II, Canto xii, verses 20-21 from 1895 (London, G. Allen):

The waves come rolling, and the billows roar
Outrageously, as they enraged were,
Or-wrathful Neptune did them drive before
His whirling chariot for exceeding fear;
For not one puff of wind there did appear;
That all the three thereat woxe much afraid,
Unweeting what such horror strange did rear.
Eftsoons they saw a hideous host array’d
Of huge sea-monsters, such as living sense dismay’d

Most ugly shapes and horrible aspects,
Such as Dame Nature’s self might fear to see,
Or shame that ever should so foul defects
From her most cunning hand escaped be;
All dreadful portraits of deformity:
Spring-headed Hydras; and sea-should’riug whales;
Great whirlpools, which all fishes make to flee;
Bright scolopendras, arm’d with silver scales;
Mighty Monoceroses with inmeasured tails . . . .

Edmund Spenser

Moore’s interest in Spenser  was not limited to this poem: witness “Spenser’s Ireland.” The several references in her Prose confirm her reading in the poet’s work. She notes that as a child she read “the classics,” including Spenser (Prose, p. 662). In a Dial essay on Alfeo Faggi she quotes three lines from “Prothalamion” (p. 73). Spenser was on her mind when she reviewed Yeats (p. 294) and W. W. E. Ross (p. 297) in 1933. She sees traces of Spenser in Garcia Villa (p. 371). And in “Humility, Concentration, and Gusto,” one of her major statements on poetics and technique, she elaborates the value to her of Spenser’s Shepheards Calendar (p. 425).

Spenser (he lived in Ireland) joins the list of Anglo-Irish writers that mattered to Moore–about which more later.

“Sea Unicorns”and Henry James

Filed under: Poem Sources — by moore123 @ 8:50 am
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Henry James by Swinnerton

In her notes to “Sea Unicorns and Land Unicorns,” Moore credits Henry James’s English Hours with these lines:

” ‘in politics, in trade, law, sport, religion,

china-collecting, tennis, and church-going.’ “

But in fact, the three lines preceding these,

“Thus personalities by nature much opposed,

can be combined in such a way

that when they do agree, their unanimity is great”

also derive from James. In the selection from James that follows, some of the words chosen to compose these lines have been rendered in bold type. One can see Moore’s creative use of quotation marks set around something she has put together, as well as the three lines supposedly NOT derived from James. Caveat lector, as always: quotations are slippery assets in Moore’s verse.

An English Easter

Rev. Arthur Tooth, Imprisoned for Use of Incense and Candles, "The Christian Martyr," Punch

IT may be said of the English, as is said of the council of war in Sheridan’s farce of The Critic by one of the spectators of the rehearsal, that when they do agree, their unanimity is wonderful. They differ among themselves greatly just now as regards the machinations of Russia, the derelictions of Turkey, the merits of the Reverend Arthur Tooth, the genius of Mr. Henry Irving, and a good many other matters; but neither just now nor at any other time do they fail to conform to those social observances on which respectability has set her seal. England is a country of curious anomalies, and this has much to do with her being so interesting to foreign observers. The national, the individual character is very positive, very independent, very much made up according to its own sentiment of things, very prone to startling eccentricities; and yet at the same time it has beyond any other this peculiar gift of squaring itself with fashion and custom. In no other country, I imagine, are so many people to be found doing the same thing in the same way at the same time—using the same slang, wearing the same hats and neckties, collecting the same china-plates, playing the same game of lawn-tennis or of polo, admiring the same professional beauty. The monotony of such a spectacle would soon become oppressive if the foreign observer were not conscious of this latent capacity in the performers for great freedom of action; he finds a good deal of entertainment in wondering how they reconcile the traditional insularit of the private person with this perpetual tribute to usage. Of course in all civilised societies the tribute to usage is constantly paid; if it is less apparent in America than elsewhere the reason is not, I think, because individual independence is greater, but because usage is more sparsely established. Where custom can be ascertained people certainly follow it; but for one definite precedent in American life there are fifty in English. I am very far from having discovered the secret; I have not in the least learned what becomes of that explosive personal force in the English character which is compressed and corked down by social conformity. I look with a certain awe at some of the manifestations of the conforming spirit, but the fermenting idiosyncrasies beneath it are hidden from my vision. The most striking example, to foreign eyes, of the power of custom in England is certainly the universal church-going. In the sight of the English people getting up from its tea and toast of a Sunday morning and brushing its hat, and drawing on its gloves, and taking its wife on its arm, and making its offspring march before, and so, for decency’s, respectability’s, propriety’s sake, wending its way to a place of worship appointed by the State, in which it repeats the formulas of a creed to which it attaches no positive sense and listens to a sermon over the length of which it explicitly haggles and grumbles—in this exhibition there is something very impressive to a stranger, something which he hardly knows whether to estimate as a great force or as a great futility.

–Henry James. English  Hours,London, Heinemann, 1905, pp. 117-118

October 11, 2010

“Sea Unicorns” and the Cartographer of 1539

Filed under: Marianne Moore — by moore123 @ 12:40 pm
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“. . . those very animals

described by the cartographers of 1539,

defiantly revolving

in such a way that

the long keel of white exhibited in tumbling,

disperses giant weeds

and those snakes whose forms, looped

in the foam, ‘disquiet shippers.'” (Ll. 2-7)

Map: Olaus Magnus, Swedish historian, Archbishop of Uppsala (1490-1558), in 1539  published his Carta marina et Descriptio septemtrionalium terrarum ac mirabilium rerum in eis contentarum, diligentissime elaborata Anno Domini 1539 in Venice. Oskar Brenner found a copy of the map, long thought lost,  in Munich in 1886 and made it available in print. This map of Northern Europe gained acclaim as the most accurate of its era.

To see the ships tumbling and the great red sea snake, click on the map to enlarge it (which could take a while). Then click on the snake for a close-up look; scroll above the snake nearly to the top of the map to see a ship tumbling in “weeds,” although tree limbs may be more accurate. A sea unicorn pokes its horn out of the water on the left side, opposite numeral 74.

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