The Poems of Marianne Moore

Overview

This complete collection of Moore’s poetry, lovingly edited by prize-winning poet Grace Schulman, for the first time gathers together all of Moore’s poems, including more than a hundred that were previously uncollected and unpublished. This long-awaited volume will reveal to Moore’s admirers the scope of her poetic voice and will introduce new generations of readers to her extraordinary achievement.

 

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Overview

This complete collection of Moore’s poetry, lovingly edited by prize-winning poet Grace Schulman, for the first time gathers together all of Moore’s poems, including more than a hundred that were previously uncollected and unpublished. This long-awaited volume will reveal to Moore’s admirers the scope of her poetic voice and will introduce new generations of readers to her extraordinary achievement.

 

Read More Show Less

Editorial Reviews

The New York Times
The Poems of Marianne Moore, edited by her friend Grace Schulman, gathers some 100 previously uncollected, mostly early, poems and clarifies her poetic development. Moore died in New York City in 1972, at the age of 84, and until now the standard text has been the Complete Poems of 1967. The new edition reveals plainly how, as her poetry steadily evolved, what was foursquare became lopsided, discrepant, asymmetric. What was solid became fluid; what was fixed, untethered. Titles to poems lost their isolation (she converted them into first lines by bleeding them straight into the text) and the text itself dissolved into supplementary notes (some of her poems make little sense without them). Stanzas grew more rococo while, increasingly, the sentences inlaid into them originated and halted in unexpected places. — Brad Leithauser
The Washington Post
… Schulman introduces readers to more than a hundred poems previously unpublished or uncollected in book form. Moore wrote the bulk of them between the ages of 20 and 26, before she moved to New York City and swiftly became known to an inner circle of poets, editors and poetry critics. Three-fifths of these restored poems have not been previously published anywhere, making this collection a work of excavation and rescue. — Molly McQuade
Publishers Weekly
Poets and critics now consider Moore (1887-1972) a major modern American poet, equal (or almost equal) to T.S. Eliot, and maybe better than (if nothing like) Ezra Pound. Most of her best poems appeared (just as theirs did) during the 1910s, '20s and '30s. Yet Moore left some of those poems (and most of her earliest verse) out when, near the end of her life, she prepared her own Complete Poems; other famous poems entered that volume only in late, much-revised versions. Schulman's long-anticipated volume presents, for the first time, the full span of Moore's work, from her flirtatious, tangy collegiate light verse, through a trove of promising poems from the 1910s, and including masterpieces that for decades were available only in libraries. Moore's careful ethics and elaborately arranged stanzas seem almost more relevant to contemporary poetry than they did to poets of her own generation, though Schulman, a poet herself and the poetry editor of the Nation, perhaps overstates Moore's influence in an awestruck introduction. All Moore's well-known poems are here, of course, including "The Steeple-Jack," "Marriage," and "Poetry" ("I, too, dislike it") in both its longest and its shortest versions. The real selling points, though, are the long out-of-print poems-most of them enlightening, a few ("Melancthon," "Radical," "An Old Tiger," "Dock Rats") as good as anything she chose to keep. As Moore herself explained (in a poem she later suppressed), "Compliments are free/ To all but are not synonymous with admiration": admiration is what this volume will attract. (Nov.) Forecast: This volume will supplant Moore's 1967 collection for course assignments, making for steady sales over the long run. Look for profiles of the poet or of the editor (who knew Moore personally) and joint reviews with the University of California's more scholarly selection of earlier work, Becoming Marianne Moore, or with Schulman's own Days of Wonder: Selected Poems (both from late 2002). Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Pultizer Prize winner Moore published her Complete Poems in 1967. However, the title was far from accurate. In that collection Moore warned her readers that "omissions are not accidents," and she left out about half her poems. This edition finally brings Moore's complete oeuvre before the public, including 60 poems never before published. In the introduction, Schulman recounts how shocked she felt when Moore told her that she had cut her poem "Poetry" to only three lines. This edition includes five variants of that poem. The collection begins with a poem Moore wrote at age eight, "Dear St. Nicklus." Here is the complete poem: "This Christmas morn/ You do adorn/ Bring Warner a horn/ And me a doll/ That is all." The poems are arranged by date so that the reader can trace Moore's development as a writer. Also included are the author's original notes and 41 pages of editorial commentary. Well represented is Moore's renowned wit and lapidary style, as seen in this excerpt of "Critics and Connoisseurs": "I remember a swan under the willows in Oxford,/ with flamingo-colored, maple-/ leaflike feet. It reconnoitered like a battle-/ship." An essential purchase.-Doris Lynch, Monroe Cty. P.L., Bloomington, IN Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780143039082
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
  • Publication date: 3/28/2005
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 480
  • Sales rank: 449,986
  • Product dimensions: 4.96 (w) x 7.77 (h) x 1.02 (d)

Meet the Author

Marianne Moore was born in Kirkwood, Missouri, on November 1, 1887, and spent much of her youth in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. After graduation from Bryn Mawr College in 1909 she taught for four years at the Carlisle Indian School. Her poetry first appeared professionally in The Egoist and Poetry magazines in 1915 and she moved to New York City in 1918. Her first book, Poems, was issued in England by the Egoist Press in 1921. Observations, published three years later in America, received the Dial Award. From 1925 to 1929 she served as acting editor of The Dial, the preeminent American literary periodical. She moved to Brooklyn in 1929, where she lived for the next thirty-six years. In 1935 Selected Poems, with an Introduction by T.S. Eliot, brought her work to the attention of a wider public.

Three additional books of poetry were followed, in 1951, by her Collected Poems, which won the Bollingen Prize, the National Book Award, and the Pulitzer Prize. She went on to publish a verse translation of the complete Fables of La Fontaine, a collection of critical essays, and three more volumes of poems.

Among the many awards Marianne Moore received are the National Institute of Arts and Letters Gold Medal for poetry, the Poetry Scoiety of America's Gold Medal for Distinguished Achievement, and the National Medal for Literature, America's highest literary honor. A member of the National Institute of Arts and Letters since 1947, she was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1955. In 1967 she was made Chevalier de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the French Republic, and in 1969 she received an honorary doctorate in literature from Harvard University, her sixteenth honorary degree. Marianne Moore died in New York City, in her eighty-fifth year, on February 5, 1972.

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Read an Excerpt

INTRODUCTION
It is an oddity of American letters that no major poet is cherished more and known less than Marianne Moore (1887–1972). Her readers know only a part of what she wrote, for upwards of half of her poems, great ones among them, are not easily accessible. Some can be found only in early editions, many of them out of print; some that appeared in literary journals or pamphlets never saw book publication. The non-scholar cannot easily observe her development, since neither her Complete Poems (1967) nor her Collected Poems (1951) is arranged in chronological order. Instead, both follow the arrangement that T. S. Eliot suggested to her for the Selected Poems of 1935, which began with “The Steeple-Jack,” a poem she wrote in the early 1930s. The sequence was current in its day but not in ours.

The need for this edition first came to me in the spring of 1967, during a conversation with Marianne Moore in her apartment on Ninth Street in Manhattan. When she told me she had reduced “Poetry,” a poem of many stanzas, to a mere three lines, I expressed astonishment. “Three lines?” “Yes,” she said calmly, and began to quote the version that was to appear in Complete Poems:

“POETRY
“I, too, dislike it: there are things that are important beyond this fiddle.”
Noticing my anguish, she paused and said,
“Then I prolonged it:
“Reading it, however, with a perfect contempt for it, one discovers in it after all, a place for the genuine.”

Delivering each word slowly and deliberately, as she did in her late years, she said that Edwin Kennebeck, her editor at Viking, feared that the editor in chief, Marshall Best, would fall dead when he saw it. “But,” she recounted having said to Kennebeck, “the rest of it seemed to be padding.”

The epigraph to Marianne Moore’s Complete Poems (1967) famously reads: “Omissions are not accidents.” That book contains 102 poems, fewer than half of the lot that appear in this edition. It omits such major poems as “Old Tiger,” “Roses Only,” “Melanchthon,” “Half Deity,” and “Radical,” not to mention the early poems, some of them published at Bryn Mawr where Moore was educated, others not published at all. Moreover, she changed some stanzaic versions to free ones, altering the structure of well- known poems such as “Peter,” “Picking and Choosing,” “England.” Poems like “The Steeple-Jack” went through years of revision. Many readers, preferring the stanzaic versions, have favored her Collected Poems which, even so, excluded some wonderful poems of its time. In any case, assembled more than twenty years before she died, it misses all of the later work. She was to continue writing until the end of her life.

I first met Miss Moore when I was about fourteen, at the home of my parents’ friends E. McKnight Kauffer and Marion Dorn. Edward Kauffer, called Ted, was an artist Moore was to list later, in a 1951 essay, as “one of the few real artists alive today,” placing him in the company of Pablo Casals, Soledad, Hans Mardersteig, Alec Guinness, and the Lippizan horsemen. At that first meeting, I was struck by her humor, which ranged from a wry, deadpan wit to high comedy. I noticed her precision in bringing to the luncheon a bag of Chinese pears she had found, the first I had ever seen, each of them perfect. After presenting them, she looked playfully at Ted Kauffer, and fluttered a white handkerchief printed with tiny hearts. His eyes twinkled in amusement. Over lunch she told us that she had stained a blouse swallowing a red capsule and had afterward written a letter to the pharmaceutical company asking, “If the capsule contains healing medication, why not put the medication inside the capsule?”

Moore’s passion for revision made itself known to me almost immediately. After our meeting, she sent my father a copy of a book she had inscribed for me, her Nevertheless, with textual insertions and deletions she had made in ink. For my birthday some years later, she inked changes in my copy of Like a Bulwark, and inscribed it “from her father,” simply because he had purchased it and asked for her inscription. Once she wrote to him, “Next time if you buy my books instead of letting me provide them, you are going to have to take money for them.” When I sent her my first poems, she wrote in reply, “The flawless typing shows the work to the very best advantage.” Even one of the poems she avoided commenting on was encouraged, in a way: “What is not contained in that epigraph from Hercules Furens?” Knowing the extent of her honesty, I was pleased even more, years and poems later, when she wrote to me: “I wish Edward Kauffer could see that his ambition for you was not misplaced.”

When occasions mattered, Marianne Moore was there. At my wedding to Jerome Schulman, in 1959, Marianne said to me, minutes after the service, “I like that rabbi, Dr. Bamberger. He gave you both the responsibility for your marriage.” Days later, she wrote to my parents, “The marriage service itself was a sacrament—a consecration of those present could sufficiently dwell on it, —for love and dedication should govern every act of every one. Do they not! I hope to see my brother soon and tell him about Dr. Bamberger’s conducting of the service.”

Later, when I told her that I wanted to write a doctoral dissertation about her poetry, she replied with the wry wit I remembered from our first meeting. At first she said, “If this is about me, the least I can do is try to help.” True to her word, we discussed the plan in her apartment, where a tall wooden clock solemnly bonged out the hours. The phone interrupted us. It was Monroe Wheeler, an editor and curator of the Museum of Modern Art, who was a friend of Marianne Moore, Ted Kauffer, and my father. “Yes,” she said loudly. “I’ve been talking with Grace Waldman—Grace Schulman now. She is writing a dissertation about me.” Silence, then: “No, she has an M.A. This is for a Ph.D.”

On that afternoon, she expressed reservations: “Well, I don’t know, Grace. I never got a Ph.D. And T. S. Eliot never had a Ph.D. And Ezra Pound never had one, either. And yet you persist.” Often in the course of my project, she would say, as well as write, “How is your work?” meaning, I knew, my own poems. Still, all the while she did talk of her poetry, and she allowed me to tape-record at least one long conversation about her methods of composition. While those conversations amplified the poems for me, their high value was to our friendship, which they enabled to continue: In transcribing the tape, made on an old reel-to-reel, I learned every nuance of her then failing voice, for she suffered from aphasia after multiple strokes. Then, when she could no longer speak clearly to others of her thoughts, sometimes darting, sometimes meditative, I could understand her. She spoke in “light syllables” when she said, “Do I look well?” And in “heavy stresses” for “How is your mother?”

Once she said, “Can you hear me? I speak badly now. When Ezra Pound came, he could not say a word.” I quoted those words in an early poem called “In the Country of Urgency, There Is a Language.” “Urgency” refers to a line Moore attributed to Ezra Pound and repeated often, changing the words each time. The epigraph to my poem reads: “Ezra Pound said never, NEVER to use any word you would not actually SAY in moments of utmost urgency.” For me those late “conversations” about friends, art, and occasions, consisting of disembodied stresses and syllables, were of the “utmost urgency.” I heard every one of them.

She spoke often of his aesthetic principles and of his guidance, even when I expressed doubts about his impact on her work. Once, at the British Museum, I saw a tapestry of what I thought were leopards spotted everywhere. I’d remembered that she had written to Pound, referring to a line in “Old Tiger,” that “leopards are not spotted everywhere, but in the tapestries they are, and I liked the idea.” When I returned to New York, I learned that she had been sick. I arrived at her apartment and found her lying in bed, her untied hair a white wheel on the pillow. I gave her a postcard photo of those spotted beasts, and suddenly she sat upright in bed. “Those are cheetahs, Grace!” she exclaimed, and lay down again.

In his later years, Ezra Pound did not “say a word”—that is, until Moore died. Their friendship had begun with an exchange of letters, in 1918–19, and they continued to correspond, although they did not meet until 1939, and conversed directly only a few times after that. When Marianne Moore died, in February 1972, Pound came out of his vast silence to recite her poem of 1940, “What Are Years,” at a memorial service for her in Italy.

What is our innocence,
what is our guilt

he began, and continued to the end:

This is mortality,
this is eternity.

By coincidence, it had been the same poem I reached for, after a glance at the King James Bible, to have with me at her first memorial service in 1972. Her body was on view at Good Shepherd’s Chapel of the First Presbyterian Church near Washington Square and near her home. What I know of that evening has been reconstructed, not remembered. I know that I sat beside Frances Steloff after my parents left the chapel; I know that I was glad to meet Sarah Eustis (“Sallie”) Moore, for her aunt Marianne had praised the devotion in late years of Sallie and her sister, Marianne’s namesake, Marianne Craig (“Bee”) Moore. And I think occasionally of how fitting it was that the church was one of two that Henry James had prized in New York Revisited. All I actually remember of those hours were the lines that echo still:

This is mortality
This is eternity
One of the books Marianne Moore gave me early on was an edition roughly the shape of an index card called Omaggio a Marianne Moore (1964), printed in Milan by Vanni Scheiwiller and translated into Italian by Mary de Rachewiltz. And in fact I had only my limited Italian to help me read “Old Tiger” and “Radical.” Their original versions stand among the beautiful poems never included in any book, certainly not in the Collected or the Complete. Well, why not put the healing inside the capsule, I thought, wishing to read them in a book and remembering her rebuke to the pharmaceutical company.

As I consider it now, the exclusion of those poems seems out of keeping with her customary allegiance to the work done. I recall a freezing afternoon in the early 1960s, when we rode in a taxi across the Brooklyn Bridge on the way to a matinee. On the Manhattan side, we were intrigued to see a man in tattered black pants standing by what was apparently a painted canvas burning in a metal trash can, its purple, green, and orange flames leaping in air. “Would you stop here, please,” Moore said, sitting forward. When the driver had pulled over awkwardly to a curb near the fire, she rolled down her window and leaned out, holding down a wide-brimmed hat to keep it from flapping off in the wind. “Don’t burn your work,” she commanded. Her voice was plangent. The man looked at her, bewildered. “No, don’t ever burn your work,” she called out again, as though talking as well to me, and to herself. After a pause, she asked the driver to move on. Remembering that ride, I realize now that we never found out just why he was burning the canvas, just as I’ve never known the actual reasons for her omissions. Still, at the very least, the memory is a sign.

When asked to prepare this edition, I couldn’t imagine doing it. I was torn between wanting to follow my friend’s last editorial wishes and the driving need to represent her work. I knew that readers desired the poems in full, and that a chronological edition would enable us to watch her grow. Even negative arguments had positive rejoinders. For example, she herself writes, in an early essay praising Wallace Stevens, “It is rude, perhaps, after attributing conscious artistry and a severely intentional method of procedure to an artist, to cite work that he has been careful to omit from his collected work.” After that disclaimer, she explains that “one regrets” the exclusion of four poems and lists them. It would be even ruder, I thought, to cite well over one hundred poems, unpublished or uncollected or both, which the exacting artist saw fit to put aside. Nevertheless, as she herself knew, a regret for excluded poems can weigh heavily.

What overcame my hesitation was my sense of her predilection for change. That theme enlivens poems like “Spenser’s Ireland,” “Half Deity,” and “To a Chameleon.” She knew that change had a place in her life, as well. On one occasion, she alluded to her poem “Mercifully” with its image of a taproot, or the center of a plant that grows directly downward. “I think it’s good to be positive,” she said. “But I can’t be. I never think that anything I say is unalterable. I’m always changing things....I aspire to have a taproot, but I don’t have one.”

Indeed, what she has said is unalterable. The changes, though, are the lifeblood of her poems. As for the chronological ordering of the poems, it does in fact show her development through the years, and it does reveal the work’s wholeness. “Art is exact perception” is the opening line of “Qui S’Excuse, S’Accuse,” first published in 1910, in the poet’s junior year at Bryn Mawr. The declaration is to become central, for seeing is at the heart of Moore’s poetry. The speaker of “Old Tiger,” a hitherto uncollected poem, declares:

see more than I see but even I
see too much,

just as the observer of “Critics and Connoisseurs” has “seen this swan,” and just as both of them join, later, “the watchful maker” of “The Paper Nautilus” and “the hero” who sees not just a sight but “the rock-crystal thing to see.” Virtually all of Marianne Moore’s poems between January 1921 and June 1953 contain direct references to obtaining knowledge by sight. Hers is emphatically an art of exact perception: to feel deeply is to see clearly, to peer beyond surfaces, and to explore permanent truths. The poet amasses facts, remarks, observations, details from guidebooks and manuals, in pursuit of answers to the mysteries of modern love, of nobility, of timeless values that she probes and probes again.

Moore’s liking for poetic sequences—that long form used by her major contemporaries, Eliot, Pound, Stevens, and Williams—is another of the facets that had been veiled in the Collected Poems and the Complete Poems. Three of Moore’s sequences, early and late, happen to have appeared in Poetry. Although sequences were to blossom in 1932–36, the first, “Pouters and Fantails,” which consisted of five independent poems, appeared in Poetry as early as 1915. The sequence called “Part of a Novel, Part of a Poem, Part of a Play,” comprising “The Steeple-Jack,” “The Student,” and “The Hero,” came out there in 1932. “Imperious Ox, Imperial Dish” was the overall title she gave to “The Buffalo” and “Nine Nectarines” when Poetry published them in 1934. Two years later, a sequence called “The Old Dominion,” made up of “Virginia Brittania,” “Bird-Witted,” the remarkable, hard-to-find, unjustly excluded “Half Deity,” “Smooth Gnarled Crape Myrtle,” and “The Pangolin,” was published in England as part of a slim book, The Pangolin and Other Verse.

At times the sequence form amplifies concerns of individual lyrics. For example, in “Part of a Novel, Part of a Poem, Part of a Play,” her notion of heroism emerges with resonance, after the hero has entered in different guise in each of the poems, the very word hero echoed by ee and o sounds throughout. In this edition I’ve shown “Pouters and Fantails” as it appeared in Poetry. Although I have shown other poems in their later, more finished, revisions, I have kept the order of how they once appeared in sequence form. Three sequences are given in their entirety among the variants in the Editor’s Notes.

As to my choices of individual poems, I could not rely on any single edition for this project. The abundance of revisions, omissions, and late additions precluded reliance on any one volume or even on one period in Moore’s work. Wherever possible, and where versions did not vary excessively, I used the Complete Poems (1967). These represent the author’s wishes at the time, and were checked for accuracy in Patricia Willis’s 1981 version of that book. Moore’s late revisions sometimes went back to earlier versions, as with “Critics and Connoisseurs” and “The Steeple-Jack.” In many cases, I used versions that I liked from earlier editions and/or literary journals, aware that she changed her work continually. I went to earlier appearances also for the excluded and the altered. Versions from Observations (1924) and Collected Poems (1951) appear often in this edition. After having cut “Poetry” to three lines, Marianne Moore agreed to keep an earlier version in her notes, so that it will save “the serious reader from looking up these things as they were.” In that case I reversed the process, placing an earlier version in the body of the text and the 1967 cut in the Editor’s Notes, along with other variants.

Because of the vast difference in early and late versions, I treated “Sun,” which went through sixty years of revision, as a separate poem from “Fear Is Hope.” Otherwise, for the most part, I selected only one version for each poem. In the end, I chose what I loved best by a method I can only describe as “conscientious inconsistency.”

To read a poem by Marianne Moore is to be aware of exactitude. It is to know that the writer has looked at a subject—a cliff, a sea animal, an ostrich—from all sides, and has examined the person looking at it as well. This method can be found from her very early poems, some of them published in Bryn Mawr journals. For Marianne Moore, seeing an object meant speaking of its various aspects on many levels of discourse. Her poetics of inquiry begins with a conversational style, and with a manner of argumentation found in poems such as “To the Soul of Progress” (“To Military Progress,” 1915). “I began writing in response to adverse ideas,” she told me once, and quoted from memory her early poem “Progress” (c. 1907) whose title she changed later to “I May, I Might, I Must.” To insure an unimpeded flow from one line to another, we find her dropping capital letters at the beginnings of lines as early as in “To William Butler Yeats on Tagore” (1915). The conversations develop into dialectical arguments, as in “Critics and Connoisseurs,” 1916, and “Old Tiger,” c. 1918, a beautiful poem published only in two small journals after its Italian debut, and from there on to complex inner arguments, as in “No Swan So Fine” (1932) and “The Paper Nautilus” (1939). The discourse moves. It propels the poems forward and turns our attention to their progress from beginning to end. It constitutes her form for engagement with larger issues.

Under the poet’s inquiring gaze are the mystery of modern love (“Marriage”), the proliferation of sights and sounds that crowd the senses (“Those Various Scalpels”), the vast, puzzling structure of the urban metropolis (“People’s Surroundings”), and the unity that each person strives for in a life that urges disruption. Beyond that, she ventures to apprehend permanent truths that are seen by the eye of the mind.

A recurrent theme of Moore’s poetry is the mind’s tendency to pivot from one vivid figure to another. Her vision of a shifting reality captures an age whose leading philosophers have questioned objective reality. “What is more precise than precision? Illusion,” asserts the speaker of “Armor’s Undermining Modesty,” expressing the early-twentieth-century view that what we perceive to be real is not actual, and that optical illusion is the rule, rather than the exception.

The poet’s images of change enact that process of the mind encountering what is real. Not standard myths, such as Ariel or Daphne, but objects from the world around her are portrayed in shifting states, moving even as they are perceived. Images of water, fire and rock—those classic elements of metamorphosis—abound in her poetry, often accompanied by moments of change. Other images are dialectical in that they move and are moved, act and are acted upon, see and are seen (“enchanting”/“enchanted,” “enslaver”/“enslaved”), thereby enacting the struggle of consciousness toward illumination.

In this edition there are many hitherto excluded poems of change. Early examples are “Ennui,” “Fish,” “Artificers and the Alchemist,” “To a Stiffwinged Grasshopper,” “Sun, Moon, and Stars.”“Half Deity,” a major poem of metamorphosis, was dropped after its appearance in What Are Years.

Late in her life, in 1967, Marianne Moore told me that the sound of the verse was more important to her than its visual pattern. She remarked that “it ought to be continuous,” and that she had always wanted her verse to sound “unstrained and natural, as though I were talking to you.” At the time she told me of her distaste for the commonplace that she wrote in syllabic verse, in which the line lengths of a repeated stanza pattern are determined by the numbers of syllables, rather than stresses. “Syllabics? Oh, I repudiate that.” All the same, she added, “I like to see symmetry on the page, I will confess.”

At the time, her statement confirmed my way of reading her poems for sound and visual pattern. In preparing this edition, though, Ihave found myself applauding the balletic turns of the visual patterns, especially those that were created in the poet’s earlier years. And fortunately the present margins, wider than some previous printings, allow the longer stanzaic lines their space, thus enabling us to see stanzaic patterns the author intended. Even here, space restrictions make some “turnover lines” unavoidable, but the desired syllabic stanzaic structures are recognized in, for example, “Dock Rats” and “England.”

“With what unfreckled integrity it has all been done,” W. H. Auden wrote, praising her craft. That appraisal can apply many times over to a probing, courageous morality, rare in an artist of her time, indeed of any time. Moore was a feminist when she studied at Bryn Mawr, a socialist when she taught at the Carlisle Indian School, and by religious belief a lifelong Presbyterian. Major and minor poems reveal principles that she won not by following fixed rules but by a continuous self-examination. She deplored human greed that failed to spare “the harmless solitaire/or great auk in its grandeur.” She was a supporter of Irish rebellion (“Sojourn in the Whale”) but was otherwise against war, and especially offended by fighting for a world that lacked moral insight. “Sun, Moon, and Stars,” a hitherto unpublished poem, has her questioning the use of force: “Is impotence more virtuous than might, or less/In worth? Which is of greater consequence?” Several of the early unprinted poems join “To Military Progress” in deploring warmongering, there in the image of “minute men” who “seek their prize/Till the evening sky’s/Red.” And a poem of 1943, published only in the New Republic, is a plea to
save us from the captivity
of surfeit; save us from complacency.

Life must stop stifling life with life.
It must. Alas that we must put
an end to death by death.
We’re begging; we are begging for
news to the prisoner that he may
come out of his dungeon at last.
He’s seen destruction and would see
deliverance. Turn sighing into breath.

Other poems reveal, though in the bare, sometimes jolting appellations characteristic of Moore, her firm stand on racial equality and elevation of the oppressed. The Labors of Hercules in the poem of that title include convincing “snake-charming controversialists”

that one keeps on knowing
“that the Negro is not brutal,
that the Jew is not greedy,
that the Oriental is not immoral,
that the German is not a Hun.”

In “Virginia Brittania” she writes again with disarming bareness, but with adoration, of “the Negro,/inadvertent ally and best enemy of/tyranny.” Reproaching imperialists for practicing brutality, she avows: “The redskin with the deer-/fur crown, famous for his cruelty, is not all brawn/and animality.” And it is a black man, one she calls a “decorous, frock-coated Negro” who emerges as “the hero” in the poem of that name, possessing a “sense of human dignity/and reverence for mystery.” The moral precepts that appear throughout her poems and, in fact, her prose, have for this reader a plangent resonance in “Blessed Is the Man”

who does not sit in the seat of the scoffer—
the man who does not denigrate, depreciate, denunciate;
who does not “excuse, retreat, equivocate; and will be heard.”

Her moral stature, though, is inseparable from the poetry’s aesthetic triumph. In this regard, I believe the permanence of Marianne Moore’s poetry is in its depiction of a dramatic struggle between the poet’s mind and the world. Objects and animals embody the mind’s tenacious, life-giving power that

tears off the veil, tears
the temptation, the
mist the heart wears,
In each of the poems, the mind, engaged with an object or animal, moves forward to a fresh idea. In “The Paper Nautilus,” the speaker, contemplating the sea animal taking care of her eggs, works through to the idea of love as “the only fortress/strong enough to trust to.” The notion is at once parallel and antithetical to the “entrapped writers” and the “authorities” at the outset of the poem, since we find in each statement about the nautilus a reference to those limited people. In that way, the mind, exploring everything about an object, has seen beyond it to the world.

Moore’s poetics is rooted in the native “instinct to amass and reiterate” that she ascribed to her countryman in an essay, “Henry James as a Characteristic American.” Although her approach to subject matter changed throughout her career, she chose essentially the same kinds of material, which included elephants she had seen in a lecture-film on Ceylon, an icosasphere she had read about in the New York Times, a lyrebird she had seen in an engraving by Thomas Bewick, an exhibit of sixteenth-century Persian treasures. Her poetry carries forward an American tradition in its use of what surrounds us, and in its insistence on the poet’s freedom to contemplate any subject without a diminishment of energy: being American was for her, as she wrote it was for Henry James, “intrinsically and actively ample,...reaching westward, southward, anywhere, everywhere,” with a mind “incapable of the shut door in any direction.”

In Marianne Moore’s poetry, creativity rises from the subtle dialectic between freedom and repression. We learn of the struggle for freedom from the ostrich, in “He ‘Digesteth Harde Yron’”; from Hercules, who was “hindered to succeed” in “The Paper Nautilus”; from the salamander in “His Shield” who knows that freedom is “the power of relinquishing/what one would keep.”

Paradoxically, such freedom is built on the very limitations life imposes. Just as the poet’s fascination with worldly things is generated by her perception of life’s boundaries, her concept of freedom is that of the liberty wrung from a struggle with constraint. In an essay called “Idiosyncrasy and Technique,” she wrote of the artistic process, “Creative secrets, are they secrets? Impassioned interest in life, that burns its bridges behind it and will not contemplate defeat, is one, I would say.”

And her meditative poem, “What Are Years,” deals with a restricted freedom that is, paradoxically, the source of creative energy. That aesthetic is, I believe, at the heart of the poetry of Marianne Moore:
sees and is glad, who
accedes to mortality
and in his imprisonment rises
upon himself as
the sea in a chasm, struggling to be
free and unable to be,
in its surrendering
finds its continuing.

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Table of Contents

The Poems of Marianne Moore Introduction

Prelude, December 25, 1895

Dear St. Nicklus;

Early Poems, 1907-1913

Under a Patched Sail To Come After a Sonnet To My Cup-Bearer The Sentimentalist He Made This Screen Ennui A Red Flower A Jelly-Fish Progress A Fish My Lantern Tunica Pallio Proprior My Senses Do Not Deceive Me Qui S'Excuse, S'Accuse Elfride, Making Epigrams A Talisman Leaves of a Magazine The Beast of Burden Things Are What They Seem This Is The Way Toads Talk:
To Pierrot Returning to His Orchid To Pharaoh's Baker Plucking Up Courage to Ask the Interpretation of His Dream, When a Favorable Interpretation Had Been Accorded the Dream of Pharaoh's Butler Piningly Artificers and the Alchemist To You1—of the World, Not in the World:
Wisdom at Last To a Stiff-winged Grasshopper Emeralds Sun, Moon, and Stars: Polyphonic Craftsman, Coated Like a Zebra, Fleeing Like the Wild Ass, Mourning Like a Dove,
All of It, as Recorded
"Am I a Brother to Dragons and a Companion to Owls?"
"And Shall Life Pass an Old Maid By?"
The Assassins Axiomatic Reprobate Silver The Candle-Stick Maker
"Coral-and-Brown" Admiring Herself in the Mirror
"Crepe Hanger?" He To a Cantankerous Poet Ignoring His Compeers—Thomas Hardy, Bernard Shaw, Joseph Conrad, Henry James The Fashion, Poor Lady, Behaving Like a Dungeon, Looking Like a Church Flints, Not Flowers The Grass That Perisheth Guillemots He Did Mend It. His Body Filled a Substantial Interstice
"I Like a Horse but I Have a Fellow Feeling for a Mule"
I Tell You No Lie Ichabod Inheritance
"It Makes No Difference to Balbus Whether He Drinks Wine or Water"
Kay Nielson in Cinderella
Kay Nielson's Little Green Patch in the Midst of the Forest A Lady with Pearls, to a Blood Red Rook from Turkey, Who Has Depicted Her with Pathos in Surly Monotone Light through a Keyhole Like Bertram Dobell, You Achieve Distinction by Disclaiming It Majestic Haystack Man's Feet Are a Sensational Device Patriotic Sentiment and the Maker As Has Been Said Rencontre Rodin's Penseur
Suaviter in Modo To See It Is To Know That Mendelssohn Would Never Do:
To Worldly Wisemen Recommending the Town of Carnal Policy as a Substitute for the Celestial City God Bless You, Sir We All Know It Why That Question:
You Are Very Passive—Hammering Out in Darkness What Will Not Bear the Light of Day

Little Magazines, 1915-1919

Ezra Pound:
To a Man Working His Way Through the Crowd To Military Progress
Pouters and Fantails
That Harp You Play So Well To an Intra-Mural Rat Counseil to a Bachelor Appellate Jurisdiction The Wizard in Words To William Butler Yeats on Tagore The North Wind to a Dutiful Beast Midway Between the Dial and the Foot of a Garden Clock Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel To a Strategist Injudicious Gardening To a Prize Bird Diligence Is to Magic as Progress Is to Flight To a Steam Roller To Statecraft Embalmed To a Friend in the Making Blake George Moore
So far as the future is concerned, "Shall we not say, with the Russian philosopher, 'How is one to know what one doesn't know?'" So far as the present is concerned,
Masks Diogenes Sun
"He Wrote the History Book"
To a Chameleon Is Your Town Nineveh?
You Are Fire Eaters Pedantic Literalist Critics and Connoisseurs In This Age of Hard Trying, Nonchalance Is Good and To Be Liked by You Would Be a Calamity Feed Me, Also, River God Apropos of Mice
"She Trimmed the Candles Like One Who Loves the Beautiful"
In "Designing a Cloak to Cloak His Designs," You Wrested from Oblivion a Coat of Immortality for Your Own Use Holes Bored in a Workbag by the Scissors The Just Man and Those Various Scalpels Like a Bulrush To the Peacock of France Sojourn in the Whale Roses Only The Monkeys Melanchthon An Ardent Platonist Reinforcements The Fish Callot-Drecol-Cheruit-Jenny-Doucet-Aviotte-Lady You Say You Said Old Tiger Radical Poetry In the Days of Prismatic Color Dock Rats Picking and Choosing

The Dial Years, 1920-1925

England Lines on a Visit of Anne Carroll Moore to Hudson Park Branch When I Buy Pictures A Grave New York The Labors of Hercules Snakes, Mongooses, Snake-Charmers, and the Like People's Surroundings Novices Bowls Marriage Silence Sea Unicorns and Land Unicorns An Octopus An Egyptian Pulled Glass Bottle in the Shape of a Fish To a Snail
"The Bricks Are Fallen Down, We Will Build with Hewn Stones. The Sycamores Are Cut Down, We Will Change to Cedars"
"Nothing Will Cure the Sick Lion but to Eat an Ape"
Peter The Monkey Puzzle A Fool, a Foul Thing, a Distressful Lunatic

Lyrics and Sequences, 1926-1940

The Steeple-Jack The Student The Hero No Swan So Fine The Jerboa To Peace The Plumet Basilisk Camellia Sabina The Frigate Pelican The Buffalo Nine Nectarines Pigeons Virginia Britannia Bird-Witted Half Deity Smooth Gnarled Crape Myrtle The Pangolin Walking-Sticks and Paper-Weights and Water Marks See in the Midst of Fair Leaves

World War II and After, 1940-1956
Four Quartz Crystal Clocks What Are Years The Paper Nautilus Rigorists Light Is Speech He "Digesteth Harde Yron"
Spenser's Ireland The Wood-Weasel Pale Morning Moon, Dark Blue Black Sea,
You, Your Horse In Distrust of Merits Nevertheless Elephants The Mind Is an Enchanting Thing A Carriage from Sweden
"Keeping Their World Large"
His Shield Propriety Advent A Face Efforts of Affection At Rest in the Blast Like a Bulwark Voracities and Verities Sometimes Are Interacting By Disposition of Angels Armor's Undermining Modesty The Stuttering Quagmires Speak The Icosasphere Pretiolae Quoting an Also Private Thought We Call Them the Brave Then the Ermine:
Apparition of Splendor Tom Fool at Jamaica The Web One Weaves of Italy Rosemary The Staff of Aesculapius The Sycamore

The Magic Flute, 1956-1965

Style Logic and "The Magic Flute"
Blessed Is The Man Values in Use Hometown Piece for Messrs. Alston and Reece O to Be a Dragon Enough: Jamestown, 1607-1957
Melchior Vulpius In the Public Garden The Arctic Ox (or Goat)
Saint Nicholas For February 14th No Better Than "a Withered Daffodil"
Combat Cultural Leonardo da Vinci's Saint Valentine,
Lines for Narrator Tell Me, Tell Me Carnegie Hall: Rescued Rescue with Yul Brynner To Victor Hugo of My Crow Pluto Yvor Winters—
Baseball and Writing Arthur Mitchell Blue Bug Charity Overcoming Envy To a Giraffe
"Avec Ardeur"
W. S. Landor The Master Tailor An Expedient—Leonardo da Vinci's—and a Query Old Amusement Park

Late Poems, 1965-1972
Dream In Lieu of the Lyre The Mind, Intractable Thing Granite and Steel Love in America—
For Katharine Elizabeth McBride, President of Bryn Mawr College Tippoo's Tiger The Camperdown Elm Assistance Mercifully
"Reminiscent of a Wave at the Curl"
A Christmas Poem Enough The Magician's Retreat Prevalent at One Time

Selections from The Fables of La Fontaine

The Fox and the Grapes The Lion in Love The Animals Sick of the Plague The Bear and the Garden-Lover The Mouse Metamorphosed into a Maid

Marianne Moore's Notes Editor's Notes, with the Poetry's Attributions and Variants Index of Titles and First Lines

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