Marianne Moore

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Marianne Moore
Marianne Moore 1948 hires.jpg
Photograph by Carl Van Vechten (1948)
Born (1887-11-15)November 15, 1887
Kirkwood, Missouri, U.S.
Died February 5, 1972(1972-02-05) (aged 84)
New York City, New York, U.S.
Occupation Poet
Notable awards National Book Award, Pulitzer Prize, Bollingen Prize, National Medal for Literature

Marianne Craig Moore (November 15, 1887 – February 5, 1972) was an American Modernist poet, critic, translator, and editor. Her poetry is noted for formal innovation, precise diction, irony, and wit.


Moore was born in Kirkwood, Missouri, to John Milton Moore and Mary Warner Moore, in the manse of the Presbyterian church where her maternal grandfather, John Riddle Warner, served as pastor. Before Moore was born, her father, a mechanical engineer and inventor, suffered a nervous breakdown, and Moore never met him. She grew up in her grandfather's household until 1894, when her grandfather died. Like her mother and her older brother, John Warner Moore, she remained strongly influenced by her grandfather, approaching her Christian faith as a lesson in strength vindicated through trials and temptations, a strong bond of which was more important than outward ceremony or public recognition[1] and thought 'it was not possible to live without religious faith' .[2]In 1905, Moore entered Bryn Mawr College, and she graduated four years later with an A.B., having majored in history, law and politics.[3] She taught at the Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, from 1911 to 1914. Her first professionally published poems appeared in "The Egoist" and "Poetry" in the spring of 1915. She lived with her mother in Carlisle, Pennsylvania; Chatham, New Jersey; and New York's Greenwich Village and Brooklyn, throughout her life, until Mary Moore died in 1947, from the time the poet was twenty-three until she was nearly sixty.[4]

Poetic career[edit]

Moore came to the attention of poets as diverse as Wallace Stevens, William Carlos Williams, H.D., T. S. Eliot, Mina Loy, and Ezra Pound beginning with her first publication in 1921 by H.D., without Moore's prior knowledge.[5] Moore's later poetry bears witness to the then prevalent Imagists principles, without this imagist influence her poetry would have been very different.[6] Later from 1925 until 1929, Moore served as editor of the literary and cultural journal The Dial. This continued her role, similar to that of Pound, as a patron of poetry; much later, she encouraged promising young poets, including Elizabeth Bishop, Allen Ginsberg, John Ashbery and James Merrill.

Photograph by George Platt Lynes (1935)

In 1933, Moore was awarded the Helen Haire Levinson Prize by Poetry. Her Collected Poems of 1951 is perhaps her most rewarded work; it earned the poet the National Book Award,[7] Pulitzer Prize, and the Bollingen Prize. Moore became a minor celebrity in New York literary circles.((cn)) She attended boxing matches, baseball games and other public events, dressed in what became her signature garb, a tricorn hat and a black cape. She particularly liked athletics and was a great admirer of Muhammad Ali, for whose spoken-word album, I Am the Greatest!, she wrote liner notes. Moore continued to publish poems in various journals, including The Nation, The New Republic, and Partisan Review, as well as publishing various books and collections of her poetry and criticism.

Moore corresponded with Ezra Pound from 1919, even during his incarceration. She opposed Benito Mussolini and Fascism from the start and objected to Pound's antisemitism. Moore herself was a conservative Republican and supported Herbert Hoover in 1928 and 1932.[8][9][10] She was a lifelong ally and friend of the American poet Wallace Stevens as demonstrated in her review of Stevens's first collection, Harmonium, and in particular her comment about the influence of Henri Rousseau on the poem "Floral Decorations for Bananas." She also corresponded, from 1943-61, with the reclusive collage artist Joseph Cornell, whose methods of collecting and appropriation were much like her own.[11]

In the 1950s and 1960s, Moore gained celebrity, becoming known for her black cape, tricorne hat, and love of baseball. In 1955, Moore was informally invited by David Wallace, manager of marketing research for Ford's "E-car" project, and his co-worker Bob Young to suggest a name for the car. Wallace's rationale was "Who better to understand the nature of words than a poet?" On October 1955, Moore was approached to submit "inspirational names" for the E-car, and on November 7, she offered her list of names, which included such notables as "Resilient Bullet", "Ford Silver Sword", "Mongoose Civique", "Varsity Stroke", "Pastelogram" and "Andante con Moto." On December 8, she submitted her last and most famous name, "Utopian Turtletop." The E-car was finally christened by Ford as the Edsel.[12] She was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1962.[13]

Moore moved to 35 West 9th Street in Manhattan in 1966, after 37 years at 260 Cumberland Street in Brooklyn.[14] Not long after throwing the first pitch for the 1968 season in Yankee Stadium, Moore suffered a stroke. She suffered a series of strokes thereafter, and died in 1972. She was interred in Gettysburg's Evergreen Cemetery. The New York Times devoted an entire page to an account of her life and death.

Moore never married. Her living-room has been preserved in its original layout in the collections of the Rosenbach Museum & Library in Philadelphia.[15] Her entire library, knick-knacks (including a baseball signed by Mickey Mantle), all of her correspondence, photographs, and poetry drafts are available for public viewing.

Like Robert Lowell, Moore revised a great many of her early poems (including "Poetry") in later life. These appeared in The Complete Poems of 1967, after which critics tended to accept as canonical the "elderly Moore's revisions of the exuberant texts of her own poetic youth." Facsimile editions of the theretofore out-of-print 1924 Observations became available in 2002. Since that time there has been no critical consensus about which versions are authoritative.[16][17] In a forward to her A Marianne Moore Reader in 1961 Moore said her favourite poem was the Book of Job.[18]

Moore's Memoir and an unfinished novel are in private hands and have not been published.[18]

In 1996, she was inducted into the St. Louis Walk of Fame.[19]

Poetic style[edit]

Her most famous poem is perhaps the one entitled, appropriately, "Poetry", in which she hopes for poets who can produce "imaginary gardens with real toads in them." It also expressed her idea that meter, or anything else that claims the exclusive title "poetry", is not as important as delight in language and precise, heartfelt expression in any form. Moore's meter was radically separate from the English tradition, writing her syllabic poems after the advent of Free verse she was thereby encouraged to try previously unusual meters.[20]

Moore credited the poetry of Edith Sitwell as 'intensifying her interest in rhythm and encouraging her rhythmic eccenticities'.[21] In response to a biographical sketch in 1935 Moore indicated ' a liking for unaccented rhyme, the movement of the poem musically is more important than the conventional look of lines upon the page, and the stanza as the unit of composition rather than the line'.[22] Later in her Selected Poems of 1969 Moore also commented in regard to her poetic form ' since in anything I have written, there have been lines in which the chief interest is borrowed, and I have not yet been able to outgrow this hybrid method of composition'.[23]

Moore often composed her poetry in syllabics, she used stanzas with predetermined number of syllables as her 'unit of sense' and indentation underlined the parallels, the shape of the stanza indicating the syllabic disposition and her reading voice conveying the syntactical line.[24] These syllabic lines from "Poetry" illustrate her position: poetry is a matter of skill and honesty in any form whatsoever, while anything written poorly, although in perfect form, cannot be poetry:

nor is it valid
to discriminate against "business documents and
school-books": all these phenomena are important. One must make a distinction
however: when dragged into prominence by half poets, the result is not poetry

Selected works[edit]

  • Poems, 1921 (Published in London by H.D. and Bryher. Moore disapproved of the timing, editing, selections, and format of this collection. See The Selected Letters of Marianne Moore, ed. Bonnie Costello et al. (New York: Knopf, 1997), p. 164. In a letter to Bryher, Moore notes "... I wouldn't have the poems appear now if I could help it and would not have some of them ever appear and would make certain changes....")
  • Observations, 1924
  • Selected Poems, 1935 (introduction by T. S. Eliot)
  • The Pangolin and Other Verse, 1936
  • What Are Years, 1941
  • Nevertheless, 1944
  • A Face, 1949
  • Collected Poems, 1951
  • Fables of La Fontaine, 1954 (verse translations of La Fontaine's fables)
  • Predilections: Literary Essays, 1955
  • Like a Bulwark, 1956
  • Idiosyncrasy and Technique, 1958
  • O to Be a Dragon, 1959
  • The Marianne Moore Reader, 1961
  • Eight Poems, 1962, with illustrations by Robert Andrew Parker
  • The Absentee: A Comedy in Four Acts, 1962 (dramatization of Maria Edgeworth's novel)
  • Puss in Boots, The Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella, 1963 (adaptations from Perrault)
  • Dress and Kindred Subjects, 1965
  • Poetry and Criticism, 1965
  • Tell Me, Tell Me: Granite, Steel and Other Topics, 1966
  • The Complete Poems of Marianne Moore, 1967
  • The Accented Syllable, 1969
  • Selected Poems , 1969 (selected by Marianne Moore, published by Faber & Faber, London )
  • Homage to Henry James, 1971 (essays by Moore, Edmund Wilson, et al.)
  • The Complete Poems, 1982
  • The Complete Prose, 1986, edited by Patricia C. Willis
  • Complete Poems, 1994
  • The Selected Letters of Marianne Moore, edited by Bonnie Costello, Celeste Goodridge, and Cristanne Miller, 1997
  • Becoming Marianne Moore: The Early Poems, 1907–1924, edited by Robin G. Schulze, 2002
  • Poems of Marianne Moore, edited by Grace Schulman, 2003

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Molesworth, Charles, Introduction - Marianne Moore - A Literary Life, Macmillan Publishing Co, New York, 1990, ISBN 0689118155
  2. ^ Letter to Miss Gray (November 5, 1935)- reproduced in Molesworth, Charles, Marianne Moore - A Literary Life, Macmillan Publishing Co, New York, 1990 ISBN 0689118155
  3. ^
  4. ^ Linda Leavell, Holding On Upside Down: The Life and Work of Marianne Moore, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2013 ISBN 9780374107291
  5. ^ Pinsky,Robert Singing School - Learning to Write- (and read) W W Norton, New York 2014 ISBN 9780393050684
  6. ^ Introduction The Imagist Poem - Modern Poetry in Miniature ed. William Pratt UNO press, New Orleans 1963 ISBN 9780972814386
  7. ^ "National Book Awards – 1952". National Book Foundation. Retrieved 2012-03-02.
    (With acceptance speech by Moore and essay by Lee Felice Pinkas from the Awards 60-year anniversary blog.)
  8. ^ Carson, Luke (September 2002). "Republicanism and Leisure in Marianne Moore's Depression". Modern Language Quarterly 63: 315–342. doi:10.1215/00267929-63-3-315. Retrieved 2010-05-16. 
  9. ^ Burt, Stephen (November 11, 2003). "Paper Trail: The true legacy of Marianne Moore, modernist monument". Slate. Retrieved 2010-05-16. 
  10. ^ Hall, Donald Free Verse - an essay on Prosody (October 26, 1997). "The Post Modernist Marianne Moore's Letters Add to our Appreciation of a Great Poet's Overflowing Life". The Boston Globe. Retrieved 2010-05-16. 
  11. ^
  12. ^ Her experience was memorably recounted in her April 13, 1957 epistolic article for The New Yorker called "Correspondence with David Wallace". It is anthologized in Mordechai Richler's The Best of Modern Humour, Knopf, 1983, pp 66-73. She notes in her preface, "[These letters] should correct the impression persistent among inquirers that I succeeded in finding for the new products division … a name for the new car I had been recruited to name; whereas I did not give the car the name it now has." See also:
  13. ^ "Book of Members, 1780–2010: Chapter M" (PDF). American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved July 29, 2014. 
  14. ^ Page, Chester. Memoirs of a Charmed Life in New York. iUniverse, Inc. (2007)
  15. ^ "Marianne Moore Archive". Rosenbach Museum & Library. Retrieved 2009-08-22. 
  16. ^ McCabe, Susan. Cinematic Modernism: Modernist Poetry and Film. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press (2005): 259.
  17. ^ Schulze Robin G. (ed.). Becoming Marianne Moore : the early poems, 1907-1924. Berkeley: University of California Press (2002)
  18. ^ a b Molesworth, Charles, Marianne Moore - A Literary Life, Macmillan Publishing Co, New York, 1990, ISBN 0689118155
  19. ^ St. Louis Walk of Fame. "St. Louis Walk of Fame Inductees". Retrieved 25 April 2013. 
  20. ^ Hartman, Charles Free Verse - an essay on Prosody Princeton University Press, Princeton 1980 ISBN 9780810113169
  21. ^ Molesworth, Charles, Introduction - Marianne Moore - A Literary Life, Macmillan Publishing Co, New York, 1990 ISBN 0689118155
  22. ^ Letter to Miss Gray - reproduced in Molesworth, Charles, Marianne Moore - A Literary Life, Macmillan Publishing Co, New York, 1990 ISBN 0689118155
  23. ^ Moore, Marianne, Note to Selected Poems , Faber & Faber, London 1969 SBN 571088562
  24. ^ Schmidt, Michael Lives of the Poets Orion Press, London 1998 ISBN 9780753807453

External links[edit]