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.

Early life[edit]

Moore was born in Kirkwood, Missouri in the manse of the Presbyterian church where her maternal grandfather, John Riddle Warner, served as pastor. Her parents separated before she was born after her father, John Milton Moore, a mechanical engineer and inventor, suffered a psychotic episode; Moore never met him. She and her older brother, John Warner Moore, were reared by their mother, Mary Warner Moore. The family wrote voluminous letters to one another throughout their lives, often addressing each other by playful nicknames and using a private language.

Like her mother and her older brother, Moore remained a devoted Presbyterian, strongly influenced by her grandfather, approaching her Christian faith as a lesson in strength vindicated through trials and temptations; her poems often deal with the themes of strength and adversity.[1] She thought "it was not possible to live without religious faith".[2] After her grandfather died in 1894, the three stayed with relatives near Pittsburgh for two years, then moved to Carlisle, Pennsylvania, where her mother found employment teaching English in a private girls' school.

In 1905, Moore entered Bryn Mawr College, and she graduated four years later with an A.B., having majored in history, economics, and political science.[3] The poet H. D. was among her classmates during their freshman year. At Bryn Mawr, Moore started writing short stories and poems for Tipyn O'Bob,[4] the campus literary magazine, and decided to become a writer. After graduation, she worked briefly at Melvil Dewey’s Lake Placid Club, then taught business subjects at the Carlisle Indian Industrial School from 1911 to 1914.

Poetic career[edit]

Moore's first professionally published poems appeared in The Egoist and Poetry in the spring of 1915. In 1916, she moved with her mother to Chatham, New Jersey, within commuting distance of New York; and in 1918, the two moved to New York City's Greenwich Village, where Moore socialized with many avant-garde artists, especially those associated with Others magazine. The innovative poems she was writing at that time received high praise from Ezra Pound, William Carlos Williams, H.D., T. S. Eliot, and later Wallace Stevens.

Moore's first book, Poems, was published in 1921 by the Imagist poet H.D. and her partner, the British novelist Bryher, without Moore's permission.[3][5] Moore's later poetry shows some influence from the Imagists' principles.[6]

Her second book, Observations, won the Dial Award in 1924. She worked part-time as a librarian during these years; then from 1925 to 1929, she edited The Dial magazine, a literary and cultural journal. This position in the literary and arts community extended her influence as an arbiter of modernist taste; much later, she encouraged promising young poets, including Elizabeth Bishop, Allen Ginsberg, John Ashbery, and James Merrill. When The Dial ceased publication in 1929, she moved to 260 Cumberland Street[7] in the Fort Greene neighborhood of Brooklyn, where she remained for thirty-six years. She continued to write while caring for her ailing mother, who died in 1947. For nine years before and after her mother’s death, Moore translated the Fables of LaFontaine.

Photograph by George Platt Lynes (1935)

In 1933, Moore was awarded the Helen Haire Levinson Prize by Poetry magazine. In 1951, her Collected Poems won the National Book Award,[8] the Pulitzer Prize, and the Bollingen Prize. After years of seclusion, she emerged as a celebrity, speaking at college campuses across the country and appearing in photo essays in Life and Look magazines. She was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1962.[9] Moore continued to publish poems in various magazines, including The Nation, The New Republic, Partisan Review, and "The New Yorker, as well as publishing various books and collections of her poetry and criticism.

Moore moved to 35 West 9th Street in Manhattan in 1965. After she moved back to Greenwich Village, she was widely recognized around town for her tricorn hat and black cape. She liked athletics and was a great admirer of Muhammad Ali, for whose spoken-word album I Am the Greatest! she wrote the liner notes. She became known as a baseball fan, first of the Brooklyn Dodgers and then of the New York Yankees. She threw out the ball to open the season at Yankee Stadium in 1968. She suffered a series of strokes from 1958 until her death in 1972. She was interred in Gettysburg's Evergreen Cemetery. By the time of her death, she had received many honorary degrees and virtually every honor available to an American poet. The New York Times printed a full-page obituary.[10] In 1996, she was inducted into the St. Louis Walk of Fame.[11]

Moore corresponded with Ezra Pound from 1918 and visited him regularly during his incarceration at St. Elizabeth's. She opposed Benito Mussolini and Fascism from the start and objected to Pound's antisemitism. Moore herself was a Republican and supported Herbert Hoover in 1928 and 1932.[12][13][14] 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 to 1961, with the reclusive collage artist Joseph Cornell, whose methods of collecting and appropriation were much like her own.[15]

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.[16]

Moore never married. Her living room has been preserved in its original layout in the collections of the Rosenbach Museum & Library in Philadelphia.[17] 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 many of her early poems in later life. Most of these revised works appeared in the Complete Poems of 1967. 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. As Moore herself wrote, as a one-line epigraph to Complete Poems, which offered her well-known work "Poetry" cut down from twenty-nine lines to three: "Omissions are not accidents."[18][19][20] In a foreword to A Marianne Moore Reader in 1961, Moore said her favorite poem was the Book of Job.[21]

Moore's novel and an unfinished memoir have not been published.[21] In her will, she established a fund for the support of the Camperdown Elm in Brooklyn's Prospect Park, a rare and ancient tree that she had celebrated in a poem.[22][23]

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.[24]

Moore credited the poetry of Edith Sitwell as "intensifying her interest in rhythm and encouraging her rhythmic eccentricities".[1] 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".[2] Later in her Selected Poems of 1969, Moore also commented in regard to her poetic form that "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".[25]

Moore often composed her poetry in syllabics, she used stanzas with predetermined number of syllables as her "unit of sense", with indentation underlining the parallels, the shape of the stanza indicating the syllabic disposition, and her reading voice conveying the syntactical line.[26] 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. ISBN 978-0520221390.
  • Poems of Marianne Moore, edited by Grace Schulman, 2003

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Molesworth, Charles. Introduction. Marianne Moore: A Literary Life. New York: Macmillan, 1990. ISBN 0689118155
  2. ^ a b Letter to Miss Gray (November 5, 1935), reproduced in Molesworth, Charles, Marianne Moore: A Literary Life. New York: Macmillan, 1990. ISBN 0689118155
  3. ^ a b Leavell, Linda. Holding On Upside Down: The Life and Work of Marianne Moore. New York: Farrar Straus and Giroux, 2014. ISBN 9780374534943
  4. ^ |Tipyn O'Bob at Internet Archive
  5. ^ Pinsky, Robert. Singing School: Learning to Write (and Read) Poetry by Studying with the Masters. New York: W. W. Norton, 2014. ISBN 9780393050684
  6. ^ Pratt, William. Introduction. The Imagist Poem: Modern Poetry in Miniature. New York: Dutton, 1963. ISBN 9780972814386
  7. ^ Page, Chester. Memoirs of a Charmed Life in New York. Bloomington, IN: iUniverse, 2007.
  8. ^ "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.)
  9. ^ "Book of Members, 1780–2010: Chapter M" (PDF). American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved July 29, 2014. 
  10. ^
  11. ^ St. Louis Walk of Fame. "St. Louis Walk of Fame Inductees". Retrieved 25 April 2013. 
  12. ^ 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. 
  13. ^ Burt, Stephen (November 11, 2003). "Paper Trail: The true legacy of Marianne Moore, modernist monument". Slate. Retrieved 2010-05-16. 
  14. ^ Hall, Donald (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. 
  15. ^
  16. ^ 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:
  17. ^ "Marianne Moore Archive". Rosenbach Museum & Library. Retrieved 2009-08-22. 
  18. ^ Moore's page at the Poetry Foundation
  19. ^ McCabe, Susan. Cinematic Modernism: Modernist Poetry and Film. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005. p. 259.
  20. ^ Schulze, Robin G., ed. Becoming Marianne Moore: The Early Poems, 1907-1924. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002.
  21. ^ a b Molesworth, Charles, Marianne Moore - A Literary Life, New York: Macmillan, 1990. ISBN 0689118155
  22. ^ Moore and the Camperdown Elm
  23. ^ | Photo of the elm in Prospect Park
  24. ^ Hartman, Charles. Free Verse: An Essay on Prosody. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1980. ISBN 9780810113169
  25. ^ Moore, Marianne. Note to Selected Poems. London: Faber & Faber, 1969. ISBN 978-0-571-08856-0
  26. ^ Schmidt, Michael. Lives of the Poets. London: Orion Press, 1998. ISBN 9780753807453

External links[edit]