Marianne Moore Newsletter - Volume 3 Number 1 Spring 1979
Marianne Moore Newsletter
Volume III Number 1 Spring 1979
[inside front cover]
MARIANNE MOORE NEWSLETTER
Volume III, Number 1, Spring 1979
Malaclemys terrapin, diamondbacked turtle, drawn by MM at Norfolk, Virginia, 12 August, 1936 (RF 1253/8).
All previously unpublished material by Marianne Moore is published here by permission of Clive E. Driver, Literary Executor of the Estate of Marianne C. Moore.
Subscription: Two issues a year, Spring and Fall. U.S.A. $4.00 a year; Foreign $4.50. Subscriptions run for calendar year in which placed. Continuing subscriptions available. Please make cheques payable to MMN, The Rosenbach Foundation.
Contributions welcome on all aspects of MM and her work up to 750 words. Deadlines: Spring, February 1st; Fall, October 1st.
Address correspondence to Patricia C. Willis, Editor, MMN, The Philip H. & A.S.W. Rosenbach Foundation, 2010 DeLancey Place, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 19103.
by Clive E. Driver,
Literary Executor of the Estate
of Marianne C. Moore
Marianne Moore Newsletter
Volume III Number 1 Spring 1979
"CHARITY OVERCOMING ENVY"
Marianne Moore created "Charity Overcoming Envy" in response to pictures of a tapestry in the Burrell Collection at the Glasgow Art Gallery and Museum. Having been given a postcard of the tapestry by Laurence Scott in January, 1962, she sent to the museum for more cards and received in addition two booklets to use up the enclosed money. Her work on the poem began in late March and ended just in time for a deadline in November.
At first glance, "Charity Overcoming Envy" seems inspired solely by the tapestry, but thirteen pages of working notes show a more complex series of compositional events. The opening notes illustrate MM's reflections on Charity as an allegorical figure:
None of these lines appears in the completed poem, but they bear upon it and illustrate the personal and moral tone of the working versions.
"Charity Overcoming Envy," Fifteenth Century French Tapestry.
Burrell Collection. Glasgow Art Gallery and Museum.
CHARITY OVERCOMING ENVY
Late-fifteenth-century tapestry, Flemish or French,
in the Burrell Collection, Glasgow Art Gallery and Museum.
Have you time for a story
(depicted in tapestry)?
Charity, riding an elephant,
on a "mosaic of flowers," faces Envy,
the flowers "bunched together, not rooted."
Envy, on a dog, is worn down by obsession,
his greed (since of things owned by others
he can only take some). Crouching uneasily
in the flowered filigree, among wide weeds
indented by scallops that swirl,
little flattened-out sunflowers,
thin arched coral stems, and—ribbed horizontally—
slivers of green, Envy, on his dog,
looks up at the elephant,
cowering away from her, his cheek scarcely scratched.
He is saying, "O Charity, pity me, Deity!
O pitiless Destiny,
what will become of me,
maimed by Charity—Caritas—sword unsheathed
over me yet? Blood stains my cheek. I am hurt."
In chest armor over chain mail, a steel shirt
to the knee, he repeats, "I am hurt."
The elephant, at no time borne down by self-pity,
convinces the victim
that Destiny is not devising a plot.
The problem is mastered—insupportably
tiring when it was impending.
Deliverance accounts for what sounds like an axiom.
The Gordian knot need not be cut.
Complete Poems (New York: Macmillan/Viking, 1967),
The next several pages of notes include lines from such writers as Vernon Watkins, Ralph Hodgson, J. V. Cunningham and Henry James, The notes on James reveal
MM's manner of association and are another example of lines discarded but impinging upon the finished poem. MM had been reading James’ The Art of Travel (edited by Morton Dauwen Zabel, Doubleday, 1962) and she admired the sentence: "As a city, Arles quite misses its effect in every way; and if it is a charming place, as I think it is, I can hardly tell the reason why" (p. 269). MM quoted part of the sentence; then she wrote out a transmutation: "Henry James would be the first to say Charity does not miss its effect."
From James, MM turned to an item sent from Glasgow, The Scottish Review (Vol. 6, No 3, 1957). In it, William Wells discusses the tapestry on pages 7-9 as a fifteenth century depiction of the popular Psycho-machia of Prudentius whose fifth century allegory portrays the conflict between the virtues and the vices. From Wells' article, MM took many phrases for her notes, choosing for the poem "mosaic of flowers" and "not rooted." She adapted two other phrases from the article flowers "massed together" become "bunched together" (quotation marks used despite the change of wording); and "chain-armour" becomes "chest armor over chain mail" (no quotation marks in the poem). It appears that only these four borrowings made their way into the poem.
Always the scientific observer, MM examined the color print of the tapestry for the rest of her description. She shows her reader the millefleur tapestry with precision: the "little flattened out/sunflowers" are those above Envy's right arm. She portrays the figures in their relative positions and attitudes: Envy "crouching uneasily", "cowering away" from Charity, looking up at the elephant.
While the figures in the tapestry suggest a narrative, the "story" MM creates for them is entirely her own invention. A notebook entry offers the crux of the story she first proposed: "Charity has a problem - how to preserve itself and to learn patience, the . . . mastery is from within." Eventually, MM formulated a trial ending, an accomplishment so long elusive that she recorded her success in her daily
diary: "End to CHARITY." Her ending read:
know that destiny is not devising a plot
the solution is inward it rests w yourself
the Gordian knot need not be cut (RF 1251/10,29).
In many ways, this ending was only a beginning. The notes show that MM was intent on keeping the rhymes "plot" and "cut" but that she was not firm about other trial lines. It took a month until, as she later told Morton Dauwen Zabel, she decided simply to say that she had a problem with the poem and not try to solve it (T.L.S, 8 April 1963). Ultimately, she drew together Charity’s conflict, Envy's self-pity, and her own dilemma into a single "insupportably tiring" problem to which she could apply the same deliverance: "The Gordian knot need not be cut."
On 12 November, the poem was ready to send to Howard Moss at The New Yorker and to read on the 15th at the American Academy of Arts and Letters dinner in her honour. She chose to read the poem with lines omitted because of her exclusive New Yorker contract, and it appeared with ellipses in the annual proceedings the next March. The full version of the poem appeared in The New Yorker on 30 March 1963.
MM, MELVIL DEWEY, AND LAKE PLACID
Precision of phrase, deliberateness and a concern with categorizing characterize the style of Marianne Moore. We know that she was a frequent patron of the public library's resources whether she was editing someone else's words, writing reviews, or composing her own poetry. We know, too, that she was employed at the Hudson Park Branch of the New York Public Library from 1921 to 1925 while she lived in Greenwich Village, just prior to her accepting the job of Acting Editor of The Dial.
The MM Collection at the Rosenbach Museum has revealed another important library connection, although
it is generally unknown and was rarely referred to by MM. In July, 1910, one year after her graduation from Bryn Mawr, having completed a year at Carlisle Commercial College (where she studied Pitman Shorthand, typing and other business subjects), MM joined the staff of Melvil Dewey's Lake Placid Club, a resort in the Adirondack Mountains of upstate New York.
An important figure in the history of the library in America, Dewey was the originator of the Dewey Decimal System and its ultimate authority. In 1888 he founded the first U.S. library school at Columbia and opened it to women - a highly controversial action. A graduate of Amherst College, Dewey was characterized as hard working and frugal, disliking waste of effort and waste of time. He was a progressive who not only devised the system of library classification still widely used today, but he was also active in many social concerns, including the American Metric Bureau and the Spelling Reform Association.
In 1893 Melvil Dewey and his wife established the Lake Placid Club as a cooperative vacation resort with the object:
to secure among congenial people and beautiful natural surroundings all advantages of an ideal vacation or permanent cuntry home, with highest standards of helth, comfort, rest, and attractiv recreations both summer and winter, at as moderate cost as is consistent with high standards . . .
[According to reformed spelling.]1
The Club became the center of all his activities, including his administration of the Dewey Decimal System.
MM was hired as a member of Dewey’s staff at "$50 a month to start with and 'double' that 'only too gladly’ per authorities in question if worth it." The work would be "proof reading of stuff for the bettering of social conditions, private secretary work, and filing statistics or information."2 Even before arriving at Lake Placid, she had heard about Dewey’s reformist tendencies. She
A Lake Placid Club postcard, ca. 1910. Seated high on Cobble Mountain, MM wrote: ". . . There are all sorts of channels and by-lakes and a lap full of mountains. It looks like a Pegasus' view of the Alps." (A.L.S. to her family, 21 July 1910.)
wrote home that while stopping en route at her cousin Mary Shoemaker's house in Albany, she had asked Mary, who knew and admired Dewey, whether the club was "really modern and complete or . . . a veneer?" Mary replied that "the eggs are dated, (what day hatched,) the butter bears the club stamp, the pigs wear bibs - -, almost."3 When MM reached the club, she found her room in the village not at all modern but "very dingy" and decided to live instead at the Club itself in the Iroquois Tower, a part of the main administrative complex.4
Her first reaction to her new situation was one of great delight. Writing to her family, she said that Mr. Dewey is "a Dream or anything favorable that you wish to call him . . . He has a horror of Britticisms . . . and yet the most finished individual style I have ever heard. Hence, contact with him is 1iberalizing."5 She described his efficiency and the rapid fire letters he gave her to type, referring to his innovative habit of "tossing over the original to be filed when I had copied his letters
in carbon on the back"6 (a practice MM adopted throughout her life). She also referred, to Lake Placid as "a honey pot”7 and announced that she was having "the time of my life."8 Mrs. Moore did not share this enchantment and at times referred to the Club as "Lake Turmoil.’’9 She also took a ladylike swing at Dewey’s simplified spelling, saying "low reformers spell it the way you have adopted it."10
By the end of July, however, MM assessed herself: "I am not worth much as a stenographer. My value is miscellaneous."11 A month later, she told her family that one of her supervisors said that she "knows I have ability but she doesn't know whether it's for this sort of work or not, a mess of details and I don't know either for I have to work doubly hard on all this truck which seems like nonsense when I could work on something higher class with less effort."12 Any expectation she may have had of participating in decimal classification of books had not been met, although some of her typing related to transcribing such work. On 4 September 1910, after only two months at Lake Placid, MM wrote to say that she was coming home on 31 September. "They are cutting down the staff", she explained.13
How can this stay be related to MM’s later life and work? We know from her letters that MM enjoyed the environment, attended concerts and theatre, rowed on the lakes, took walks with her sketching pad, slept out on the sleeping porches at night, talked with the guests and delighted in being taken for one of them rather than one of the staff. It is probably true that this short excursion into the business world convinced her that she would not like working at a stenographic job. It is also likely that she viewed this first venture on her own as a failure and perhaps that is why she rarely referred to it. But perhaps some of Dewey’s philosophy, classification methods, and business procedures rubbed off on MM. Perhaps at the least her Lake Placid stay deepened and confirmed her belief in "neatness of finish" and "compression . . . of style."
1Lake Placid Club Handbook. Essex Co., NY: Forest Press, 1914, p. 5. Spelling throughout the Handbook follows the reforms sponsored by Dewey.
2A.L.S. to John Warner Moore, 22 April 1910.
3A.L.S. to Mary Warner Moore, 8 July 1910. All subsequent references with exceptions noted are A.L.S from MM to MWM.
46 July 1910.
610 July 1910.
76 July 1910.
88 July 1910.
9MWM to MM, A.L.S. 18 July 1910.
10MWM to MM, A.L.S. 17 July 1910.
1124 July 1910.
1223 July 1910.
135 September 1910.
LETTER TO ALBERT GELPI
After a visit to Lowell House at Harvard, MM received a letter from Albert Gelpi who had been present at her poetry reading. Mr. Gelpi asked for further notes on some poems and drew these "interpretations" from MM. Reproduced here is the carbon copy of her letter, which MM retained.
MONKEY PUZZLER, TRUE CURIO
Two views of the Monkey Puzzle Tree, photographed by MM in Bremerton, Washington, 1922.
In her note to "The Monkey Puzzler" in Observations, 1925, p. 96, MM identifies the monkey puzzle tree or Chili pine: "araucaria imbricata. Arauco—a territory in Araucania which is in the southern part of Chili: imbricatus—crooked like a gutter, or roof, tile; or laid one under another like tiles".
Called a monkey puzzle because it is difficult for monkeys to climb, this unusual tree with its leathery, sharp leaves is native to Chili but can be cultivated on the West Coast of the United States. In the summer of 1922, MM photographed this example at the Navy Yard on Puget Sound, showing both its overall shape and its roof-tile construction. Her poem about it appeared first in The Dial (78, January 1925, 8), with its apt description of this "true curio": "A conifer contrived in imitation of the glyptic work of jade and hard stone cutters/ . . . . This porcupine-quilled, infinitely complicated starkness—" "not of interest to the monkey, / but to the animal higher up which resembles it." In March, MM used the poem in the second edition of Observations where it occupied page 30, a space formerly given to "Poetry," whose new thirteen-line version needed only page 31.
SAINT NICHOLAS' CHAMELEON
might I, if you can find it, be given
a chameleon with tail
that curls like a watch spring; and vertical
on the body — including the face — pale
tiger-stripes, about seven;
(the melanin in the skin
having been shaded from the sun by thin
bars; the spinal dome
beaded along the ridge
as if it were platinum)?
Complete Poems, p. 196.
"Letters to the Editors," Life, 45 (15 September 1958), 10.
MM's note to “Saint Nicholas" tells us where to look for the chameleon portrayed in the first stanza : "See photograph in Life, September 15, 1958, with a letter from Dr. Doris Cochran, curator of reptiles and amphibians, National Museum, Washington, D.C." (Complete Poems, PP. 293-94.) Dr. Cochran had responded to an article, "Freckles: Why Do They Com?" and she explained that melanin, which causes tan in human skin, is found also in most vertebrates. She offered as an example the photograph of a chameleon darkened by exposure to light except where its cage bars had cast shadows. Long interested in both chameleons and protective coloration, MM transformed this photograph into a wished-for Christmas gift.
MM ON MODERN POETRY, 1912-1926.
If one assigns as its month of birth October, 1912, the date on the first issue of Poetry: A Magazine of Verse, the "new poetry" was only fourteen years old when MM chronicled its history for the Anthology of Magazine Verse for 1926, edited by William Stanley Braithwaite. Never reprinted by MM, this essay is here transcribed from the Anthology (Boston: B.J. Brimmer, 1926, pp. 172-179).
"NEW" POETRY SINCE 1912
BY MARIANNE MOORE
In America what is often referred to as modern poetry received marked impetus in 1912. Converted from the manner of "A DOME OF MANY-COLOURED GLASS" (1912) to the apparently new newness of Imagisme (1913), Amy Lowell became "the recognized spokesman of the Imagist group." Inaugurally arresting, however-- that is to say really inaugural--Ezra Pound invented the term Imagisme; and A Few Don'ts by an Imagist presented by him in 1913 in the March issue of Poetry, A Magazine of Verse, advocated composing "in sequence of the musical phrase, not in sequence of a metronome; direct treatment of the thing, whether subjective or objective; the use of absolutely no word that does not contribute to the presentation"; and in 1914 with work of his own, appeared poems by Richard Aldington, F. S. Flint, H. D., Amy Lowell, Skipwith Cannéll, William Carlos Williams, James Joyce, John Cournos, F. M. "Hueffer," and Allan Upward.
Mr. Braithwaite felt in Imagisme, "an intensifying quality of mood," Richard Aldington felt in it "an accurate mystery," and in answer to the abjection that Imagist poetry was "petty poetry, minutely small and intended to be so,” Miss May Sinclair observed that the critic "is not justified in counting lines." Of image-making power as "common to all poets,"
she remarked, "When Dante saw the souls of the damned falling like leaves down the banks of Acheron, it is an image, it is also imagery. It makes no difference whether he says are leaves or only like leaves. The flying leaves are the perfect image of the damned souls. But when Sir John Suckling says his lady's feet peep in and out like mice he is only using imagery." H. D.’s "Pines," i.e., "Oread," which appeared first in Wyndham Lewis Blast (1914), Richard Aldington's "The Poplar," and Ezra Pound’s "The Garret" seem to one incontrovertibly illustrative of the Imagist doctrine.
In 1915 and 1916, under direction of Richard Aldington, "The Poets’ Translation Series" was published by The Egoist Press, which was under the direction of Miss Harriet Shaw Weaver, and the starkness and purity of these translations is allied in one's mind with Imagism and Vorticism--Ezra Pound and certain of his Imagists being identical with certain of Wyndham Lewis’s Vorticists.
The "new" poetry seemed to justify itself as a more robust form of Japanese poetry--that is perhaps to say, of Chinese poetry--although a specific and more lasting interest in Chinese poetry came later. In 1913, coincident with the translation into English of "Gitan-jali," Rabindranath Tagore visited the United States, was termed by our press, "The creator of a new age in literature," and W. B. Yeats wrote in "The Athenaeum," "A whole people, a whole civilization, immeasureably strange to us, seems to have been taken up into this imagination; and yet we are not moved because of its strangeness, but because we have met our own image; as though we had walked in Rossetti's willow wood, or heard, perhaps for the first time in literature, our voice as in a dream." Felt by public and poets alike to be important, "North of Boston" by Robert Frost, appeared in 1914, "A Boy's Will" having been published the previous year.
The Egoist, Poetry of Chicago, and The Little Review of Chicago, were Hospitable to "new" poetry,
as was Alfred Kreymborg's Others. With a subsequently diverse and justifiable use of no rhyme, part rhyme, all rhyme, Alfred Kreymborg had to some, in his early practice of vers libre and his encouragement of the "vers libertine" as Louis Untermeyer denominates the writer of free verse--the aspect of a Cambodian devil-dancer. One recalls the emphatic work of William Carlos Williams whose book, "The Tempers" had appeared in 1913; a sliced and cylindrical, complicated yet simple use of words by Mina Loy; an enigmatically axiomatic Progression of the Verb "To Be" by Walter Arensberg, and a poem by him entitled "Ing" which corroborated the precisely perplexing verbal exactness of Gertrude Stein’s "Tender Buttons"--a book which had already appeared.
Ing? Is it possible to mean ing?
for the termination in g
of the simple fractures
has accordingly a value for soap
so present to
And p says: Peace is.
And suppose the i
to be big in ing
Then Ing is to ing
accompanied by times
and the meaning is a possibility
In Ezra Pound one recognized that precise explicit "positiveness"--felt in him by Wallace Stevens--and he was the "new" poetry’s perhaps best apologist as he reiterated in articles contributed to Miss Monroe's
magazine, his feeling that "there should be in America the 'gloire de cénacle.'" "He is knowledge’s lover," as Glenway Wescott has said, "speaking of it and to it an intimate idiom which is sometimes gibberish,” and if his equivalents for that which is "dead" or foreign seem to some not always perspicuous, his contagiously enjoyable enjoyment of and his unpedantic rendering of "dead" language have done as much as have his own poems, one feels--to create an atmosphere in which poetry is likely to be written. Adelaide Crapsey's apartness and delicately differentiated footfalls, her pallor and color, were impressive. Wallace Stevens' sensory and technical virtuosity was perhaps the "new" poetry's greatest ornament and the almost imperceptibly modern, silver-chiming resonance of "Peter Quince at the Clavier" did much to ameliorate popular displeasure. One recalls in "Primordia," an insisted upon starkness:
The blunt ice flows down the Mississippi,
and a complexity of apprehension:
Compilation of the effects
of magenta blooming in the Judas-tree
And of purple blooming in the eucalyptus--
As Kenneth Jewett remarked (in The Transatlantic Review, April, 1924) "his perfected, two-dimensional still lifes stand like rests or held chords in the progression of his complete harmony." T. S. Eliot’s scrutiny of words and of behavior was apparent in his "Portrait of a Lady." Mr. Eliot "has not confined himself to genre nor to society portraiture," says Ezra Pound. "His
lonely men in shirt sleeves leaning out of windows
are as real as his ladies who
come and go
Talking of Michelangelo."
Writers of free verse were, for the most part, regarded as having been influenced by Laforgue, Rimbaud, and other French poets. Alfred Kreymborg, Maxwell Bodenheim, Carl Sandburg, Marsden Hartley, Muna Lee, Wallace Gould, Man Ray, Adolf Wolff, Helen Hoyt, Orrick Johns, Conrad Aiken, Amy Lowell, Evelyn Scott, Lola Ridge, Marjorie Allen Seiffert, Donald Evans, Emanuel Carnevali, Arthur Davison Ficke, and Witter Bynner, contributed to making respectable as poetry, verse which was not rhymed. In 1916, certain of these, under the names Emanuel Morgan, Anne Knish, Elijah Hay, purporting to be a new school, termed themselves Spectrists. Vachel Lindsay's declamatory and in some respects unesthetic pictorialism (1915-16), pleased, displeased, and pleased the public--his originality in "trading rhymes for bread" having earlier made a good impression. Resisted and advertised, Edgar Lee Masters' "Spoon River Anthology" (1915) seemed a technical pronunciamento.
One associates with 1921 rather than with 1913, 1915, 1916, or 1917, the morosely imaginative and graphic work of D. H. Lawrence and recalls his introversive but in mood none the less emancipated poem, "Snake":
He drank enough
And lifted his head, dreamily as one who has
And flickered his tongue like a forked night on
the air, so black,
Seeming to lick his lips,
And looked around like a god, unseeing into the air
In 1920 and 1921, readers of new poetry noted the work of E. E. Cummings-- its sleights of motion and emotion. A great deal has been made of the small "i" as used by Mr. Cummings and of certain subsidiary characteristically intentional typographic revivals and innovations on his part. While "extreme," he is, however, "only superficially modern," as has been pointed out by Dr. W. C. Blum, and truly major aspects of his work are "feeling for American speech," "rapid
unfailing lyrical invention," ability to convey the sense of speed, "of change of position," "the sensations of effective effort."
Various child poets received, in 1920, the respectful attention of the public. American Indian poetry has also, at intervals, been introduced to us, as has the Negro spiritual. Leon Srabian Herald, though as yet without full command of technique, Glenway Wescott, and Yvor Winters--the one somewhat delicately Persian, the other somewhat constricted--R. Ellsworth Larsson, Harold Monro, Peter Quennell, Edith Sitwell, Osbert and Sacheverell Sitwell, have produced work which is, if not purely modern, properly within the new movement. Catholic in using either rhyme or no rhyme, certain others, not modern, yet by no means old-fashioned, manifest vigor which predominates it would seem, over newness. In Joseph Auslander, for example, we find a centaur-like and entrenched individuality of this non-confirming variety.
One recognizes in Ralph Cheever Dunning's depth and sobriety of treatment, a phase of contemporary watchfulness against ineptness. Although not especially recent, Mr. Dunning evinces, as Ezra Pound has observed, "clarity of impact," "surety," "exact termination of expression," "originality" in being superior to current fashions in verse.
Categorically "formal," as are George Dillon and Archibald MacLeish, Scofield Thayer is a new Victorian--reflective, bi-visioned, and rather wilfully unconventional. We have a mixture, apparently, of reading and of asserted detachment from reading, emotion being expressed through literal use of detail:
I agitate the gracile crescent
Which calls itself a fern:
and through what seems a specific reviving of incident. Tension affords strength, as is felt in certain verbally opposed natural junctures of the unexpected--"a gentle keenness," "gradual flames," "concision of a flame gone stone"--the mechanics being that of resistance.
It is perhaps beside the point to examine novel aspects of successive phases of poetic expression, inherited poetry having been at one time new, and new poetry even in its eccentricities seeming to have its counterpart in the poetry of the past--in Hebrew poetry, Greek poetry, Chinese poetry. That which is weak is soon gone; that which has value does, by some strange perpetuity, live as part of the serious continuation of literature.
The Columbia University Rare Books and MSS Division contains 82 letters, notes and postcards from MM to various friends, writers, and business acquaintances, including correspondence from her as the editor of The Dial. The entire MM collection contains numerous letters to MM as well.
18 tls, 1 pcs to Melville Henry Cane, 1925-67;
3 tls to Hart Crane, 1926, re. rejection of poems by Dial;
5 tls to Isidor Schneider, 1928-29; re. rejection of poems;
2 tls to Louis Zukovsky 3/17/28-4/12/28
1 tls to Leippert, 6/17/33;
4 tls, 1 tpcs to Random House, 1938-1955;
1 tls to Henry W. Wells, 12/25/41;
2 als to Mark Van Doren 5/8 & 5/15/42;
1 als to Mrs. Rhodes, 10/20/48;
1 tls to Kurt Wolff, 4/26/51;
4 tls to Jacques Barzun; 1952-63
4 als, 1 ans, 7 tls 1 tns to John Schaffner, 1953-67;
2 als, 2 ans to Mr. & Mrs. John Schaffner, 1953-56;
1 tls to Justin O'Brien, 9/22/54;
3 tls, 2pcs to William Cabell Greet, 3/3/25-11/1/56;
1 als to Eleanor Robson Belmont, 8/17/55;
1 als, 1 tns to Mrs. John Schaffner 8/26/57 & 12/8/62;
2 tls to Cass Canfield, 3/21 & 4/16/59;
1 tls to John Appleton, 7/1/59;
1 als, 2 tls to Allan Nevens, 1961;
1 tls to W. W. Norton & Co., 5/8/62;
2 tls, 2 tpcs to Robert D. Loomis, 8/29 -11/4/65;
1 tls to Frederick W. Dupee, 10/28/65.
Stapleton, Laurence. Marianne Moore: The Poet’s Advance. Princeton University Press 1978. xviii + 283 pages. $15.00
Of previous book-length, studies of Marianne Moore, she herself has provided the precis: "We are not daft about the meaning but this familiarity/with wrong meanings puzzles one." That "the love of doing hard things" should be commemorated by such unrigorous votaries is an irony the author of Observations would relish and deplore, alert to the Jamesian nuances of literary injustice. But that she should suffer it herself . . . !
Laurence Stapleton has written the first useful commentary on MM's work--tho first book that belongs on the same shelf with The Complete Poems. By dint of investigation Miss Stapleton has discovered much that one wants to know about the composition of the poems, and her supplementary insights into MM’s prose and the symbiotic alliance with LaFontaine are valuable too. Revelations from the Moore archives include details drawn from workbooks and early drafts, letters, diaries, and records of conversation. We learn that Adam, in "Marriage", was metamorphosed from Apollo to Apollyon in an early version of the poem, and that "this division into masculine and feminine compartments of achievement will not do . . . one feels oneself to be an integer/but one is not one is a particle/in an existence to which Adam and Eve/are incidental to the plot." These deleted excursions are always more revealing than analysis of the extant, but Miss Stapleton is capable of taking us by surprise. Did we know, for example, that MM’s poems were "the ’proofs’ [she] had to find for things she had known for years?" Perhaps we did--but the critic’s succinct acknowledgement of
this by way of an anecdote about Sir Isaac Newton is instructive.
And had we stopped to think that MM's prose style, derivative as it is of Sir Thomas Browne and "eighteenth century exactitudes", gives the lie to "safe, however valid or intelligible, assumptions" while preserving the economy and irreverence" congenial to twentieth-century readers? Or that in the poems published after 1935 (Selected Poems) "the weave of meaning [is] closer and the spoken texture more open?"
Miss Stapleton shares with the subject of her study a gift for piercing glances, hut it must be admitted that she's more adept at generalization than close reading; her paraphrases often tell us no more than a cursory glance at the poem would disclose. Of "The Pangolin” she says: "Man . . . has various skills and traits; he is a paper-maker like the wasp and, 'strong-shod' like the ant-eater, he lives in his own habitat and slaves between sun and moon. But he is capable of learning that humour saves a few steps, can even save years. Like the armoured animal, he may be the prey of fear. . . ." Commentary of this kind may not subtract from the text, but one wonders who would be enlightened by it—perhaps only those who need to read a thing twice before being assured of apprehending it.
The unapologetic omission of any mention of "Poetry" is baffling, as is the lame defense of the poems written after 1950 in a chapter tellingly entitled "The Poet's Pleasure." Freckled with typos, the pages of this book seem to substantiate MM’s view of America as a land without proofreaders, but that's a minor matter. Miss Stapleton has succeeded in bringing to our attention much valuable material, and her book, as she says in praise of one of MM's poems, "sets a mark as the waves at high tide imprint the sand."
Abbott, Craig S. Marianne Moore: A Reference Guide. Boston: G.K. Hall & Co., 1978. xvi+153 pp. $18.00
This reference guide includes a brief chronological introduction, a list of principal works by MM, and 818 "writings about Marianne Moore, 1916-1976." The compiler has "attempted to list and abstract . . . all substantial criticism of Moore." In addition he has included "a large but merely representative selection" of less substantial items for "the light they shed on Moore's life, for their evidence as to the assimilation of Moore by American culture, and for their sometimes penetrating comments about Moore's work." For the most part, the bibliographical listings are correct, although some reprintings are listed as first printings, and page and year numerals are sometimes wrong. The compiler lists only the pages on which MM is mentioned, a practice which the user must discover for himself.
A reference guide of this kind is of use to students at the beginning stages of their work; the abstractions are a time-saving device. As a tool for the advanced scholar or as the basis for reputation studies, this guide falls far short, having failed to discover criticism by such important figures as Richard Aldington, Laura Benet, Austin Clarke, Dennis Donoghue, Babette Deutch, Kimon Friar, Roy Fuller, Horace Gregory, Daniel Hoffman, Harry Levin, Desmond McCarthy, Arthur Mizener, Mark Schorer, and Edmund Wilson.
Could anyone supply information on MM's use in "The Student" of the Latin motto Sapiet felici which at best could mean something like "it will have flavor to the happy", but which, really, scarcely makes sense. I imagine that the saying perhaps should run Sapiens est felix, which would mean, "The wise man is happy", but this is only a conjecture. MM implies that this is the motto of some school but does not offer the
name of the institution. Does anyone know which school had this, or something like it, as its motto?
In a note on a storage envelope, MM lists her "contribution" to Papyrus. A monthly magazine edited by Michael Monahan, Papyrus ran from July, 1903, to May, 1912; it was superceded by Phoenix in June, 1914. Can anyone track down MM's "contribution?"
MM submitted a 200-word review of Fashion in Genera1 and Printing Fashion in Particular, by John Johnson, to The Criterion on 12 April 1933, but the review was never published in that periodical. Was this untitled review published elsewhere?
IMAGES OF MARIANNE
"Images of Marianne," an exhibition of paintings, sculpture, drawings, and photographs of MM, will open at the Rosenbach Museum on 24 January 1980 and run until May first. Among over 100 items will be work by Marguerite Zorach, Malvina Hoffman, Diane Arbus, George Platt Lynes, Cecil Beaton, Richard Avedon, Cartier-Bresson, Napoleon Sarony, Gaston LaChaise, and many other artists. A special seminar is planned for February 1980. For further information, please write to Patricia C. Willis, Rosenbach Museum, 2010 DeLancey Place, Philadelphia, PA 19103.
[inside back cover]
TO OUR READERS
Upon the printed page,
also by word of mouth,
we have a record of it all . . .
— Sea Unicorns and Land Unicorns
We ask our readers to use printed page or word of mouth to tell other MM aficionados about the Marianne Moore Newsletter. Complimentary copies available upon request: MMN, 2010 DeLancey PI., Philadelphia, PA 19103.