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Marianne Moore Newsletter - Volume 5 Number 1 Spring 1981

Marianne Moore Newsletter

Volume V Number 1 Spring 1981

[inside front cover]


Volume V, Number 1, Spring 1981

Pterodactyl, drawn by Marianne Moore,
circa 1910.

All previously unpublished material by Marianne Moore is published here by permission of Clive E. Driver, Literary Executor of the Estate of Marianne C. Moore.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. Back issues available as issued at $3.50 except Volume I, No. 1 available in photocopy only. Please make all cheques payable to the Rosenbach Museum & Library.

Contributions welcome on all apsects of MM and her work, up to 750 words.

Address correspondence to Patricia C. Willis, Editor, MMN, The Rosenbach Museum & Library, 2010 DeLancey Pl., Philadelphia PA 19103.

by Clive E. Driver,
Literary Executor of the Estate
of Marianne C. Moore

ISSN 0145-8779

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Marianne Moore Newsletter

Volume V Number 1 Spring 1981

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MM entered Bryn Mawr College in October, 1905 and 1909. The record of those four years, found chiefly in her twice-weekly letters home, has two dramatic emphases: the perils of scholarship and the lure of writing. It reveals in detail how MM desired above all to study English but took instead a major in politics and a minor in biology, and shows that despite later disclaimers, she made up her mind become a writer.

Bryn Mawr, from its inception in 1885, sought to prove that women could sustain as vigorous an education as men. Its demanding program of science and the humanities gave young women much the same academic experience as that given their brothers at Harvard or Yale President M. Carey Thomas, who had received a summa cum laude Doctor of Philosophy degree in English and German philology from the University of Zurich, set the standard with entrance requirements which sorted out the capable. MM prepared for the examinations by more than a year’s coaching with Mary Jackson Norcross, Class of 1889. She then submitted to fifteen examinations in mathematics, ancient history, physiology, Latin, English, French and German. By passing all these examinations before matriculation, MM avoided the "conditions" with which many of her 112 classmates began college, obliged to make up work on some subjects.   

MM’s course of study gave her college years a climate of history and science, but there was another atmosphere whose relative importance matches, perhaps in fact outweighs, that of courses and exams. Arts and letters were in the air. In virtually every letter home, MM writes of books, exhibitions, symphonies, operas and plays. Repertory theatre companies and lecturers came to Bryn Mawr, and other cultural events could be found on weekly excursions to Philadelphia or occasional trips to New York and Washington. The students spent great blocks of time writing and performing plays, preparing fetes and pageants, composing songs, and

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"foregathering" at each other's teas, at which they perfected the art of conversation. The ferment of imaginative activity made heady wine; President Thomas sometimes cautioned the students against its powers.

MM's very candid letters paint the extracurricular life at college in vivid detail. They have considerably less to say about academic affairs. However, enough data emerge from the letters, MM's course record, and copies of examinations to explain her curriculum.

Except for requirements in English, philosophy and psychology, courses were chosen by the student under a strong advisory system. Each student kept her own official record in which were entered courses, grades, and professors' signatures. MM's record lists a total of 104 semester hours (32 hours in non-credit physical culture — field hockey, dance, swimming and other sports). At the end of her sophomore year, MM was advised to major in biology, her desire for English having been thwarted by her professors and her grades. At the end of her junior year, she was allowed to change her major to history and politics. In all, MM took eleven hours of "major biology" and twenty of "major history and politics."

Grades depended primarily on essay examinations, and MM was told time and again that her essays were "not clear," that she did not "make her point.” The grades used were failed, passed, merit, credit, and high credit (high credit was so rare that the recipient was expected to give a party). A student needed "merit" or above in 60 semester hours by the end of the first term, senior year: MM had earned 60 1/2 such hours to which she added three more in the final term. MM was an academically average student. But 1905 to 1909 at Bryn Mawr was another era, and MM succeeded in obtaining her degree, a feat which doubtless placed her on an intellectual scale in the 99th percentile of American women.

Extracurricular literary work competed with her regular studies. MM was elected in her sophomore year to the staff of Tipyn o'Bob. a literary magazine of about 30 pages which appeared eight times a year. Work

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on "the Tip" meant gathering, criticising, editing, and reading proof for poems and short stories. MM published eight poems and eight stories in the magazine. But with her non-literary studies demanding so much of her energy and leaving little time for other writing, MM discovered a developing tension when she reported giving in to the Muse's seizures or trying to block its Circean call. It seems that the further she was pushed away from writing or from literature as an academic pursuit, the more she determined to become a writer on her own terms.

We know well how the story ended. Its beginnings have been less explored, and the following pages suggest something of this early background. History and biology developed into life-long interests for MM,"but as subjects for her work rather than as subjects for research. Drawing and painting occupied some of her time at college, and in a much quoted remark, MM told Mrs. Otis Skinner in 1909 that she wanted to be a painter. She did have talent, and sketches and watercolors survive. But the contemporary record, written by herself, shows that from the moment she beheld the panoply of callings represented by the Bryn Mawr curriculum, she yearned to become a writer. The only English elective she seems to have been allowed was taken in her last year at college, and that was Imitative Writing. MM delighted in the course and in later years often commented on the importance to her of such early masters of style as Jonson, Bacon and Bishop Andrewes. But her grade was only "passed;" she did not become an imitative writer.



As a college student, the future woman of letters found herself subjected to contradictory experiences with regard to literature. MM took Bryn Mawr’s required, demanding English course, five hours a week for the first two years. Her desire to pursue "Major English" as a junior was thwarted by low marks in the course and

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her professors' reports that in her prose she was obscure and often failed to express her ideas or to make her point. At the same time, beginning in her sophomore year, several stories written for class were accepted by the undergraduate literary magazine, Tipyn o'Bob. Eight stories and eight poems were published before her graduation in 1909. By April, 1907, she was elected to the staff of the magazine.

The first stories taken by "The Tip" touched off a spate of writing in addition to that required for classes. Midyear examinations that year proved difficult and the next semester brought new resolve. To her mother, a teacher of high school English and source of literary advice and encouragement, MM wrote:

I shant be able to write stories much now as I need every minute to work. Ill work up if I do nothing else.
Miss Fullerton said on my weekly "you have narrative and descriptive ability I think but you must pay attention to the requirements." She also said I was "incoherent" and had no idea of how to manage situations. I try now to do the grind style of work and though its not exciting its worth while. . . . I may as well say that Ive given up "writing" entirely. What I can adapt to Tip from English, I will but nothing else. I don't know why I am so possessed to write. I know it is not because of what nice things people say and its not for the doing itself, for I cannot express myself.

(19 February 1907)

The notion of giving up writing prompted a story in the April Tipyn o'Bob, "The Discouraged Poet." In this tale of just over 500 words, MM describes a young man who thinks his verses poor and determines to write no more. Apprised of this decision, his guardian responds that he is merely too young for poetry. The youth reacts angrily and insists that he will write if he wants to, not realizing that his guardian applauds such an attitude.

The following Fall, MM began a biology major, a subject not her first choice. She had been prevented

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from majoring m English, and also considered switching to history and politics at the end of the semester. There was no literature or writing on her schedule (and would not be until "Imitative Writing", senior year) but they exercised their pull, unabated.

About this time MM became fast friends with Peggy James, Henry's niece and William's daughter. Writing especially "Uncle Henry's", came up for discussion with regularity. Henry James's presence at the college took several tangible forms. He had lectured there in 1905 on Balzac and had given the commencement address that June - three months before MM matriculated. College President M. Carey Thomas referred to James frequently in her chapel talks; the students read his work for pleasure; and Peggy James was a constant reminder of "The Master."

When, in October, 1907, William Morton Fullerton came to lecture on James, MM and her circle were well primed. MM found the lecture itself "bad in that Fullerton is pretentious and 'kryptic.'" But she recorded President Thomas remark the same day that Henry James’ earlier books were absolutely 'crystal-clear.' But that in his later style his ideas were the obstacle, that the complicated nature and the vast amount of what he had to communicate made lucidity impossible. . . " (17 October 1907).

MM had just been told by the editor of Tipyn o'Bob that a recent story showed that she was afraid of making her point and that she should "be obvious rather than too subtle, to be understood" (14 October 1907). These events coalesced, not surprisingly, in a new story, described m a letter home(24 October 1907):

Between lectures I scratch, in the hope that every "little bit helps" — and I have written, what I like better than anything I have ever writ before, a thing called The Nature of a Literary Man - Perhaps, "Pym"- It expresses nothing but a series of individual impressions in "my latest style" and is crystal-clear - If it doesn't come out, I shall not know what to think — It is what James calls the record of " a generation of nervous mood" but has a satisfactory solution—"

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John White Alexander. "A Quiet Hour." Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Temple Fund Purchase.

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Published as "Pym" in January, 1908, the story has components drawn from MM's recent experiences. Its setting includes a portrait of "an unknown lady in a green dress," a reference to "The Quiet Hour" by John White Alexander which MM had first admired at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art in 1905. MM meant the painting to refer to Peggy James and her "slippery hair;'' when Miss James failed to make the connection, MM explained it to her and said that she always tried to "put" her friends into her stories. The plot follows the vagaries of MM's attempts as a writer. Alexander, the narrator, faces conflict between writing and a more practical profession, cannot perform according to his employer-editor's requirements, and decides to return home to his guardian, Uncle Stanford. He has discovered that although "there are times when I should give anything on earth to have writing a matter of indifference to me, . . . it is undeniably convenient, in time of expressionary need, to be able to say things to the point."

Of the eight stories published in Tipyn o'Bob, "The Discouraged Poet" and "Pym" are alike in reflecting the plight of a young writer, expecially one caught in the dilemma of peer acceptance and faculty disapproval of her work. Hindsight shows how the dilemma was resolved: that MM never ceased to be "possessed to write"; that writing never "became a matter of indifference" to her; and that "in time of expressionarv need," MM developed "a burning desire to be explicit."


January 28.

Well again and out. But can I ever forget it, the faintly medicinal smell of things, the glare, the dazzling bed-spread, the wilted, sickly droop of my clothes on the half-open door of the closet!

And a fire once again. In the light of it, the past begins to look fairly serene, and the future (from a safe distance to be sure), fairly tranquil.

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But Daniel, big aggressive brute! I wonder whatever possessed Alden to give him to me. I think if there ever was an inexcusable perpetration of kindness, he is guilty of it. I see now why he is such a cynic. The cynics in life are the people who are always trying to do things for people who don't want things done for them.

And Charles! That man! No domestic could be more utterly a failure. The joy of a house untenanted by servants! I am thinking fairly hard. Things are beginning to materialize. I rest my eye fixedly upon my portrait of the unknown lady in the green dress. I watch an occasional diagonal of fire-light splash a path across her dark slippery hair, across the zigzag light parts in her dress, and over her hands. My words, I realize, are coming unusually well —when —knock, thump. Charles! to suggest if he may be allowed, that it is late— also, that I might be glad of something to eat, might I not? I feel the lateness of the hour to be discouraging but in no way "disconcerting." Food, I do not mention.

January 30.

What can be ailing me. My looks are a reflection on the civilization of my country and my feelings have no right to seek counterparts, even in Paganism. It's a pity anyone can play the spiritless old fowl under so little justifiable pressure. My work is bad also. I can no more write according to Cob's requirements and at the same time approve what I write, myself, than I can make it rain. l've got to buck up. Now that I've begun I have to stick it out. Revolting beast that Cob. I can hardly stand him. Says I am supersensitive, effeminate and perverse, charged too heavily with "scruples," always full of excuses and explanations. I may have bad judgment and fall short of the mark a little too often, but conscience — ! If I can scrape a pretext, in the shape of one provocation more, I shall throw up the sponge. A derelict life has in some ways attractions, it can't be denied. It is all in the copybooks that a man may lay down his life for his individualism. I begin to be convinced.

I have certainly been getting on no better, with no more satisfaction to myself than before I was ill. The whole confounded situation is worse than before.

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If Uncle Stanford comes out strongly and says he is sorry he drove me to this and made me take him seriously when he wag joking, if he wants to meet me squarely and says he wants me to come back and live with him again, and be social and a gentleman and start out again and try law (for I was promising in my profession), I am doubtful as to whether I can resist him. He took an unfair advantage of my youth and irascibility though, and my foolish early conception of what it is to be "game," (really game). I shall approach him contritely (of my own accord) under no circumstances whatever. If If I am playing the part of unregenerate prodical, I surely have character enough to sustain on either side, the side of conscious or the side of self-respecting, righteous wrath. Uncle Stanford is "playing" me consciouslesslv in his amised paternal patronage of me, and Cob is "trying" me to the last degree with his harshness and materialism. I daresay, my break with Uncle Stanford was unjustifiable. It was more or less his fault, though. If he had said, "Don't 'play' so much," I should very probably have said, "You impose on my good nature, child, with all this literary trifling. As you love what is good for you, read law," it was natural in the extreme, for me to attempt to prove to him that he was wrong and old-fashioned (in the old-fashioned sense of the word). Indeed, if Uncle Stanford comes, I shall become as hard-frozen as my premises, for despite the fact that I know I acted rashly, I cannot retract, unless I act the repentant prodigal, and I could not do that, with any great comfort, if Uncle Stanford were an angel in Heaven.

February 10.

He has been and gone. (For a reticent man he certainly has a compelling manner.) I bluff and chatter and hang fire the whole time without giving him or myself a grain of satisfaction. On the surface of it, it was all pretty funny. Uncle Stanford rather guilefully, "Are you feeling perfectly up to the mark, Alexander?" I, assuming a judicial air, "I'm thoroughly myself — anything hectic about my appearance?" I suggest that I may appear subdued, from the great extent to which I have recently been giving my attention to depressing subjects. I say that the involved, unhappy side of existence interests me a good deal— a good deal more than the

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happy-go-lucky surface aspect, I then refuse to elaborate. I come to the conclusion that I have been talking about myself unduly. I don't as a general thing approve of putting checks on spontaneity. One's conversational and more practical abilities suffer somehow, through a straining to appear judicial and mature. One gets to the point where coercion is indispensable to accomplishment. It is advisable, however, for the young at all costs to avoid in the presence of the old and critical the appearance of being effervescent.

I bring up, in the course of time, the subject of writing, touch in a light, apparently unconsciously affectionate manner upon the possibilities of the art. Also say there are times when I should give anything on earth to have writing a matter of indifference to me. Then add with a glance modestly askance that it is undeniably convenient, in time of expressionary need, to be able to say things to the point. And, irrelevantly, that I like the thing for the element of personal adventure in it.

Well, so much for Uncle Stanford. He sees through me and very evidently disapproves of me. Fond of me or not, he may go hang— (if he cannot take the trouble to come down to realities with me, and bring about an understanding). I like him, though— as much as he likes me, 1 rather think.

February 20.

The die is cast! "Manuscript and hesitations seek the flames together." I have been a fool and should have "turned" long before. I would have but for that dastardly instinctive dread of equinoxial effects which is present with the most of us at all such inconvenient times as this. That I could be worse off than I have been is, of course, as a matter of fact, impossible. In friendly surroundings mental discomfort is quite endurable. I am relieved, however, that I have at last come to the conclusion that false pride is too serious an obstruction to happiness to be put up with. My encounter with Cob, amusing — strong element of the unexpected in it. I give him my article, and turn to go. He stops me, asks me some insolent, trivial question and I start again for the office door.

"This done?" he pursues,

I nod and say, "I think so."

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"Are you coming on better?" he inquires. I meditate a clever rejoinder and, in so far as I am a judge, a creeping disgust spreads over my features.

"I like what I have just given you better than you will, but — "

"You think it’s worth something?"

"Since you force me to it, that is what I think of it" and without having had the least intention of it, slip open the little iron door of the office stove and shoot the whole mass onto a bed of little, feathering flames. I remark cooly, "I am developing a passion for frankness, Cob."

The question is now, how I can explain my crazy zig-zag course to Uncle Stanford with all due regard for my own proper feelings on the question. I cannot say that I am tired of being alone. I cannot say that I am unable to stand the strain of analytical, attentive work. I am reduced to the truth. And having never yet told anyone I was sorry (when I was anything but jesting —Allah!).

I feel that I may have been a little stubborn. One must be pertinaciously ingenious as well as genuinely a little blind, to follow long a course which insists upon maintaining its original, experimental character.

If I am not travelling toward my ideas with rapidity now though, I should like to know what is happening. I've spointed my chances for greatness, I surmise, by having made a bull in my career at the very start. I can to a certain extent, however, redeem myselt, if I put my mind on the task. Ineffective as I have been hitherto, I have a good deal behind me. I could afford to be, however, much more keenly alive to things than I generally manage to be. I shall go in for some actual experience and prepare to grow mentally acquisitive. I’m all too conscious of my having a "point of view." I here and now put off the semblance of dignity and for a short time ostentatiously consecrate myself to toil.

February 22.

I must telegraph Uncle Stanford and leave. My love of the material tends to interfere with all this sudden display of method and efficiency. I tend to place a restraining hand upon the silly fools that affect a claim upon me, while I stand like the idiot Celt, head back, mouth open, eyes gleaming, my mind gone from me with a

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conviction of the existence aloft of a new "possibility." (I may be said I think to have a very delicious appreciation of the humourous.)

My surroundings certainly have been decently congenial. Their calm, fond aspect, their inability to shrivel fills me with an unbounded admiration and affection for them, and they prove to me, poor things (more satisfactorily than their animate associates) that I have a sympathetic side to me, and a faint suggestion of something more potential. And they are not an everlasting test of one’s bigness.

The portrait and my dark blue rug, with its all-over snail-shell pattern, I shall take with me. All else I shall abjure, with employer, servant, and dog. Living is a fairly simple matter, for me to have made such a mess of it. In the effort to compass things in an original manner, however, anything can be made to come failure-end up. The effort of individual isolation, above all others. Nothing done for effect, is worth the cost.

"God knows you can enter the game if you’ll only pay for the same, and the price of the game is a candle, one single flickering candle—"

But enough of this reflection and melancholy, or a moment more, and I shall have forgotten mayhap what I am going to do. Here goes for a beginning — "Dear Uncle— "

Marianne Moore,‘09.


This summary of MM's college courses is taken from her official course record book. Numerals represent semester hours; P=passed, M=merit, C=credit; #="minor course," *="major course”+= required course.

Course                                                                Professor

                                Freshman Year-1

Latin#-Livy, Composition                    3    M    A. Wheeler

Latin#-Horace                                      3    M    F. Frank

English+-Lectures                            2 1/2  P    L. Donnelly

English+-Elocution                            1/2    C    S. King

English+-Composition                         2    M    S. Marsh

Biology#                                              5     C    D. Tennent

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                                Freshman Year-2

Latin#-Cicero, Compos.                      3    C    A. Wheeler

Latin#-Horace                                     2    M    F. Frank

English+-Lectures                           2 1/2  M    L. Donnelly

English+-Elocution                            1/2  M    S. King

English+-Composition                        2    M    S. Marsh

Biology#-Vertebrates                          3    M    D. Tennent

Biology#-Embryology                        2    C    D. Rennent

                                Sophomore Year-1

English+-Lectures                            2 1/2 P     L. Donnelly

English+-Elocution                            1/2  M    S. King

English+-Composition                        2    P     K. Fullerton

Italian#                                                3    P     R. Holbrook

Medieval History#                              5    C    C. Andrews

Law#                                                   2    P    C. Ashley

                                Sophomore Year - 2

English+-Lectures                          2 1/2  P    L. Donnelly

English+-Elocution                           1/2 M    S. King

English+-Composition                       2   M    K. Fullerton

Italian#                                               3   M    R. Holbrook

Medieval History#                             5   P    W. Smith

Law#                                                  2   C    C. Ashley

                                Junior Year-1

History*                                            5    M    W. Smith

Political Economy#                          5    P    C. Willimason

Biology*                                           5    P    J. Warren

                                Junior Year-2

History*                                           5    P    R. Johnston

Political Economy#                         5    P    M. Parris

Biology*- Zoology                          3    P    J. Warren

Biology*-Comp. Anatomy              3    M   J. Warren

                                Senior Year-1

Oriental History*                            5    P    G. Barton

Economics/Politics#                       5    M   C. Williamson

Hist. of Philosophy+                       3    M    T. de Laguna

Psychology+                                   3    M    J. Leuba

French and German Orals                     P

                                Senior Year-2

Imitative Writing                            2    P    G. King

History of Doctrine                        2    C    G. Barton

Political Science*                          5    P    M. Parris

General Philosophy+                     3    P    T. de Laguna

General Psychology+                    2    P    J. Leuba

Biology*-Nervous System            1    M  J. Warren

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The "Lectures on Literature" section of required freshman and sophomore English at Bryn Mawr called for "Private Reading." MM's initialled lists appear here.

[page 16]

[page 17]


These eight poems appeared in Bryn Mawr’s Tipyn o'Bob during MM's sophomore through senior years, 1907-1909.

Under a Patched Sail.

"Oh, we'll drink once more
When the wind’s off shore,"
We'll drink from the good old jar,
And then to port,
For the time grows short.
Come lad- to the days that are!
                4 (February 1907), 12.

To Come after a Sonnet.1

A very awkward sketch, 'tis true;
But since it is a sketch of you, 
And then because I made it, too,
I like it here and there;— do you?
                    4 (February 1907), 25.

The Sentimentalist.2

Sometimes in a rough beam sea,
When the waves are running high,
I gaze about for a sight of the land,
Then sing, glancing up at the sky, "
'Here’s to the girl I love,
And I wish that she were nigh,
If drinking beer would bring her here’
I'd drink the ship’s hold dry."
                    5 (April 1908), 26.

To My Cup-bearer.

A lady or a tiger-lily,
Can you tell me which,
I see her when I wake at night,
Incanting, like a witch.
Her eye is dark, her vestment rich
Embroidered with a silver stitch,
A lady or a tiger-lily,
Slave, come tell me which?
                    5 (April 1908),  21.

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To a Screen-maker.3

Not of silver nor of coral
But of weather-beaten laurel
Carve it out.

Carve out here and there a face
And a dragon circling space
Coiled about.

Represent a branching tree
Uniform like tapestry
And no sky.

And devise a rustic bower
And a pointed passion flower
Hanging high.
                    6 (January 1909), 3.

A Red Flower.

Cast upon the pot,
Will make it
Overflow, or not, 
As you can refrain
From fingering The leaves again.
                    6 (May 1909), 14.


If you will tell me why the fen
Appears impassable, I then 
Will tell you why I think that I 
Can get across it, if I try.
                    6 (June 1909), 10.


He often expressed
A curious wish,
To be interchangeably
Man and fish;
To nibble the bait
Off the hook,
Said he,
And then slip away
Like a ghost 
In the sea.
                    6 (March 1909), 7.


1This poem refers to "Sonnet" by Mary Nearing, MM's classmate. "Sonnet" commemorates MM's appearance as a lady-in-waiting at the May Day celebration in 1906, "clothed in garments rich and rare / Of palest green, thy braids of red-gold hair." It was published in Tipyn o'Bob, 5 (November 1907), 12.

2MM corrected her copy so that line four reads: "Then sing, with a glance at the sky".

3This poem was reprinted in Bryn Mawr's Alumnae Magazine, The Lantern, 17 (June 1909), 28, with no variants. Revised, it appeared in H. D.'s article, "Marianne Moore" in The Egoist, 3 (August 1916), 118-119:

[page 19]

                                He Made This Screen

                            Not of silver nor of coral,
                            But of weatherbeaten laurel.

                            Here, he introduced a sea
                            Uniform like tapestry;

                            Here, a fig-tree; there, a face;
                            There, a dragon circling space —

                            Designating here, a bower;
                            There, a pointed passion-flower.

After it was used in this form (but with no initial capitals) in Poems, 1921, it was dropped from MM's collections.

4MM revised the title to read "Perseus to Polydectes" about 1914 but she did not reprint the poem until it became "I May, I Might, I Must" in The Trinity Review, 11 (Spring-Summer 1957), 23, with initial capitals removed, except for line one. It appeared in O To Be a Dragon and in Complete Poems in the 1957 version.


There! You shed a ray
     of whimsicality on a mask of profundity so
          terrific, that I have been dumbfounded by
it oftener than I care to say.
               The book? Titles are chaff.

     brief and full of energy, you contribute to your father’s
           legibility and are sufficiently 
synthetic. Thank you for showing me 
               your father's autograph.

(Complete Poems, 1981, p. 89)

In this poem, MM recalls an incident from her first year at Bryn Mawr College. Early in 1906, she was involved in her first "midyears." By 11 February, the hardworking freshman was able to write home that she had taken her last exam and was spending some vacation time on the skating pond. In her letter, MM described the scene:

[page 20]

John Andrews, Clarence Leuba, and Ruth Wheeler were trying to learn to skate. John is the best though the smallest. He was fond of racing furiously and then sprawling out flat on his back for some minutes to rest. John said to Ruth, Do you think I skate well? Ruth said, "well I don’t know." "How do you think I skate?" As John is hardly big enough to see and his ankles bend almost completely over, it was ludicrous. Nellie [Ellen Shippen] asked John who he was. He said, I am John Andrews. My father wrote the English History."

John's father was Charles McLean Andrews, professor of history at Bryn Mawr from 1899 until 1907 when he took a post at Yale. His major work was the Pulitzer Prize-winning four-volume The Colonial Period of American History (1934-38). While at Bryn Mawr, however, he published The History of England for Schools and Colleges (1903).

In her sophomore Year, MM took Dr. Andrews's course in Medieval History and might have used his textbook. Her comments in letters home suggest the course's difficulty for her, a self-described "grind:"

History will be hard for me but I like Dr. Andrews better than anyone Ive had so far in college. I think his ideas are wonderful and all the more because they are not done up in Miss Donnelly's confetti.
                                                                                    (8 October 1906)

I like the man better every day. He is the "biggest" man I've had yet. I wish I could have Major History with him.    
                                                                                    (13 November 1906)

History is discouraging. . . . Dr. Andrews wrote at the end of my quiz paper, Try to express yourself more clearly and accurately and so I hope I may get along better at midyears.    
                                                                                (11 December 1906)

Despite her trepidation, MM finished the course with the necessary grade, "merit." Ten years later, when MM wrote "’He Wrote the History Book,'" she had at hand both her letters recalling the incident and a college scrapbook containing two photographs of a little boy on the ice pond at Bryn Mawr. The poem appeared in all MM's books of collected poems, a tribute to both seven-year-old John Andrews’s "whimsicality" and his father's "legibility."

[page 21]


This amateur snapshot shows MM dressed as a lady-in-waiting for the May Day celebration at Bryn Mawr in 1906. Once every four years, May Day was honored with a full day of pageantry, including maypole and Morris dances, processions and plays.

With her red hair piled high and dressed in green brocade, MM made an impression on her friends. Years later Hilda Doolittle, who, as a day student, barely knew MM wrote her a letter via Bryn Mawr (7 September 1915) to ask if the poet was the same MM once robed in green on May Day.

[page 22]


The Ben Greet Players, a well known repertory company, brought "The Tempest" to Bryn Mawr College on 25 May 1907. MM, then a sophomore, wrote her response to it in a long letter home on the 26th:

Caliban needs an "extra." Ive never known anything so wonderful. (Ben was Caliban I learn) Before he came on we heard muttered sounds like those of a dying cow or crocodile. Then a frog-like arm "bust" through the shrubbery onto a couch, and after he stuck his head through, he tumbled, half-scrambled over it to the floor. For some time we didnt see his face and it was a shock when he looked up. His body was smooth dusty blue-green, with a portion of black fur round the middle, bits of fur on arms, toes, and all over, a straggly black crop of hair that drooped over his face --which was pale, splocked with hair etc, eyes red. The green shaded to white on the stomack. He fauned on Prospero half rising from the ground and falling back heavily. His voice was from Hades direct, a rocky rain-crow utterance with a catch in it. The scene was funny beyond words where Trincolo finds him and says, "A fish, or a man?" Arms where the fins should be, yet a fish, a fish.

"The Tempest" had been assigned reading for MM in February, and the markings in her collected Shakespeare indicate that the "man or fish" passage had not struck her then as it was to do in performance.

In 1909, Trincolo’s remark about Caliban (from Act II, scene ii) sparked a poem which appeared that spring in two Bryn Mawr College publications and, after one interim reworking, contributed three lines to "The Plumet Basilisk" in 1933. MM chronicled the poem's history in letters to her family:

I have a verse of not very high character which is coming out in the Lantern. . . .Ennui I call it--

                            He often expressed
                            A curious wish 
                            To be interchangeably 
                            Man and fish 
                            To nibble the bait

[page 23]

                           Off the hook said he
                           And then slip away
                           Like a ghost in the sea.

I am not proud of it, but I like the rhythm and I intend to try, till I do write something-- . . . .

These sporadic poems I don’t work over, (though my stories I do), so I smile (as if I had found a penny) when people tell me how they like them and talking about writing poetry and so on as if it [were] gymnastics or piano practice.
                                                                                (14 February 1909)

I have had an experience with my "poem" which may interest you but I will not retail it now — Dr. Sanders told his class my -^/-^^/-^^/-^/- interchangeably man and fish was (dithyramb) glyconic (after he had talked to me about it though) Of course Im pleased —
                                                                                (9 March 1909)

The time I said I would tell about was when Helen Dudley and I went down to the Sanders after Dr. Sanders asking me about my poem in class. . . . he handed me a paper. . . and I read— a version of my poem with the end changed— You see the scholars instinct got the better of him— He liked one line and he couldn’t bear to have the rest out of keeping and to have me remain unaware of the fact— It was kind too for I had puzzled for a long time and had finally hit upon a metre (where I had to change the metre) that was not the right one — He added, over the top, "Alkaios to Sappho" which of course was in spirit of Plato and Horace— (Plato): "He adjusted his wreath and walked off smiling to the sacrifices."

The next day Margaret Hobart said, "Dr. Sanders lectured half an hour this morning on your poem— He didn't say it was yours but he marked it off in feet, the 'interchangeably man and fish,"’ I'm delighted for it shows he takes it impersonally and shows he was not tired and done with the metre, when he wrote it out for me — He says it should go

[page 24]

                        ""'He’d nibble the bait
                        Like any man,
                        And then take a weed
                        And be fish again" —

I have it,

                        "To nibble the bait
                        Off the hook said he,
                        And then slip away
                        Like a ghost in the sea."

I don’t give the affair undue weight but I am pleased for he referred to it two days— He said. . . that he had asked Miss Crandel about it (about the meaning) and then given it up — I pretended an explanation but said I excused myself for writing things that had no idea, by making use of the privilege of youth for if I waited till my thoughts no longer were inconsequent, I would not have incentive to write, perhaps or would have incentive and be ashamed to hazard things by reason of unwelcome staidness, that it was simply living, in the pleasure of the moment— He seemed satisfied. . . .I felt like a mouse on a very high chair, nevertheless pleased—  
                                                                                    (15 March 1909)

When "Ennui" appeared in Tipyn o’Bob (see above, p. 15), it had become a ten-line poem. The Lantern reprinted it in its annual issue, 18 (June 1909), 110.1ts next stage survives in MS from about 1915 with a title quoted from The Count's Millions by Emile Gaboriau (New York, 1913), p. 351:

                        He knew "exactly how many Yawns
                        are expressed by the verb 'to 
                                Amuse one's self.'"
                     I once heard him express a curious wish
                    To be interchangeably man and fish —
                    To fathom the sea, to inhabit the air;
                    He charged the unchangeable with despair.

Finally we see the one unchanging line in "The Plumet Basilisk" (Hound and Horn, 7[Oct.-Dec., 1933],32)where

                                the plumet portrays
                            mythology's wish
                            to be interchangeably man and fish-

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