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Marianne Moore Newsletter - Volume 5 Number 2 Fall 1981

Marianne Moore Newsletter

Volume V Number 2 Fall 1981

[inside front cover]


Volume V, Number 2, Fall 1981


Jerboas, drawn by Marianne Moore
at the Museum of Natural History, 
New York,  July 1932.

All previously unpublished material by Marianne Moore is published here by permission of Clive E. Driver, Literary Executor of the Estate of Marianne C. Moore.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, Number 1 available in photocopy only. Please make all cheques payable to the Rosenbach Museum & Library.

Contributions welcome on all aspects 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.

Copyright © 1981
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 2 Fall 1981

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The following four illustrations are described by MM in the first section of "The Jerboa," subtitled "Too Much" and filled with images of the opulent artifacts of the ancients. Originally called "Poverty," this section points up the contrasting modesty and simplicity of the jerboa in the second section, "Abundance."

"These people liked small things; / they gave to boys little paired playthings such as / . . . ichneumon and snake," MM’s drawing from Children’s Toys of Bygone Days: A History of Playthings of All Peoples from Prehistoric Times to the XIX Century, by Karl Grober, New York, 1929, p. 10. (Rosenbach 1250/5/172)

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Goose-grease box "with pivoting/lid incised with the duck-wing/or reverted duck-/head," MM's sketch from the Illustrated London News, 21 November 1931. (Rosenbach 1250/4/48)

"The folding bed-room" made by Cheops for his mother, Queen Hetepheres I, from the New York Times, 31 July 1932, Rotogravure Section, p. 1.

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The "pine cone / or fir cone — with holes for a fountain" from The Periodical, 17 (February, 1929).

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"In Lieu of the Lyre" was written in April and May 1965, for the Harvard Advocate (November, 1965). Writing to Stuart A. Davis, the student editor who requested the poem, MM described herself: "a student, which I am --especially in debt to Harvard. . ." (T.L.C. 10 April 1965). The poem conveys MM's gratitude to those at Harvard to whom she felt indebted, including Harry Levin, her supporter and mentor during the long process of translating The Fables of La Fontaine.

In the poem, MM says that the "invitation to Harvard made grateful. . . / one whose 'French aspect' was invented by / Professor Levin," referring, as she notes, to Harry Levin's essay in the Festschrift for Marianne Moore's Seventy-seventh Birthday. MM’s translations, of course, are Professor Levin's starting point there, to which he allies her propensity for natural history. While in the debate between Nature and Art, he says, the English poets have sided with Nature and the French with Art, MM's "dual allegiance reveals itself through a paradox: as a naturalist, Miss Moore is even more artful in her approach than Buffon" (p. 42). Consistent in his appraisals, Levin had referred in a 1950 Harvard symposium to MM's "unique position as a kind of natural historian among our poets" (The Defense of Poetry, Cambridge, 1950, p. 70).

The lyre stands inevitably for lyric poetry. But in this instance, it also represents an engraving of a lyrebird, which MM associated both with Harvard and natural history in the tradition of the Comte de Buffon, the eighteenth century pioneer in the field. The Harvard College Library had reproduced on postcards an aquatint of a lyrebird from Audebert and Vieillot's Histoires Naturelles . . . des Oiseaux de Paradis, Paris, 1802. While she was writing "In Lieu of the Lyre," MM had a quantity of the cards and was using them for correspondence.

The lyrebird, found only in Australia, was discovered in 1798 and became a favored subject of illustrators of

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natural history. First called the bird of paradise, its name was finally settled on as Menura superba, superb bird with the crescent-shaped tail, or commonly, lyrebird. Not only has the male of the species an elegant lyre-shaped tail, its song has the facility of the translator's lyre: it convincingly imitates 26 other species.

Instead of the lyre, or an engraving of a lyrebird, MM offers an engraving by Thomas Bewick, who stands in the traditions of both Buffon and La Fontaine. She knew Bewick’s work well and had recently attended an exhibition of his wood engravings at New York University.

                    To the Advocate, gratia sum
               unavoidably dame as I am, verbal pilgrim 
          like Thomas Bewick, drinking from his hat-brim, 
          drops spilled from a waterfall. . . .

This wood engraving was originally a tailpiece in Bewick's History of British Birds, Vol. Land Birds, 1797, which, with his Water Birds and Quadrapeds, form his landmark contribution to natural history. Although the major engravings in the book are those of birds, small rural scenes, often depicting Bewick himself, decorate the ends of chapters. In this instance, in a tailpiece called "A Trickle of Water," Bewick pictures himself drinking water from his hatbrim. MM's own reference for the tailpiece was the Memoir of Thomas Bewick, a 1961 reprint by the Centaur Press, which she had obtained on 26 March 1965. In this edition, the tailpiece on page 53 follows the chapter in which Bewick describes his first success, the reception of his engravings done for Aesop's Fables, and his gratitude for the prize he won for them. Included in the picture is a heart-shaped carving on a rock, above

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which is written "gratia sum,” Bewick's thanks for a refreshing waterfall and for his success.

There is further evidence that MM associated Bewick and her own Fables of La Fontaine. The "gratia sum" tailpiece was reproduced on the title page of Thomas Bewick: A Resume of His Life and Work by Graham Reynolds (London, 1949(, which MM received from Mrs. W. Murray Crane in January, 1950. Deeply engaged in her translations, MM paid particular attention to comments about Aesop's Fables, which Bewick illustrated in 1784 and again in 1818, his first and last major works. In particular, MM marked the following passage:

In the Fables of Aesop and Others, 1818, Bewick puts himself into the genealogical tree of fable writers by cutting a vignette over the introduction, a stone on which is written the line of his forbears, beginning with Jonathan and David, proceeding through Aesop to La Fontaine, L'Estrange, de la Motte, Gay, Croxall, Moore, Draper, Dodsley, and Brook Boothby (p. 35).

Like Bewick, MM knew the value of aid in work on fables, and in choosing his "gratia sum" to express her thanks, acknowledged her forbears with a vignette.

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Marianne Moore was appointed president of the Greensward Foundation in 1965 and for the next several years pursued the Foundation's goals: to foster and promote public appreciation of Central and Prospect Parks (in New York and Brooklyn) and other parks designed by Frederick Law Olmstead; to contribute to their restoration and beautification; to encourage research about them; and to collect and preserve drawings, plans, paintings, books and other records about them. Her activities included making a plea for budget allocations at City Hall, writing the introduction to Clay Lancaster's Prospect Park Handbook (1967) and helping to save the Camperdown elm with a poem.

Prospect Park's Camperdown elm, planted in 1872, was found in 1966 to be endangered by rot, and M. M. Graff, horticultural consultant to the park, prepared a leaflet to help raise $500 toward restoring it to health. From the leaflet MM took suggestions for the tree's intricate branch pattern" and the treatment applied by the tree expert:

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A Bartlett Tree Expert Company specialist reaches into the Camperdown elm to measure the damage caused by rot.

For comparison, MM turned to an elm in Manhattan, that in Asher B. Durand's painting, "Kindred Spirits," at the New York Public Library. Durand shows William Cullen Bryant in conversation with Thomas Cole1, respectively poet and painter of nature. Named for the last line in Keats's sonnet "O Solitude! if I must with thee dwell,” the painting hangs above a bench outside the library's main reading room, a spot often chosen by MM for quiet conversation.

1When the poem first appeared, in The New Yorker for 23 September 1967, the Hudson River School painter's name was written as "Timothy Cole." Within a week, letters arrived to explain that Timothy Cole (1853-1931), an engraver, was the wrong artist. MM, who did know her Coles, made the correction in the second impression of Complete Poems in November.

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"Kindred Spirits." The New York Public Library. Lenox Astor Tilden Foundations.
        Thanatopsis-invoking tree-loving Bryant
        conversing with Thomas Cole 
        in Asher Durand's painting of them 
        under the filigree of an elm overhead.

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The Camperdown Elm, Prospect Park, Brooklyn


In June, 1943, George Mayberry of The New Republic asked MM for "anything you have written recently" to publish with a group of poems ultimately to include work by Wallace Stevens, William Carlos Williams and other luminaries. "Elephants" was MM's choice and she submitted it on 9 July with the following commentary:

It will be more of a surprise to me if you can use what I enclose than if you can not; it is long even as prose. If you might be able to use it as prose, I should be willing and have typed a prose version also. . . .

On 20 July, Mr. Mayberry accepted what he called the "verse-form" and returned the prose version.

MM's prose typescript appears here in facsimile. It conforms exactly to the stanzaic MS which accompanied it, with the exception of a comma added after "bow" in the latter version (st. 15, 1. 3) without, of course, reveal-mg the patterns according to which it was composed.

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From the Buffalo Express, December, 1916, MM clipped this photograph of two reindeer who "can run eleven / miles in fifty minutes” and for whom "cutwork artists . . . elaborate the trace / of saddle-girth with saw-tooth leather lace."


Thomas P. Murphy, then a college student living in New York, wrote to MM on 18 May 1950 to ask what was meant by "the genuine” in "Poetry." He explained that free verse troubled him by its lack of form and that the statements in "Poetry’’ seemed to him to put forth the rules of the art. The following facsimile is made from MM's carbon, typed characteristically on the back of Mr. Murphy's letter.

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One of MM's 1939 telephone bills included a flyer which described "The World’s Most Accurate 'Clocks'" at the Bell Telephone Laboratories in New York. The data given in the flyer became part of "Four Quartz Crystal Clocks" in 1940. One of the facts MM selected was that the clocks were maintained in a vault at 41° centigrade; MM translated: "the cool Bell / Laboratory time / vault." Five years later, with a passion for accuracy rivalling

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that of the quartz clocks, she wrote the Bell Laboratories to check the facts reported in her poem. Bell representative Paul B. Findlay replied that her statements were "accurate enough except that I would hardly call 41 degrees centigrade 'cool'" (30 April 1946). Thereafter, MM revised her lines to read: "the 41° Bell/ Laboratory time / vault."

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Among the plants cited in "Nevertheless" as examples of fortitude, the least familiar is kok-saghyz:

                                        Frost that kills
                        the little rubber-plant-
                        leaves of the kok-saghyz- stalks, can’t
                 harm the roots; they still grow
                        in frozen ground.

The New York Times for 7 January 1943 carried an article titled "Jersey's First Rubber Crop Is Harvested, Grown From Russian Kok-Saghyz Seeds." As the article explains, kok-saghyz is the "dandelion from which Russia derives most of its natural rubber." Kok-saghyz seeds were planted in each of the 48 United States to determine where they might best be grown, and the 1943 harvest in Paramus, New Jersey, proved successful. Harvested in six to twelve months, most of the rubber content is in the kok-saghyz roots. "The roots keep on growing in the frozen ground long after the leaves have been killed by the frost." MM underlined this last sentence, from which she drew her description of the kok-saghyz's fortitude.



Complete Poems

Moore, Marianne. The Complete Poems of Marianne Moore. New York: Macmillan/Viking Press, 1981. The definitive edition. It includes the author’s final revisions and the five poems that were published after the first edition in 1967.

First Appearances

Hirth, Mary. "Cyril Connolly Exampled: An Exhibit on 'The Modern Movement.'" The Library Chronicle of

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The University of Texas at Austin. NS 1 (1970), 39-47. Highlights from forthcoming exhibit at Leeds Gallery at the University. Includes description of underlinings and notes by MM in two copies of Selected Poems and brief excerpts from letters to Cid Corman explaining MM’s impulse to write and her reluctance to call the result "poetry." Contains b/w reproduction of Michael Werboff's oil painting of MM.

Stevenson, Anne. "Letters from Elizabeth Bishop." TLS, 7 March 1980 , p. 261. Includes letter from MM to Stevenson, suggesting questions to be put to Bishop apropos of Stevenson’s Elizabeth Bishop (Twayne, 1966).

Targ, William. Indecent Pleasures: The Life and Colorful Times of William Targ. New York: Macmillan, 1975. More invented anecdotes from a former neighbor of MM's. Includes a letter from MM to Targ recounting the pleasures of a party at his house.

"Tribute to Marianne Moore," Program of the Lafayette Avenue Presbyterian Church. Brooklyn, N. Y., 16 November 1980. Includes notes from MM to Dr. George Litch Knight, Pastor.


Galtieri, Giovanni, Trans. Unicorni di mare e di terra. Bur, 1981. Introduction and notes by Marcello Oaganini. Based on Galtieri's 1962 translation of a selection of poems, L' Insidiosa modestia corazza, with Randall Jarrell's "Her Shield" (translated Into Italian) appended.

Calvino, Italo. "Marianne e l’Unicorno." La Reppublica, 19 May 1981, p. 20. Review of Galtieri translation (above). The Italian novelist and folktale collector discovers the moralist-zoologist poet.

Works Concerning MM

Bates, Margaret. "E. P,.: Maker of Connections." Paideuma,

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6, No. 1 (1977), 114-115. Mentions MM’s efforts to convince Pound of the merit of Wallace Stevens's poetry.

Baum, S. V. "Marianne Moore," in Notable American Women: The Modern Period. Cambridge: Belknap, 1980, pp , 490 - 494. Biographical entry on MM.

Betts, Glynne Robinson. Writers in Residence: American Authors at Home. New York: Viking, 1981. Photographs of the recreation of MM’s Greenwich Village living room now installed in the Rosenbach Museum & Library.

Borroff, Marie. Language and the Poet: Verbal Artistry in Frost, Stevens, and Moore. Chicago : University of Chicago Press, 1979. Stylistic analysis placing MM's poetry within the genre of journalism. Her language and syntax share affinities with the "feature article" and the "documentary-advertisement."

Costello, Bonnie. "The ’Feminine’ Language of Marianne Moore," in Women and Language in Literature and Society. Ed. Sally McConnell-Ginet, Ruth Borker, and Nelly Furman. New York: Praeger, 1980, pp. 222-238. New insights into what several critics of MM's poetry refer to as her "feminine" quality.

Engle, Bernard. "Moore's 'A Face.'" Expl., 34 (December 1975), 29. Interprets "A Face" as an extension of the values celebrated in many of MM's poems: the poem is not a response to a crisis of the moment.

"For Homers and Poets: Marianne Moore’s Baseball Stuff." Philadelphia Inquirer, 21 October 1980, 1-D. MM as devoted baseball fan. Photograph of MM throwing out first ball of 1968 season at Yankee Stadium, and baseballs signed by the famous, from the Rosenbach Museum & Library.

Geng, Veronica. "Ode to a 'Y." New York Times Magazine, 31 March 1974, pp. 69-71. Brief mention of MM's reading of her poems along with a photograph of MM at the Poetry Center lectern in 1968.

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Gould, Jean. American Women Poets: Pioneers of Modern Poetry. l'Jew York: Dodd, Mead, 1980. Biographical chapter on MM woven of cliches and inaccuracies (MM and HD did not travel to England together in 1911 nor did HD wave MM off at Southampton calling "Keep writing poetry").

Kramer, Hilton. "Freezing the Blood and Making One Laugh." Rev. of The Complete Poems of Marianne Moore, the 1981 edition. New York Times Book Review, 15 March 1981, pp. 7, 22-23. Kramer demolishes the popular image of MM—that of a quirky New York personality who is incidentally a poet. Instead he asks for a consideration of the poetry itself; he insists that it is poetry that is deadly serious. To prove his point, he discusses several poems — seriously.

Life Special Report. Remarkable American Women, 1776-1976. New York: Time, Inc., 1976, p. 43. Paragraph with photograph of MM with elephants at Bronx Zoo taken by Esther Bubley in 1953.

McDowell, Edwin. "The Literati's Appreciation for Baseball." New York Times, 8 April 1981, B-9. Ubiquitous photo of MM at Yankee Stadium, 1968.

MacMahon, Candace W. Elizabeth Bishop: A Bibliography, 1927-1979. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1980. Includes excerpts of letters by Bishop to MM that relate to Bishop's poems.

Martin, Taffy. "Preparation and Enactment: Marianne Moore’s Editorship of The Dial." DAI. 39 (1979), 6764A.

Primm, Sandy. "Re-creating Marianne Moore's World." St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 5 April 1977, 2-C. General information with emphasis on MM's birth in Kirkwood, Mo., and her collection at the Rosenbach.

Rainey, Carol Ann. "The Poetic Theory of Marianne Moore." DAI, 36 (1976), 6103A.

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Reardon, Joan and Kristine A. Thorson. Poetry by American Women, 1900-1975. A bibliography limited to separately published volumes of poetry. There are a number of errors in the MM listing.

Slatin, John. "The Savage's Romance: The Poetry of Marianne Moore, 1915-1925." DAI, 40 (1979), 2S2A-253A.

Slotten, Martha. "Marianne Craig Moore: November 15, 1887- February 5, 1972." Dickinson Alumnus, 49 (June 1972), 13. A sampling from Dickinson Library’s collection of MM's letters, MS, and memorabilia, and a reprint of her uncollected poem, "That Harp You Play So Well."

Sprout, Rosalee Jacobson. "Marianne Moore" The Poet As Translator." Dissertation, Tufts University, 1980. A study of MM's nine-year encounter with and translation of La Fontaine's Fables and the impact of that work on MM's later poetry.

Stapleton, Laurence. Marianne Moore: The Poet’s Advance. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1978. Reviewed in MMN, Spring, 1979, 21-22.

Tomlinson, Charles. "Some American Poets: A Personal Record." Contemporary Literature, 18, No. 3 (1977), 279- 304. A declaration of indebtedness to MM and other poets of her generation. Tomlinson pays homage with a cameo portrait showing MM's wit, her literary profundity, and her availability to younger poets. Reprinted in book of the same title, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1981.

Van Vechten, Carl. Portraits: The Photography of Carl Van Vechten. Compiled by Saul Mauribar. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merril1, 1978. Photographic portrait of MM dated 1948.

Vendler, Helen. Part of Nature, Part of Us: Modern American Poets. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1980. Avoiding the critical discourse of structuralism and post-structuralism, Vendler re-

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lies instead on her own experience and intelligence. For her, criticism is a practical enterprise that produces a "close" reading of the text. The happy result for the reader is fresh insight into the poetry of MM. Reprinted from The New Yorker, 16 October 1978, pp. 168-194.

Watson, Hildegarde Lasell. The Edge of the Woods: A Memoir. Rochester. N.Y.: Privatelv printed 1979. Hildegarde Watson, the wife of Dr. James Sibley Watson, Jr. of Dial fame, devotes a chapter to MM in which she recalls shared moments from a long friendship. Included is a letter from MM on the musicality of a voice recital by Mrs. Watson.

Watts, Emily. The Poetry of American Women from 1632 to 1945. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1977. Faults MM's poetry for obscurity, "an esoteric exclusiveness," and, confusedly, for its lack of intellectual complexity.


The MMN Checklist appears on an occasional basis.

The one for this issue was compiled by Evelyn Feldman. Its purpose is to list all new publication of works by MM (with the exception of anthologized reprintings) and to acknowledge scholarly and other valuable writing about MM. Publications wherein MM’s name occurs in a casual fashion have been omitted - - they are legion but of fleeting interest.

The editors of MMN are grateful to receive off-prints and other examples of work about MM, particularly work found in out-of-the-way or foreign journals. Many of the items cited above came to our attention through the kindness of our readers.

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Eight-year-old MM wrote her first poem, "St. Nicklus," to place on the chimney-piece on Christmas Eve, 1895. Whether Santa brought the doll is uncertain, but brother Warner’s horn survives, in tootable condition.

Marianne Moore's first poem, 1895.

The horn requested in MM's first poem.

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Work on the publication of MM's Complete Prose will begin in January, 1982, The compiler, Patricia Willis, will be grateful for leads to or copies of elusive items, particularly book jacket blurbs, or manuscripts and proofs of published prose, sent to her in care of MMN.


A card reproducing in facsimile MM’s first poem, "Dear St. Nicklus," written at the age of eight, and imprinted "Season’s Greetings, is available from the Rosenbach Museum & Library (see address below). Cards are $.30 each or 10 for $2.50, plus postage.


MMN plans a subscription drive for Fall, 1981. Please encourage library subscriptions. Back issues and a brochure are available.


Our first MMN (Spring, 1977) described the Marianne Moore Collection at the Rosenbach Museum & Library, 2010 DeLancey Pl., Philadelphia. It is from this Collection that the "Observations" in MMN are drawn.

MM's living room is there, and her entire archive is open to scholars by appointment on weekdays, 9-5. Other visitors are welcome to see the MM room Tuesdays through Sundays, 11-4. The Rosenbach is closed during the month of August and on national holidays.

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