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Marianne Moore Newsletter - Volume 4 Number 1 Spring 1980

Marianne Moore Newsletter

Volume IV Number 1 Spring 1980


Volume IV, Number 1, Spring 1980

Tiger salamander, Ambystoma cigrinum, drawn by Marianne Moore at the Museum of Natural History, New York, 8 December 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All previously unpublished material by Marianne Moore is published here by permission of Clive E. Driver, Literary Executor of the Estate of Marianne C. Moore.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 cheques payable to the Rosenbach Museum & Library.

Contributions welcome on all aspects of MM and her work, up to 450 words. Deadlines: Spring, February 1st;

Fall, October 1st.

Address correspondence to Patricia C. Willis, Editor, MMN, The Rosenbach Museum & Library, 2010 DeLancey PI.. 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 IV Number 1 Spring 1980

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Another armored animal — scale lapping scale with spruce-cone regularity until they form the uninterrupted central

tail-row! This near artichoke. . . ,

the pangolin, was an animal new to MM in 1927 when she wrote to her brother; then on tour with the Navy, "I want you to tell me if you see a pangolin. It looks like an artichoke, has a tail about a foot long and lives on ants{is in fact an armoured ant-eater)." (A.L.S., 4 March 1927). She had recently heard a pangolin described by a friend who had seen one in Borneo, In that same letter, MM discussed plans for a trip to England in the summer.

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22 August saw MM visiting Westminster Abbey, and as always, garnering material for later poems. It was there she saw the fragile grace of the Thomas-

of-Leighton Buzzard Westminster Abbey wrough t-iron vine, . ♦ .

Far from the most obvious ornament in the Abbey, this vine-shaped grille stands behind the tomb of Eleanor of Castille, Queen of Edward I, in the most sacred part of the Abbey near the Stone of Scone. It was made in the late thirteenth century by Thomas, smith of Leighton-Buzzard in Bedfordshire, the only English ironworker to master the French process of stamping metal to render each section of his grille designs alike. This secret died with Thomas, and the example at the Abbey is con-

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sidered the finest piece of early blacksmithing in England (cf. Francis Bond, Westminster Abbey. London, 1909).

The grille is formed chiefly of vines whose scrolllike leaves flow one from the other, from the base to the top of each section. Rosettes and trefoils appear as stamps, ornamenting the vine. Intended to protect Queen Eleanor's tomb from over-eager pilgrims, it arches backward from its base and culminates in tridentate spikea.

Seven years later, MM saw the art of another master iron-worker, Pablo Gargallo (1881-193A). Born in Spain, Gargallo began as a realistic sculptor until he saw Picasso's cubist paintings..He then turned from stone to ironwork and developed an abstract style noted for unusual combinations of voids and solids. It was Gargallo, in turn, who introduced Picasso to metal sculpture.

"Picador" by Pablo Gargallo (192S). Collection, The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of A. Conger Goodyear.

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Gargallo's first one-man show in New York was held at the Brummer Gallery in March, 1934, and included the hollow-headed Picador. Purchased by A. Conger Goodyear, it was presented to the Museum of Modern Art within the year, MM saw the sculpture either at the gallery or at the museum before she wrote, in February, 1935, her second iron-sculpture simile for the pangolin:

Compact like the furled fringed frill on the hat-brim of Gargallo's hollow iron head of a matador, he will drop and will then walk away unhur t, . .    .

It is the "furled fringed frill / on the hat-brim" which makes the Gargallo sculpture and the Thomas of Leighton-Buzzard grille a pair of similes. Like the spruce-cone and the artichoke, they are composed of leaf- and cone-like forms which overlap or, seen conversely, appear to grow out of one another in units of diminishing proportions. But the two flora do not convey the nearly invincible armor of the pangolin's scales, which protect it from predators and from accident. For this concept, MM chose iron sculpture in unique examples whose precision and workmanship present, through simile, the pangolin as nature's armored work of art.


MM wrote "The Wood-weasel" in February, 1942, as a playful tribute to her friend Hildegarde Watson, whose name appears as the upsidedown acrostic in the poem. "Wood-weasel" was the name Mrs. Watson gave the skunk, her favorite woodland animal, and MM uses it here to represent the skunk and her friend as well.

In her daily diary for 1942, MM noted on 13 February that she had compiled "material for wood-weasel!:!

S Hall Young on the famous Chilcat Blanket." Pictured here is that article, clipped from a Presbyterian missionary publication about 1916. Dr. S, Hall Young,

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The Famous Chilcat Blanket

By 8 Hall Young. D D.

A rimnAiNs none

NO proof of the Japanese origin of the Alaska Thlinget* is stronger than that contained in the figure* and con-strui tion of the Chilcat lilanket. The history of weaving by these ingenious [nsiplc Ls lost in the midst of antiquity, and even (he sig nilieanee of thr-a- strange but artislie figures, woven so deftly, is obscure.

The great white mountain gnat of the northwest coast, the oldest animal of the North \meri< an Continent in jioinl of origin, the of the Pliocene, furnishes the hair. This long, strung, white hair with its substratum of woolv fur. is obtained from the winter coat of this animal ihen it i' woven by hand. Sometimes a man, sometimes a woman, is ihr weaver. Various colors are weighted by bladders full of stone, and all the warp is hung U|«m a imle, and the woof worked in by hand needles. The blankets are very thick and firm. To give body to the wirp sometimes bark Ls twisted in with the r iarser yarn, but the cross threads are pure wool, and some of them exceedingly fine The dyes are three: purplish black obtained from the ink|>ot <if the rultle-fish, a delicate light blue from the blueberry, ami an exquisite yellow from the root uf the yellow ec-dar. The colors, with the pure white and the undyed hair, are woven into these strange figures.

Masons have ]Wofe*sed to see in the Chilcat blanket masonic emblems, and one of their writers went so far as to try to prove by these figurrs that the Thlingcts were dc-scended from the ancient Jews, and practiced Masonic rites.

Thirty-five years ago these splendid Man* krts, sometimes eight feet across by six feel in dqrth including the long while fringe, sold for twenty-five or thirty dollars. Now for an inferior blanket tourist* have to pay from one hundred and fifty to two hundred dollars, and even at such a price these blankets are very hard to obtain.

The splendid chieftain's robe shown in the |iicturr could not be obtained now for le-s than three or four hundred dollars. These robe* were handed down from uncle to nephew, ami were packed in yellow cellar I Maxes, with great rare to protect them from the moths.

The totcmic figure on this rotie is thnl of the beaver, proving the chief to belong to the grand Totem of the Crow, and the sub-Totcm of the Beaver. There are also whale and crow emblems which the experienced only can detect.

‘Pure i< little religious significance in these figures, as these totcmic images were never objects of worship, but were emblems of the pride ami glory of the family.

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a pioneer missionary whom MM heard lecture in Carlisle, Pa., helped to establish the first Protestant church in Alaska in 1879. The guiding spirit of the enterprise was a Moore family friend, Dr.

Sheldon Jackson, whose missionary work was well known to MM (see her notes to ’’Rigorists").

When in the early 1920's, MM travelled to Seattle and Vancouver, she encountered Thlinget tribal art and the Chilcat blankets. But in writing the poem, she relied on Dr, Young's article for the totemic designs and

colors of the Chilcat coat. Hildegarde Lasell Watson Like the coat of the wood-weasel, or skunk, the Chilcat coat is black and white (with very little yellow and light blue). MM used it to suggest Mrs. Watson's choice of a black dress with a white gardenia as her customary formal attire. Her photograph, taken by Arnold Genthe in the 1930's, showing her dressed in black and white, has for many years been displayed in MM's livingroom bookcase.


A possible echo of Emerson may shed light on MM's use of lists, at least in the conclusion of her early poem, "The Monkeys.Alfred Kreymborg attributes Moore's 'love for building an image through rising substances" to Emerson, and notes a strong similarity between Emerson's list of produce in "Hamatreya" and the list which 

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ends "The Monkeys": Kreymborg adds that it "does not follow that . , . Miss Moore plagiarized Emerson, but that . . . the Concord bard is in the blood of every American original." It is hard to see Moore's list — which differs from Emerson’s "Hay, corn, roots, hemp, flaxf apples, wool and wood" in all but two items — as plagiarism, but comparing MM and Emerson may help us to understand MM’s poem.-*

MM gives us two lists in "The Monkeys." There is a list of zoo animals who are lovingly recalled in the opening of the poem. The tiger, who is given the concluding speech, is one of these animals. The cat mocks whose who say that while art, like the sea, is used by men — the image is of using the sea for commerce — such use grants a false sense of power. The implication is that men should not flatter themselves: the world is essentially malignant and unfathomable. Moore's very humanization of the tiger protests against the view which he is made to mock. We are shown that the imagination can use and possess the world. Such imaginary possession (as of the zoo animals) is thus distinguished from exploitation of the world and from renunciation of the world as alien and unknowable.

MM’s second list — of commercial objects — is part of the discredited view of how any exploitation of the world ignores true character. This list is also the passage in which Kreymborg recognizes Emerson's influence. In fact, the items in MMVs list are not the only way in which Emerson’s "Hamatreya" is recalled. Emerson s poem talks of possession of the land by ’’landlords" or 'hot owner[s]. ' Emerson then inserts an "Earth-Song," in which the land says "They called me theirs,/

Who so controlled me;/ Yet every one/ Wished to stay, and is gone." The poem ends: "When I heard the "Earth-song/ . . . / My avarice cooled/ Like lust in the chill of the grave," It is hardly necessary to invoke other examples of MM's dislike of avarice (as in her poem, "A Grave," which is roughly_contemporary with "The Monkeys") m order to note that while she celebrates imaginary possession, she shares Emerson's view of the illusory nature of material possession. Indeed, Emerson's "Earth-

song," which appears to let the earth speak for itself, suggests a way of possessing the earth in the imagination, or in art, without greed. Thus, in "The Monkeys,” the technical device of allowing the tiger to speak for itself is as much an acknowledgement of Emerson as the concluding list.

More might be said about how MM' s apparent recognition of the possible double nature of lists may owe something to Emerson, of whom Santayana remarks: "The first thing we feel in Emerson is his distance from the working day world .... His writing is concrete and poetic, but for one who takes such a delight in mentioning miscellaneous objects? he leaves on the reader’s mind a sense of strange unreality."^ Though this unfairly misrepresents Santayana's final judgment of Emerson, it does help to point out an effect of certain kinds of lists. In opposition to the opening parade of animals or even to the speech of which it is part, MM's final list (although less homogeneous in its elements than Emerson's) suggests in part that a world merely catalogued and not imaginatively transformed would be pale. Thus, MM's tiger may be called Gilgamesh in part because of his ability to survive a deluge (of mere fact); that is, he is imaginatively repossessed rather than exploited or merely listed. This suggestion about MM's view of the status of the things listed at the close of the poem may be Strengthened by the fact that her Index to Observations ignores the poem's hemp, rye, flax, horses, platinum", Timber and fur, while entering the Gilgamesh, zebras, and elephants; one entry reads, delightfully, "parrakeet, trivial" (p. 117).

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Finally, although the things MM mentions are not brought to life or made memorable in the way that the zebra, tiger or winking monkeys are, yet her use of words (the fact of a list, the assonance and alllit-eration) is suggestive, and may repossess not objects but poetry, in particular Emerson's "Hamatreya." Such possession bespeaks less flattery than respect and, again illustrates the need for virtues of imaginative possession and transformation.

Laurence Stapleton, Marianne Moore; The Poet's Advance (Princeton, Princeton Univers1ty^P^ess, 1778), p. 58, notes MM’s affinity with Emerson and cites MM s own reference to Emerson in a 1963 "Voice of America" broadcase, p. 2. Another reference to Emerson is found in the. notes to MM’s "The Student." Quotations from "The Monkeys" are from Collected Poems (New York. 19511. pp. 44-45. The poem appears as ”My Apish Cousins" in Poerns and Observations. In the latter volume, one footnote accompanies the poem: "An old gentleman during a game of chess: 'It is difficult to recall the appear-????    acquaintances twenty years back'" (Observations,

1924, p. 97). No footnote accompanies "The Monkeys."


Alfred Kreymborg, A History of American Poetry: Our Sinking Strength (1929; rpt., NeiTYoYk': T'uHoFTT'm)',—


Quotations from "Hamatreya" are from the Harvard Edition of Emerson’s Complete Works, ed. Edward Waldo Emerson (Boston: Houghton MitfTTn 1904, 1918; rpt., Cambridge: Riverside, 1929), Vol. 6, pp, 35-37.

"The Optimism of Ralph Waldo Emerson," in George Santayana’s America, Essays on LiteraLure and Culture, collected by James BaTTowe (Urbana: Univ. olf Illinois Press, 1967), p. 81. Eliot praises MM's phrase ("the sea . . . fur") without mentioning Emerson in his Dial article (75 {December, 19233, 596).    -

Lisa Steinman Reed College


The following Indian drawing, found without documentation in the MM Collection, depicts the legend of Gilgamesh. During the Great Deluge, snakes descend and cover Gilgamesh and his friend, Enkidu, while the winking monkeys and the lions try to escape them.

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A filler in the periodical ’Current Events,1 February 16-20, 1925, listed Harvard's emeritus President Charles W. Eliot’s answers to the question: "Who are the ten leaders in the educational history of the last 2,300 years?" This, in turn, induced MM to compose her own list of fourteen candidates, an insight into her reading and interest in the subject at the moment of the beginning of her editorship of 'The Dial:'

The Venerable Bede (673-735), English historian, teacher, and theologian, for his 'Life of Saint Cuthbert

Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519), the only candidate also on President Eliot’s list.

Roger Ascham (1515-1568), English humanist writer, tutor of Queen Elizabeth I, author of 'The Scholemaster.

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Sir Philip Sidney (1554-1586), English courtier, soldier, poet, and essayist.

Gervase Markham (15687-1637), English author on literary, agricultural, and sporting subjects, author of the continuation of Sidney's 'Arcadia'. 1

John Bunyan (1628-1688), English nonconformist preacher, author of ’Pilgrim's Progress.'

Daniel Defoe (16607-1731), English pamphleteer, author of ’Robinson Crusoe.1

Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790), American statesman, author of 'Poor Richard's' maxims and a morally instructive 'Autobiography.'

Oliver Goldsmith (1728—1774), Irish—English poet, dramatist, and novelist.

The Brothers Grimm,Jakob (1785-1863) and Wilhelm (1786-1859), German philologists and collectors of fairy tales.

Alexandre Dumas (1802-1870), French romantic novelist and dramatist.

. Palmer Cox (1840-1924), American author and illustrator, creator of 'The Brownies.’

Luther Burbank (1849-1926), the then still-living American horticultura1 ist, and pioneer developer of new plant varieties.

Lyman Abbott (1835-1922), Congregational clergyman, editor, and author of 'Life and Literature of the Ancient Hebrews 1901, 'Theology of an Evolutionist' 1897 and The Other Room' 1903.

Other candidates were originally included, and and then removed from the list: Jean de La Fontaine (1621-1695), whose 'Fables1 she would translate and have published nearly thirty years later, and Kate

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Greenaway (1846-1901), English author and illustrator of children’s books.


MM acknowledged Henry James as the author of "accessibility to experience," the closing line of "New York, but she did not specify the work from which the phrase was taken.

The phrase first appeared in print in a dust jacket blurb for the English edition of The Finer Grain (Methuen, 1910) :    -

The "Finer Grain" consists of a series of five stories, the central figure of each is involved, as Mr. James loves his characters to be, in one of the tangles of highly civilized existence. By the "finer grain" the author means, in his own phrase,

'a peculiar accessibility to surprise, to curiosity, to mystification or attraction — in other words, to moving experience." It is needless to add that the book exhibits the most delicate comedy throughout.

James’ quotation was taken from a letter to his publisher, and its full text wras not published until 1932 in E. V. Lucas' Reading, Writing and Remembering.

MM had a copy of the American edition of The Finer Grain which she acquired on 15 November 1910, butfwhich dldnot bear the blurb used for the English edition. However, the future champion of Henry James "as a characteristic American" knew the work and its two stories set in New York, "Crapey Cornelia" and "A Round of Visits." The latter story has as its theme the experience of Mark Montieth with the tangles of New York.

There is every likelihood that MM saw the English edition in London in 1911, or that she saw reviews which made use of the blurb. However, in 1920, when MM and her mother sailed for California via the Panama

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Canal, they took along library books and "some Henry James" (Mary Warner Moore, A.L.S. to her son, 28 May 1920). They also took Dixon Scott’s Men of Letters (London: Modeler and Stoughton, 1917) from which Mrs. Moore copied the following excerpt:

The elder Henry James had a sunny loathing for the literal, caring for our spiritual decency supremely. Educative specialization would seem to him a sort of deformity suffered for the sake of "success," and "success" was a thing he had no use for. All he cared to produce was that condition of character which his son calls "accessibility to experience."

You were interested only when you were interested--your very conscience ought to work unconsciously— and so our Henry James was equipped for life without plundering it. . . .

The following year, 1921, MM saluted New York, ending her poem with a series of negative definitions which culminated in the Jamesian reference:

it is not the plunder,

but "accessibility to experience."


In a letter dated 24 December 1924, P, Casper Harvey, of the Missouri Writers' Guild, wrote to MM requesting information about her work for the book page of the Kansas City Journal-Post. Having discovered that MM was born in Missouri and that like fellow Missourian, T. S. Eliot, she had won the Dial Award,he wanted write about her accomplishments in his column on Missouri writers.

The following facsimile is made from MM's carbon copy of her reply.

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1< St. fetus'* flKt, Ban Tork City,

Jon *rf (7, 192f •

Btrw), 3tcn lory-7 r. tiunr,

Ulaeoorl * rl ter’ a 3ulld. liberty, Xletoorl.

Dear Ur, Haratyt

X Uvtak yjo for th* internet aklob lad ;n writ* to aa ar.d I irlehau Tory *ien to reply to yoor latter at once. 1 ius happy to tell yoo anythin* that •l» t ha of laterati to other* llvlae In mj atata, Uio*tfh I hardly foal free to data It aa mine elaca 1 Herd la It only »em year*. lb* cm tor port of ay lira ni .pent la Carllaa, Wenneylatini* artrt 1 nr.o prepared for Srya Uhwr, froo eh let. 1 »,a -rodantao la 1»09. P.el'jmln* to C-rllele, 1 <■ t'.oo^r- pny at too Crrllala go** renal Indian Sot 50L for three am a half year*, la 19U, a fa* poaa* of nine eeit pucllehefe by the - onion ?■, ?15T j a llttla later, save ml acre published In .!*» U-rriet Hmroa'a eA.etlnc. “X.nI. Poelj, it tr.'.na r re . ubtlahad al*o, la Alfrt irajmLnr^'a ,»■ .* the, »    &, tsronjh the aatgoMles

of th* ear. I cian to Ilea In lit Iirk e.lora I hate bean civile ad In library tom for t>» peat fie* year*. A poan whioli 1 »rot* In Ate.oat. l»l«. i nna aufflclaat eonftdaooe la, to aobielt to tecr.ty*ala e>otlni before It ea* aaooplad • l*,r lateri for th* atoat partl-'hoamear, ml lhoa*h orltlag la my chief lateraat. It m* bean an i.eoc' tlon tenetIna dltcjr.tlcjttl. In aaalatla aa to aaoo*04--ln eo far aa 1 hate auccccdad—1 f,*1 that tna lajetee to j rodaoa aa . ood torn aa l could, hna coma, flrat, frtn readln,| fr* mad lt^ anthort wr.ose an lari-1 and method affordad na perfect antartnlaaar.t—Sir lfr-.nel* b'ooa, Chaaeor, Spaaaar, lofoa, dtn.yan. Sir Shoaaa brown*. leigh Hunt. Barer, tr. John#on. . ct> any '.rolloie. hardy, Kaary Jena*. 5. *. Tt la. K. U. Hod* m, an 3!.:nay'* The refeaae of "oeala. I have been tiUrt: iea. an. laetrueUa by dnrllMait* and beak raviava la 'TOieH.ln lha L ndoo SPlCTdlOB, la lit L1C9 TIUla. hy rwalcna la toe (ortnl. htly 1 Uc, tne - n arat 'UL, by raelaaa (abllshst la ' f . .13* Hit It dor la* th* yarn 1907-19ll| by SiMoa Cray ’s hooka and other pahllca-ltaw of hi*. And l baa* learned 1 faal. fron taohaleal hooka,

«kloh, la addition to bain- In* treat la* and un tar tel ala*. aaaaad to aa, aaathatleally act to llahno—Ji‘ta UBOraa'a 'lo> to PUy haaabell.- C rlaty Uathaaaca'a -»ll«nl*c la a »lana,-

f 1 Idan’a tMki on tannla, *. ihe-d'a “Tne f#rU»ni»n Collector,■ Inrold ItjMi'n Banco1 ft lift-* puV.lel.Ml t> '.n* Satlonal Saotfrapblc K ads*. ir ’.«• KA’.    3? "ATUHAL

It IS' 9Y. the ukUicii an aarrll o' the- aork aentl nMu 1*4 ne to eatalt to nt'.ou fob lie at I on*. srlUot «or< »Mci has In •9 caee L«»r . lined, ’hoo-jr. I > eeo rttir In any com. * colored •hot iitlril, a tleflc. tat. It haa olao hetn « m»t»«r of ,-ra t Uuntt la i* t* 'tcjr tel, ri'Onl Oie UMt phraeeoloj of n>UMi people |aduc»leii or onecocaltd) iltt    I h«»# tin

sreoolaiedt art. In tola connection ;arhap* t uy (9)1 natoblagTarhlo •rttlnc by any rial autior, Int.rebte ■» nora than nay other by tha' author.

3 Inca yon aak for ' phi* i Tafh. I ahall note an tiff art to Mail yea m, thoorh ’ " v.o‘. think that 111 llllti ;,hanoaanai tribal* to ay tor-: >mld ha BSjn*Bt#4 hy anch a

phototfrarh aa 1 w oLli to if .’ yon,

3y hook “Obatrretlone," pobllahad recently hy The riol 'maa (not The Mai "cbllehln - Coapoay), lt2 Seat 13th Street,

Set Tor.: City—la a collection of poeata nrltUn within the yeare Hl«-l$2t. lotra alarmed to tha hook will ahoa thnt retain,: am the conoerantlm >f a^ frleme h*e« beer the Inn; trot loo •r a> eork.

Tha let tore of TC. rut, could they am of ; o«r letter, •ooi4 La rfrata fol for yoor onenreoy In 4anoailnatlae tha Llal award—jnat that. Tha el.eknllnaee of tha tarn " not only nteleadla,- hat paeollerly objeot lanable to Um *41 lore or TUS DIAL •• to tnoat who late baan honored hy lta confidence,

S loot rely yonra,

[page 17]


"Hometown Piece for Messrs. Alston and Reese" does not seem to follow its own psalmodic instruction:

To the tune:

"Li'1 baby, don't say a word: Mama goin‘ to buy you a mocking bird.

Bird don't sing: Mama goin' to sell it and

buy a brass ring"

The "tune," however, is important to the poem and points to MM's experimentation with musical measure.

MM first met the traditional southern folksong most often called "Hush, Little Baby," in 1956. Devoted to travelogues, she regularly attended Burton Holmes' films at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, including "The Charm of the South," presented there in early 1956. A "lullaby" used in the film attracted her attention and inspired a letter to the Holmes organization requesting the source of the music:

SY)    tj    e*)^

February 12, 1956

Secretary to Hr, Thayer Soule Burton Holmes Travelogues Mr, Walter T. Everest, Manager Suite 619 - 64 East Jackson Chicago A, Illinois


Bequests are poor thanks for superb travelogues; please condone me, bcurevor when 1 ask if 1 nay nave the name of a collection of J*egro songs where 1 will find tha lullaby sung in THE CHARM OF THE SOUTH*

[page 18]

Mama goin' but you & a ocktng-blrd.

Bird don't sing, mama goin* sell it buy a brass ring

and so on.

If the aong 1b special to the Holmus travelogue, could sonccne have the to set the words <2o«n for me? Please do not be at the trouble of a. letter il’ the gijaper could be set down on the back, of this sheet. (I victim of letters en masse, and know the quandary which courteous mentality-lose requests entail),

Very truly yours,

»■-. ri -rmi "Ujore Ch-i =

No answer came from Holmes, and when she published the poem in the New York Herald Tribune on 3 October 1956,

MM used the lyrics as she had remembered them.

The following summer, still anxious to learn the rest of the lyrics, MM wrote to Albert Nalven of Brooklyn. Mr. Nalven sent her an eight-verse version transcribed from a recording, "Songs for Sleepy Heads." He also included musical notation for the tune, but MM's letter of thanks makes clear that she did not need the music -that she had requested only the words. (T.L.C., 2 July 1957). In Mr. Nalven's form, the first two verses read:

Hush little baby, don1t say a word,

Momma's going to buy you a mocking bird.

If that mocking bird won't sing,

Momma's going to buy you a diamond ring.

From then on, while she retained the lyrics as she had first used them, MM added "Li'1 baby" at the beginning, a kind of nod to having found the original version of the song.

While the hybrid epigraph does not suit the song's traditional meloay, MM's poem, especially as evidenced 

by early MS versions, shows that MM was indeed working with it in mind. The first and all subsequent verses are sung to the following melody:

_- _h_I\__1 1 I -


J j




' ..........


Hush lit - tie

ba - by

don't say a


li ft MH-|:

It I |

dy~'j J1 ' '

i m

* * 1 T


Mom-ma's go-ing to buy you a mock-ing bird.

The conditions for matching lyrics to the melody are that a stress fall at the downbeat of each measure, and that there be eight measures to a verse.The elasticity of the musical bar permits division of the notes into enough units to accommodate the number of syllables assigned to it by the lyrics. For example, the first measure above is written to accept three syllables, suiting one quarter and two eighth notes. When sung with the second verse, it will have two syllables, "If that," matched to two quarter notes. Theoretically, Buch division could accommodate 32 syllables, but the maximum for a song of this kind would be four or five. Further, when the melody is repeated with the second and following verses, part of a measure can be borrowed from the end of one verse and added to the next, just before the downbeat, if the lyrics require extra syllables there.

In her poem, MM makeB use of all the liberties allowed in writing lyrics to the traditional melody of "Hush, Little Baby." The poem could actually be sung to the music — perhaps with some intended hilarity.

At the same time, the poet maintains her customary rhymed syllabic pattern, here ten-syllable lines in couplets, while creating a poem which, when read aloud, displays neitherthe musical measure nor the counted syllables involved. Instead, "Hometown Piece" offers the primary MM hallmark, the rhythms of prose speech.

[page 20]


Who rides on a tiger can never dismount; asleep on an elephant, that is repose.

MM's reading diary (Rosenbach 1250/5/134) refers to material used for these closing lines from "Elephants" (Complete Poems, p. 130). MM had been reading William Ralph Inge’s Lay Thoughts of a Dean (New York and London; C. P. Putnam’s Sons, T9Zb). In Chapter Six,

Inge discusses aphorisms and their persistence as a literary form from the proverbs of Solomon to the sayings of Lord Chesterfield:

In old times, when books were scarce and readers few, the traditional wisdom of the race was handed down chiefly by aphorisms, maxims, and epigrams, which stick in the memory. ... In literary ages, the composition of aphorisms has become a genre of literature. Bacon's essays are merely a corruscation of epigrams, and a large and brilliant collection has been made out of the conversation and books of Goethe.

(Pp. 50-51)

On page 52, he continues: "The Chinese, I am told, are very fond of quoting proverbs, and many of their sayings are extremely clever . . . 'He who rides on a

tiger can never dismount' ( a good warning for revolu-t ionists)."

To this aphorism, MM adds her own epigrammatical conclusion as a contrast.


One of the "Labors of Hercules" which MM addresses in her poem of that title is:

to persuade one of austere taste, proud in the possession of home, and a musician-

[page 21]

that the piano is a free field for etching; that hia "charming tadpole notes"

belong to the past when one had time to play them:

(Complete Poems, p. 53)

MM'e note to the poem consistently cites a review in the London Spectator as the source for "charming tadpole nates.

MM's reading diary (Rosenbach 1250/1/86) has the following entry made in 191^:

Lt Digest Sept 27, 1913.

Dr. Bridges shares with Morris the distinction of being an authority on printing as well as the writing of books and this one "with charming tadpole .    .

notes of 17th c music is prized by lovers of fine books. See London Daily Mail - Dr. Dearmer

During the 1910's, MM had regular access to the Literary Digest, a weekly periodical whose practice was to combine excerpts and digests of book reviews and articles from American and British journals and newspapers, chiefly concerning politics, arts, letters, science and religion. In this instance, MM read the Digest1s version of "Hymns of the Poet Laureate" by Percy Dearmer, a paeon in praise of Robert Bridges, the first among living hymn writers, a reformer of church music, and an authority on printing. Bridges'"Yattendon Hymnal" shows his combined skills and is called " a gem of a book, not only for its superior hymns and music, but for the art of its printing . . . [which] with its 'charming tadpole-shaped notes of seventeenth-century music' is prized by lovers of fine books." (Literary Digest, 27 September 1913, 529-39, quoting from the London Daily Mail).



Until now, credit for the first mention in print of MM as a professional poet has gone to H. D. for her

[page 22]

discussion of MM in The Egois t in 1916, during what can be called the second year of MM's career. Now it appears that Richard Aldington, then H.D.’s husband and assistant editor of The Egoist, mentioned MM the previous year, dropping her name at the end of an essay on Icnagism. His piece. "The Imagists" was published in August or September in Brunovs Chap Book, Special Series, No. 5, pp. 69-72. Probably, the only work by MM that Aldington had seen when he wrote the article, as he says, in May, were poems she submitted to The Egoist, of which he used two j,n April and one in May, and the live in Poetry in May. “

Aldington's article is a defence of Imagism? a history of its development, and a plea for new Tmagist writing. Towards the end, Aldington says that he cannot criticize Imagist poets separately in the short article but that readers should pay special attention to the women writers involved. Then he cites "Two American girls" who "show promise": "Miss C. Shanafeldt and Miss Marianne Moore" (p. 72).

It is not yet clear whether MM knew of this brief but significant mention when, in November, 1915, she travelled to New York and met Guido Bruno, who later published her poems. But Bruno's various publications edited "in his garret on Washington Square," the address given on them, circulated widely among writers in New York. Aldington's reference to MM's "promise" helped to set MM's poems among the Imagists', at least for American readers, and is partly responsible for including her in an association which she consistently disavowed.


1 See: Norman Gates, The Poetry of Richard Aldington (State College, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1974), p. 250, for the date of publication, o

In the event that H.l)., a Bryn Mawr alumna, received The Lantern (the alumnae literary magazine) while in England,' Aldington may have seen MM's poems printed there.

[page 23]



"Marianne Moore," 1980


A gift from Mr. Ben Sonnenberg and Mrs. Michael Tucker has enabled the Rosenbach Museum & Library to acquire a bronze sculpture of MM by Michael de Lisio. Cast from the original terracotta exhibited in "In Her Own Image" Photographers, Painters and Sculptors View Marianne Moore," the work is one of many portraits of writers by de Lisio, whom Life called " a knowing naif,”

De Lisio was a public relations expert before becoming an artist in the late 1960's when he learned to model in wax at a friend's studio. "Marianne Moore" was his first work. His sculptures have been shown in London, Minneapolis, Chicago and New York, and are represented in the collections of Joseph Hirshhorn, the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Christ Church (Oxford), Princeton University and elsewhere.

De Lisio's sculptural portraits are twenty inches high or smaller, and the bronze castings have variously colored 'patinas made by the application of different acids. His subjects have included Poe, Beardsley,

Wilde, and the writers who surrounded Sylvia Beach, gathered with her in a group sculpture, "Shakespeare and Co.," now at Smith College.

One of an edition of five, the sculpture of MM will be displayed in the Marianne Moore Room.

[page 24]



The first issue of MMN (Spring 1977), announced a competition for the source of the phrase "imaginary gardens with real toads in them" from "Poetry," first published in Others, 5 (1919), 5. The words appeared without quotation marks until Collected Poems (1951), but MM added marks by hand in her copies of Foems (1921) and Selected Poems (1935).

MM received queries about the source, and she often said she thought it came from a Yeats work but that she could not recall precisely. However, thorough checks of Yeats' writing have not found the phrase.

The contest is still open. Evidence for the source can be sent in photocopy form, if possible, to the editors of MMN. In the unlikely event that more than one correct answer is received, the prize will be awarded to the one bearing the earliest postmark.


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

MM's livingroom 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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