Marianne Moore (November 15, 1887 – February 5, 1972) was a Modernist American poet and writer.
Description: Marianne Moore, 13 November 1948
Photographer: Carl Van Vechten
Credit Line: Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, Van Vechten Collection, reproduction number LC-USZ62-42513 (b&w film copy neg.).
Marianne Moore was born in Kirkwood, Missouri, in the manse of the Presbyterian church where her maternal grandfather, John Riddle Warner, served as pastor. She was the daughter of construction engineer and inventor John Milton Moore and his wife, Mary Warner. She grew up in her grandfather’s household; her father having been committed to a mental hospital before her birth. In 1905, Moore entered Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania and graduated four years later. She taught at the Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, until 1915, when Moore began to professionally publish poetry.
In part because of her extensive European travels before the First World War, Moore came to the attention of poets as diverse as Wallace Stevens, William Carlos Williams, H.D., T. S. Eliot, and Ezra Pound. From 1925 until 1929, Moore served as editor of the literary and cultural journal The Dial. This continued her role, similar to that of Pound, as a patron of poetry, encouraging promising young poets, including Elizabeth Bishop, Allen Ginsberg, John Ashbery and James Merrill, and publishing, as well as refining poetic technique, early work.
In 1933, Moore was awarded the Helen Haire Levinson Prize from Poetry. Her Collected Poems of 1951 is perhaps her most rewarded work; it earned the poet the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award, and the Bollingen Prize. Moore became a minor celebrity, in New York literary circles, serving as unofficial hostess for the Mayor. She attended boxing matches, baseball games and other public events, dressed in what became her signature garb, a tricorn hat and a black cape. She particularly liked athletics and athletes, and was a great admirer of Muhammad Ali, to whose spoken-word album, I Am the Greatest!, she wrote liner notes. Moore continued to publish poems in various journals, including The Nation, The New Republic, and Partisan Review, as well as publishing various books and collections of her poetry and criticism. Moore corresponded for a time with W. H. Auden and Ezra Pound during the latter’s incarceration.
Her most famous poem is perhaps the one entitled, appropriately, “Poetry”, in which she hopes for poets who can produce “imaginary gardens with real toads in them.” It also expressed her idea that meter, or anything else that claims the exclusive title, “poetry,” is not as important as delight in language and precise, heartfelt expression in any form. She often composed her own poetry in syllabics. These syllabic lines from “Poetry” illustrate her position: poetry is a matter of skill and honesty in any form whatsoever, while anything written poorly, although in perfect form, cannot be poetry:
- nor is it valid
- to discriminate against “business documents and
- nor is it valid
- school-books”: all these phenomena are important. One must make a distinction
- however: when dragged into prominence by half poets, the result is not poetry
In 1955, Moore was informally invited by David Wallace, manager of marketing research for Ford’s “E-car” project, and his co-worker Bob Young to provide input with regard to the naming of the car. Wallace’s rationale was “Who better to understand the nature of words than a poet?” On October 1955, Moore was approached to submit “inspirational names” for the E-car, and on November 7, she offered her list of names, which included such notables as “Resilient Bullet”, “Ford Silver Sword”, “Mongoose Civique”, “Varsity Stroke”, “Pastelogram” and “Andante con Moto.” On December 8, she submitted her last and most famous name, “Utopian Turtletop.” The E-car was finally christened by Ford as the Edsel.
Not long after throwing the first pitch for the 1968 season in Yankee Stadium, Moore suffered a stroke. She suffered a series of strokes thereafter, and died in 1972. She was interred in Gettysburg’s Evergreen Cemetery.
Moore never married. Moore’s living room has been preserved in its original layout in the collections of the Rosenbach Museum & Library in Philadelphia. Her entire library, knicknacks (including a baseball signed by Mickey Mantle), all of her correspondence, photographs, and poetry drafts are available for public viewing.
Like Robert Lowell, Moore revised a great many of her early poems (including “Poetry”) in later life. These appeared in The Complete Poems of 1967, after which critics tended to accept as canonical the “elderly Moore’s revisions of the exuberant texts of her own poetic youth.” Facsimile editions of the theretofore out-of-print 1924 Observations became available in 2002. Since that time there has been no critical consensus about which versions are authoritative.
In 1996 she was inducted into the St. Louis Walk of Fame.
Wikisource has original text related to this article:
Marianne MoorePoems, 1921. Published in London by H.D. without Moore’s knowledge.
Selected Poems, 1935. Introduction by T. S. Eliot.
The Pangolin and Other Verse, 1936.
What Are Years, 1941.
A Face, 1949.
Collected Poems, 1951.
Fables of La Fontaine, 1954. Verse translations of La Fontaine’s fables.
Predilections: Literary Essays, 1955.
Idiosyncrasy and Technique, 1966.
Like a Bulwark, 1956.
O To Be a Dragon, 1959.
Idiosyncrasy and Technique, 1959.
The Marianne Moore Reader, 1961.
The Absentee: A Comedy in Four Acts, 1962. A dramatization of Maria Edgeworth’s novel.
Puss in Boots, The Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella, 1963. Adaptations from Perrault.
Dress and Kindred Subjects, 1965.
Poetry and Criticism, 1965.
Tell Me, Tell Me: Granite, Steel and Other Topics, 1966.
The Complete Poems, 1967.
The Accented Syllable, 1969.
Homage to Henry James, 1971. Essays by Moore, Edmund Wilson, etc.
The Complete Poems, 1981.
The Complete Prose, 1986.
The Selected Letters of Marianne Moore, edited by Bonnie Costello, Celested Goodridge, Cristann Miller. Knopf, 1997.
^ Her experience was memorably recounted in her April 13, 1957 epistoloic article for The New Yorker called “Correspondence with David Wallace”. It is anthologized in Mordechai Richler’s The Best of of Modern Humour, Knopf, 1983, pp 66-73. She notes in her preface, “[These letters] should correct the impression persistent among inquirers that I succeeded in finding for the new products division .. a name for the new car I had been recruited to name; whereas I did not give the car the name it now has.” See also: Edsel.com
^ McCabe, Susan. Cinematic Modernism: Modernist Poetry and Film. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press (2005): 259.
^ Schulze Robin G. (ed.). Becoming Marianne Moore : the early poems, 1907-1924. Berkeley: University of California Press (2002)