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About this poet

Born near St. Louis, Missouri, on November 15, 1887, Marianne Moore was raised in the home of her grandfather, a Presbyterian pastor. After her grandfather's death, in 1894, Moore and her family stayed with other relatives, and in 1896 they moved to Carlisle, Pennsylvania. She attended Bryn Mawr College and received her BA in 1909. Following graduation, Moore studied typing at Carlisle Commercial College, and from 1911 to 1915 she was employed as a school teacher at the Carlisle Indian School. In 1918, Moore and her mother moved to New York City, and in 1921, she became an assistant at the New York Public Library. She began to meet other poets, such as William Carlos Williams and Wallace Stevens, and to contribute to the Dial, a prestigious literary magazine. She served as acting editor of the Dial from 1925 to 1929. Along with the work of such other members of the Imagist movement as Ezra Pound, Williams, and H. D., Moore's poems were published in the Egoist, an English magazine, beginning in 1915. In 1921, H. D. published Moore's first book, Poems (The Egoist Press, 1921), without her knowledge.

Moore was widely recognized for her work; among her many honors were the Bollingen prize, the National Book Award, and the Pulitzer Prize. She wrote with the freedom characteristic of the other modernist poets, often incorporating quotes from other sources into the text, yet her use of language was always extraordinarily condensed and precise, capable of suggesting a variety of ideas and associations within a single, compact image. In his 1925 essay "Marianne Moore," William Carlos Williams wrote about Moore's signature mode, the vastness of the particular: "So that in looking at some apparently small object, one feels the swirl of great events." She was particularly fond of animals, and much of her imagery is drawn from the natural world. She was also a great fan of professional baseball and an admirer of Muhammed Ali, for whom she wrote the liner notes to his record, I Am the Greatest! Deeply attached to her mother, she lived with her until Mrs. Moore's death in 1947. Marianne Moore died in New York City on February 5, 1972.


Selected Bibliography

Poetry

The Complete Poems of Marianne Moore (Macmillan, 1967)
Tell Me, Tell Me: Granite, Steel, and Other Topics (Viking Press, 1966)
The Arctic ox (Faber and Faber, 1964)
O to Be a Dragon (Viking Press, 1959)
Like a Bulwark (Viking Press, 1956)
Collected Poems (Macmillan, 1951)
Nevertheless (Macmillan, 1944)
What Are Years? (Macmillan, 1941)
The Pangolin and Other Verse (Brendin Publishing Co., 1936)
Selected Poems (Macmillan, 1935)
Observations (The Dial Press, 1924)
Poems (The Egoist Press, 1921)

Prose

The Complete Prose of Marianne Moore (Viking Press, 1986)
A Marianne Moore Reader (Viking Press, 1961)
Predilections (Viking Press, 1955)

Translation

The Fables of La Fontaine (Viking Press, 1954)
Rock Crystal (The New York Review of Books, 1945)


Multimedia

From the Image Archive

 

The Paper Nautilus

Marianne Moore, 1887 - 1972
   For authorities whose hopes
are shaped by mercenaries?
   Writers entrapped by
   teatime fame and by
commuters' comforts?  Not for these
   the paper nautilus
   constructs her thin glass shell.

   Giving her perishable
souvenir of hope, a dull
   white outside and smooth-
   edged inner surface
glossy as the sea, the watchful
   maker of it guards it
   day and night; she scarcely

   eats until the eggs are hatched.
Buried eight-fold in her eight
   arms, for she is in
   a sense a devil-
fish, her glass ram'shorn-cradled freight
   is hid but is not crushed;
   as Hercules, bitten

   by a crab loyal to the hydra,
was hindered to succeed,
   the intensively
   watched eggs coming from
the shell free it when they are freed,--
   leaving its wasp-nest flaws
   of white on white, and close-

   laid Ionic chiton-folds
like the lines in the mane of
   a Parthenon horse,
   round which the arms had
wound themselves as if they knew love
   is the only fortress
   strong enough to trust to.

From The Complete Poems of Marianne Moore. Copyright © 1961 Marianne Moore, © renewed 1989 by Lawrence E. Brinn and Louise Crane, executors of the Estate of Marianne Moore.

From The Complete Poems of Marianne Moore. Copyright © 1961 Marianne Moore, © renewed 1989 by Lawrence E. Brinn and Louise Crane, executors of the Estate of Marianne Moore.

Marianne Moore

Marianne Moore

Born in 1887, Marianne Moore wrote with the freedom characteristic of the other Modernist poets, often incorporating quotes from other sources into the text, yet her use of language was always extraordinarily condensed and precise

by this poet

poem

With an elephant to ride upon—"with rings on her fingers and bells on her toes,"
   she shall outdistance calamity anywhere she goes.
Speed is not in her mind inseparable from carpets. Locomotion arose
   in the shape of an elephant; she clambered up and chose
to travel laboriously. So far as

poem
Lest by diminished vitality and abated 
   vigilance, I become food for crocodiles—for that quicksand 
   of gluttony which is legion. It is there close at hand—
      on either side 
      of me. You remember the Israelites who said in pride 

and stoutness of heart: "The bricks are fallen down, we will 
   
poem
       Not a mere blowing flame—
       A clinking ash, I feel—with shame,
          At malendeavor in your service.

But as Jehoshaphat said on that occasion in
              Old Testament history,

       "The battle is not mine,"
       And strategy laid down—in fine
          Surrender, may be conquest.