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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

 

A Grave

Marianne Moore, 1887 - 1972
Man looking into the sea,
taking the view from those who have as much right to it as you have to 
          yourself,
it is human nature to stand in the middle of a thing,
but you cannot stand in the middle of this;
the sea has nothing to give but a well excavated grave.
The firs stand in a procession, each with an emerald turkey-foot at the 
          top,
reserved as their contours, saying nothing;
repression, however, is not the most obvious characteristic of the sea;
the sea is a collector, quick to return a rapacious look.
There are others besides you who have worn that look--
whose expression is no longer a protest; the fish no longer investigate
          them
for their bones have not lasted:
men lower nets, unconscious of the fact that they are desecrating a grave,
and row quickly away--the blades of the oars
moving together like the feet of water-spiders as if there were no such
          thing as death.
The wrinkles progress among themselves in a phalanx--beautiful under 
          networks of foam,
and fade breathlessly while the sea rustles in and out of the seaweed;
the birds swim through the air at top speed, emitting cat-calls as hereto-
          fore--
the tortoise-shell scourges about the feet of the cliffs, in motion beneath
          them;
and the ocean, under the pulsation of lighthouses and noise of bellbuoys,
advances as usual, looking as if it were not that ocean in which dropped
          things are bound to sink--
in which if they turn and twist, it is neither with volition nor 
          consciousness.

From The Complete Poems of Marianne Moore. Copyright © 1981 by Marianne Craig Moore. Reprinted with permission of Marianne Craig Moore. All rights reserved.

From The Complete Poems of Marianne Moore. Copyright © 1981 by Marianne Craig Moore. Reprinted with permission of Marianne Craig Moore. All rights reserved.

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
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
Trying to open locked doors with a sword, threading
   the points of needles, planting shade trees
   upside down; swallowed by the opaqueness of one whom the seas
love better than they love you, Ireland—

you have lived and lived on every kind of shortage.
   You have been compelled by hags to spin
   gold
poem
My father used to say,
"Superior people never make long visits,
have to be shown Longfellow's grave
or the glass flowers at Harvard.
Self-reliant like the cat—
that takes its prey to privacy,
the mouse's limp tail hanging like a shoelace from its mouth— 
they sometimes enjoy solitude,
and can be robbed of speech