poem index

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

 

Sojourn in the Whale

Marianne Moore, 1887 - 1972
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 thread from straw and have heard men say:
"There is a feminine temperament in direct contrast to ours,

which makes her do these things. Circumscribed by a 
   heritage of blindness and native
   incompetence, she will become wise and will be forced to give in.
Compelled by experience, she will turn back;

water seeks its own level";
   and you have smiled. "Water in motion is far
   from level." You have seen it, when obstacles happened to bar
the path, rise automatically.

First published in Others (1917). This poem is in the public domain.

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

He often expressed
A curious wish,
To be interchangeably
Man and fish;
To nibble the bait
Off the hook,
Said he,
And then slip away
Like a ghost
In the sea.

poem

Fragments of sin are a part of me.
New brooms shall sweep clean the heart of me.
      Shall they? Shall they?

When this light life shall have passed away,
God shall redeem me, a castaway.
      Shall He? Shall He?

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.