poem index

Letters of Marianne Moore

Written by

Marianne Moore
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Year

2004

To Ezra Pound - May 10, 1921
To William Carlos Williams - June 22, 1935
To E. E. Cummings - March 5, 1938
To John Warner Moore - December 12, [19]15
Glossary


In her introduction to The Selected Letters of Marianne Moore, general editor Bonnie Costello writes: "Marianne Moore's correspondence makes up the largest and most broadly significant collection of any modern poet. It documents the first two thirds of this century, reflecting shifts from Victorian to modernist culture, the experience of two world wars, the Depression and postwar prosperity, and the changing face of the arts in America and Europe. Moore wrote letters daily for most of her life--long, intense letters to friends and family; shorter, but always distinctive letters to an ever-widening circle of acquaintances and fans. At the height of her celebrity, she would occasionally write as many as fifty letters a day....It is Moore's poetry that draws us to her letters, of course. But in making this selection we have tried to present the life and mind of a woman whose interests extended to all the arts, to religion, politics, and psychology, to fashion, sports, and the domestic arts, moving freely between high culture and popular culture, and whose family and friendships remained as important as her professional life. Moore's correspondence is unique in the extent of its extraliterary interests and passionate engagement with the world at large."


To Ezra Pound - May 10, 1921

Dear Mr. Pound:



You imply that what we are doing in America might be of interest to artists in Europe; it is, of course, important to me.

It is true as Miss Anderson says, that the words "literature" and "obscenity" cannot be used synonymously any more than the words "science" and "immorality" can; and as an artist, James Joyce has been wrongly subjected to indignity by stupid people. I admire the artistry of his poems and was exhilarated by A Portrait of the Artist and although Ulysses has not held my interest enough to enable me to read a single section of it to the end, I might exert myself specifically on his behalf but I have no impulse to bestow military decorations on his editors and prefer not to be associated with them even as an exception. They are not stupid as Joyce's arraigners are stupid, but they are stupid. I accept mongrel art but a flavor of the exceptional must be there along with the negligible. By the nature of the case, anyone who cares about art, is actuated by egotism but Miss [Margaret] Anderson and Miss [Jane] Heap are not highly endowed enough to make their egotism interesting. The Dial, in a review of a recent book, says that the book somehow takes its flavor from the less successful poems and The Little Review takes its flavor from its editors. I know that they are by no means to be regarded as identical but when the most has been said for Miss Heap that can be said, I think my general conclusion still applies.

It would give me pleasure to write to you personally of anything that comes up that you might not know of, that I know would interest you. Such books as [George Moore's] Avowals, [George Saintsbury's] Héloise and Abelard, [Percy Lubbock's] The Letters of Henry James, and [Gordon Craig's] The Theatre Advancing are important but immediately on publication, they are common property. I am not at pains to investigate small books of verse and sensational fiction and have been interested most, in the last two years, in technical books such as [Benjamin Ives] Gilman's Museum Ideals of Purpose and Method, [Frank Alvah] Parsons' The Psychology of Dress, [Ernest] Harold Baynes' book on dogs [Animal Heroes of the Great War], The Earthenware Collector by G. Woolliscroft Rhead, [John J.] McGraw's and [Christopher] Mathewson's books on baseball and [Bill] Tilden's book on tennis. This last is a little crude as when it says that a tennis racquet is an introduction to any town but it is sound and aggressive both from the point of view of sport and of art.

The chief events of interest in town this winter have been Yvette Guilbert, the circus, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari--a German moving-picture film with a cast and settings of great exotic beauty, and The Beggar's Opera.

As for native material, I think we have it in Wallace Stevens, in Dr. Williams, and in E. E. Cummings as poets, and of course we pride ourselves on H. D. You speak of Dr. Williams and I suppose with us, you acclaim his spring poem in the last number of Contact, as an achievement. I have a notion that a compliment at second hand would not be a pleasure to him; besides, I have seen him but twice the past year, so I take the liberty of disregarding your injunction. E. E. Cummings is self-conscious and a little complacent but he very plainly has poetic gift, whether one is attracted to him temperamentally or not. As for prose, his article on Lachaise in the February Dial of last year, is remarkable I think; the subject may have been a happy one, but if he can write on other topics as well, he deserves a hearing. Alfred Stieglitz in his published statements and early magazines, is worth owning and Scofield Thayer, in his discernment and interplay of metaphor is very brilliant. I infer from certain letters of Gordon Craig's, which Oliver Sayler has let me read, that Gordon Craig is interested in him and I was amused by the aptness of his comment on George Nathan when he said he ought to be put through a cream separator. We pride ourselves, also, on you and T. S. Eliot. Perhaps space was restricted but I felt that W. C. Blum [James Sibley Watson] might well have cavilled at lack of opportunity to enlarge on the chapter on James in his review in The Dial, of Instigations. I well remember what you say of [Arnold] Dolmetsch in Pavannes and Divisions and feel the force of the statement in your article on [Arthur] Symons in The Athenaeum last May--that cadence is not dexterity.

Your post-card from Saint-Raphaël was a great pleasure; your enviable proximity to what is the best of the past is very much felt by those at a distance.

Sincerely yours,

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To William Carlos Williams - June 22, 1935

Dear William,
 

I was at Bryn Mawr a few days ago to read my poems. I recited "The Red Wheelbarrow" and referred to what you said about unquenchable exaltation as coming very near to a definition of poetry; the first stanza of [Stevens's] "Sailing after Lunch;" and

and this be my fame
the harder the wind blows
the taller I am

Before reading, however, there was time during supper on the porch, to talk to various students and instructors and one of the instructors said "William Carlos Williams is the only person I read that makes me feel parochial." Certainly your remark about similarity would make up to one for a great deal of thwarting and imperfection; I say would because I suppose the most that we suffer is trifling compared with battles with conscience on the part of martyrs in England, Germany, Italy, Spain, and elsewhere. Every time I see a newspaper that mentions Hitler or Abyssinia I wonder why I do not walk up and down the street like a sandwich-man wearing as broadside your "Item. " for good though certain other things are this says it all.

I am sorry to have missed the game at the polo grounds but I miss so much, nearly everything, that I am hardened to loss.

The remarks of "The Rocking Horse" are too good for me; but served at the same time, to make me wonder why I did not send you a copy of my book. I got one with you in mind, in case I saw you--this is to make you feel sorry for your obduracy about not coming over--but also I felt you may have all you care to have that is in my book. I am now going to get the copy out of the old cherry bureau in which it is, and send it to you, solving the problem by not writing in it so that you can transfer it to someone as occasion offers, and you are not to be bothered thanking me.

You and Florence and the boys must come over here in the fall when we get back from Virginia. Or journey in a body to the Metropolitan Museum to see the animal-rugs? Or to a good cheap restaurant to eat some tough bread? The idea of foregoing visits as one becomes an older and older musketeer and needs them the more, is the apex of folly.

Yours affectionately, Marianne M.

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To E. E. Cummings - March 5, 1938
 

Dear Mr. Cummings--blasphemous, inexorable, disrespectful, sinful author though you are--you received a cordial welcome at my door today. I remarked to my mother not long ago, "I wish I could write something that people would regard with the anticipatory confidence with which I hear of any new book by E. E. Cummings." The "Introduction" to this one makes me blush for the moderateness of the above statement. The more I study the equivalences here of "most people's" language, the formidable use of nursery lore, and the further unfortuities,--known to you as technique but never known to lookers-on,--the better, live-er, more undimmed and undiminished they seem. Those who are deaf to the sublime, have to be without it; that is their honorarium. So, no thanks;* in the sense that thanks are too trivial.

Sincerely yours,

* No Thanks was the title of Cummings's 1935 volume

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To John Warner Moore - December 12, [19]15

Dear Badger,
 

Yesterday from 10-12:30 Mr. Norcross, Florence's brother, paid tribute to us, and the day before from 10 to one. Mole says while anyone wants anything of us we "dare" not be too tired to give it.

I'll have to tell you about the expedition in installments. (1) I suppose Mole told you that I had met J. B. Kerfoot. Wednesday morning I went to "291" to see as I thought, some of Alfred Stieglitz's photography. He had an exhibition up of [Oscar] Bluemner, a modern architect. Mr. Stieglitz was exceedingly unemotional, and friendly and finally after telling me how he was hated, said I might come back and look at some of the things standing with their faces to the wall in a back room. I enjoyed them. He has a magnificent little thing of the sea in dark blue and some paintings of mountains by a man named [Marsden] Hartley, also some Picabias and Picassos and so on. He told me to come back and he would show me some other things. I stopped at the Modern Gall. on my way home to see some Van Goghs and some of Mr. Stieglitz's magazines and at one I got back to the Training School. Zaroubi Himurjian took us for luncheon to a Turkish restaurant, the Constantinople. We had soup and pieces of meat roasted on skewers and meat fried in grapeleaves and rice and pastry and ice cream. We then saw some ancient Chinese rugs at an Armenian wholesale rug place and an importer there took us to see the processes of silk making. The demonstrator was a "parvenu" as Zaroubi said who buzzed on about reels and filatures and dyevats punctuating his story with asides to his stenographer. Finally he said, "Minnie is my taxi waiting?" "I have a luncheon engagement at the Astor House for 12 o'clock and I'm now half an hour late but might as well complete the story. This is the last process." Finally he took his coat and stick and hat and sailed off telling the stenographer, that if anyone wanted him, he would be in "the palm room." Zaroubi said, "Oh the intellectual dude! And his taxi was not there!" And it wasn't. We then paid a visit to the brass shop near Allen Street and saw Brides and Grooms in the windows and got back just after 4. Alfred Kreymborg was waiting for me, by appointment and I never was so surprised to see anyone. He is middle height, quiet, dignified, dry, unpuffed up, very deliberate and kind; he was dressed in [a] black suit with the suspicion of a white check in it like your 1913 suit you got at Kronenberg's and was wearing a new pair of shoes, very plain and rather fashionable, nothing deluxe. I asked him if he had expected to have a meeting of the people he spoke about in his letter and he said he would like to but couldn't be sure. He was just up, had been sick for some time and so had Mrs. Kreymborg but that there were a good many out of town people in town. I told him I had seen his Studies in Love and Life [Love and Life, and Other Studies] and his article on Duchamp in The Transcript. He nearly sank down in a fit, when I spoke of Studies of Love and Life! He said, I feel as if I ought to go home. Those are worthless things I did them when I was 18. I hate to think there are any of them about etc. Where do you see them? etc. He also deprecated The Transcript article and said, "It was very tired, it dragged towards the end but I couldn't do any better so I let it go." He then explained how the pictures of Duchamp and some other celebrity had been mixed and how The Transcript sassed him for objecting to the slip till Duchamp himself remonstrated. He gave me the back numbers of Others and told me about half a dozen people in N.Y. said he "couldn't live with him" when I asked him what Floyd Dell was like, said Duchamp was a lovely fellow and Alanson Hartpence. Said he knew Horace Holley (2) and Mr. Kerfoot and Mr. Stieglitz. He said, "Did you tell Mr. Stieglitz you knew me?" I said "no, I didn't know he knew Mr. Kerfoot or you or any of the men who are interested in poetry." He then said how good Mr. Stieglitz had been to him, and given him things and how he (A. K.) had printed Mr. Kerfoot's criticism of Others in the November number and so forth. He then said the madame and he wanted me to come to dinner some time. He said, "I have to go round to the studio of a man who lives near here, Mr. [Adolf] Wolff's, perhaps you have seen his poems--he has been at Blackwells Island (3) for a while and has just come out. What plans have you for tonight? Could you come round with me for a moment to his studio and then go on to the house for supper? We have nothing prepared but I can go out and get a few chops. I am sure you wouldn't be intruding at Mr. Wolff's. We have nothing private to talk over and I won't be there long." "Mr. Wolff," he said "is changed in a great many ways since being on Blackwells Island and he has put lots of what he saw, into his poems. Here is one." He read a poem on identification and another about men carrying buckets, bent like patriarchs and so on. I said I would ask Hall if it would be convenient for me to go home with him. "But" I said, "if you have been sick perhaps I'd better not go. Suppose I come another time." "Not at all" he said, "we want you and it's not a party it's just us," and so forth. Hall was loath to consent but I got assent after introducing Alfred to her. On the way to Mr. Wolff's, Alfred said, "Are you often here?" I said, "no this [is] the first time, to go round by myself. I have been through New York on the way to other places and my brother used to be here or near here teaching and he took me round once to make a call but I didn't know where I was." "You have never been to N. York before!" Alfred could hardly take in the enormity of it. He said "I'd like to see your brother when he comes. You say he's often here? Send anyone round. Remember we want your brother when he comes to town, etc." At last we arrived at the Studio on Madison Ave. Alfred said "I'm afraid Adolf lives in a palace." We then moved a house or two farther on. "This is almost as bad" he said "but this is the place." We went up four flights of a spic and span apartment and "Adolf" appeared in a blouse I think but I can't be sure, leaning over the banisters. He greeted me when introduced very limply, in a harmless casual way and said we could not come into the apartment proper as the floor was not dry enough to walk on. It has just been stained I think but it was a gorgeous place in point of situation and atmosphere, (it was a front room). There was nothing in it, but 2 pictures on the wall, a modern oil in rather deep colors of a German street and a small thing I didn't notice. We were shown into the studio on the opposite side of the passage, also front. It was full of plaster statues the best things I have seen for a long time and the only things of their kind, done all, in right angles--they are full of drollery and wit however and some were very powerful. One I liked particularly of a mother holding two children--the first child sitting on the mother's lap with his feet straight out in front of him and the second child sitting on the first, in the same position. [MM sketches the statue.] He also had a cat that I liked. Mr. Wolff himself is stout, moderately genial, naive, and dry with black hair and beard. Alfred said, "Adolf your poems have made a hit with the highbrows, they're all quoting you." "Is it posseebal?" Mr. Wolff said unconcernedly but genially. Afterwhile we left and he said, "Miss Moore: Come and see me."

The Kreymborgs live at 29 Bank Street, Greenwich Village. You take the Madison Ave. car to 14th St.--that is Madison Ave. runs into 14th, change at 14th and go along 14 to 8th Avenue. Then get out and walk: turn to the left and then to the right in a sort of zig zag (anyone there, knows where Bank Street is). Alfred pointed out the old fashioned houses and it took about 2 minutes to get to his own. He opened the door and said, "I've brought Miss Moore." Whereupon "Mrs. Kreymborg" advanced with the most glowing expression and said "I'm so glad, give me your coat. Alfred you help Miss Moore to take her things off. Put them here. Supper's almost ready. I am so sorry Mrs. Kreymborg isn't here but she'll be back any moment." We smiled and Alfred led me round the room slowly showing me things. The room is large, the walls are pale yellow and nothing is "extravagant." A small kitchenette opens from the room with folding doors which they keep open as the kitchen is an enlarged cupboard the width of the room. In one corner of the living room next to the far end of the kitchen is a round fumed oak table on which we ate and framing the corner is a book case full of the things we have, the Brownings in lamb skin and Tennyson and Shelley and against the other side of the kitchen partition is another book case with some larger sets, Turgenev, Molière etc. An old fashioned white fire place, which is closed up is in the middle of the room opposite the doors from the hall, (with the small classics as noted, on the right,) and a desk and old Remington typewriter on the left. Over the desk (which is a table) is a magnificent photograph of Whitman with autographs and on the street wall between the windows is an enormous full length gilt mirror. Against the hall wall, (opposite the fireplace bookcase and Whitman) is a wide, low couch covered with pillows and one cute little orange velvet one and there is a painting on that wall of a girl in [a] green dress against a dull yellow background framed in a heavy gilt, regulation oil painting frame. They have a few chairs--one wicker I think and some straight ones. Presently they gave me [a] towel and told me "the first room at the top of the stairs on the right" and after I came down Alfred went up and presently we sat down to supper. (When we had first come in, Alfred had said he would go out for some chops but I prevented him and as it turned out they are on a vegetable diet and can't eat meat for a while, or anything but chicken.) We had potatoes and lima beans and salsify and carrots I think, beautifully cooked and applesauce and bread [and] jam. They gave me six times more than I could eat. They have pretty china with a small red and green design on it, and silver spoons like ours and pepper in the pot and paper napkins and a dish of fruit. I said, while Alfred was out, "It is such a pleasure to know you and Mr. Kreymborg and to be here but I am afraid it will tire you to have me since you have both been sick." "Not a bit," Mrs. Kreymborg said, "Don't you think of it. We're enjoying it so." A. K. came in at [that] moment and I said, "I was just telling Mrs. Kreymborg that it is a great delight to know you both and find you--as you are." "What did you think we were like?" he said. "Oh," I said, "very tall, with dark hair, very intimidating." Alfred grinned and gave a sniff--"Shall I tell her?" he said. "Gertrude told me to go and see you and if you were nice, to bring you home to supper." "Otherwise not," I said. They laughed.

On the way down, Alfred had told me about Amy Lowell and the Poetry Society. He said "there is a poetry society in town, where they wear evening dress and give dinners and have celebrities speak. You haven't heard of it? Well, doesn't amount to anything. You want to keep away from it." I said I supposed that Amy Lowell had been to it and he said "Yes, we had her at a meeting one night. She's impossible. About so wide--and she can't talk about anything but herself. Seemed to take no interest in anything but her own work, and 'Pound.' She has had a falling out with him--I think she's made it up but she told us all about it. She doesn't go, with the crowd." I said I liked some of her work and he said "So do I but she was a great disappointment." Alfred then went on to say that he liked Ezra Pound personally though his work had fallen short and then I enlarged on the Aldingtons. Alfred said, "It is interesting to see how people's impressions of other people differ. This is in confidence, but I have had all sorts of trouble to get Richard Aldington to do anything for the magazine. I wrote to him and he didn't answer the letter and then I wrote to him again and got a very uncalled for disagreeable sort of letter that had no justification so far as I could see. I replied and told him what I thought and now things are straightened out and he's sent me something but I asked him to tell the others, Flint (4) and [John Gould] Fletcher and H. D. to send some things and he has taken no notice of it. I said "Should you object to my writing to them and telling them about you and the magazine not mentioning of course that fact that you had talked of them?" "Not at all," he said. "I should be glad if you would. So I can do something for them possibly." After supper they showed me pictures, some photographs by Mr. Stieglitz and [Edward] Steichen, of Shaw, Anatole France and others, that Mr. Stieglitz had given them and some of the most superb pictures of snow and engines and boats that I have ever seen. Alfred said "Are you fond of Japanese prints? We have a hundred and one things to show you." (I am just waiting for you to see the pictures, old bird.) I asked if "Mrs. K." wrote poetry and Alfred said music is our other bug. (Mrs. K. plays the piano and he plays the mandolin.) She was wearing a blue crepe (turquoise blue) dress short sleeves and small round, low neck and sewed on a curtain while Alfred read a few things. She has brown hair and eyes and [the] loveliest smile I ever have seen. To be continued. Don't you skip.

Weaz

1. MM had gone to New York with Hall Cowdray and her family. They apparently met Zanoubi Himurjian, an architect and painter, and a close friend of Alfred Stieglitz's, at the YWCA Training School, where they stayed.
2. Secretary of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha'is of the United States and Canada and author of books about Bahaism (1887-1960).
3. An insane asylum located in New York City.
4. F. S. Flint, English Poet and translator (1885-1960), editor of the Imagist Anthology.

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Glossary

Richard Aldington (1892-1962) British poet who also published translations, an autobiography, and critical essays. As an associate editor of The Egoist, he accepted two of MM's early poems for publication. Married to H.D. (1913-38).
Margaret Anderson (1886-1973) American who founded and edited The Little Review.
Gordon Craig (1872-1966) English author, editor, theorist, director, and stage designer, with whom MM corresponded between 1926 and 1927. She had a keen interest in his work.
The Dial (1880-1929) reviving the earlier nineteenth-century periodical by that name (1840-44), which was edited by Margaret Fuller and Ralph Waldo Emerson. Scofield Thayer and James Sibley Watson became co-owners of The Dial in 1920, publishing it as a monthly of art and literature between 1920 and 1929. Edited by MM between 1925 and 1929.
Jane Heap (1887-1964) American editor, critic, and painter who was coeditor, with Margaret Anderson, of The Little Review.
John Bartlett Kerfoot (1865-1927) literary editor of Life magazine and associate editor of Camera Work, whose writing MM admired and whom she met at Alfred Stieglitz's gallery during her 1915 trip to New York.
Alfred Kreymborg (1883-1966) American poet and playwright who edited Others. MM met Kreymborg in 1915 in New York, where he introduced her to several leading artists, editors, and writers.
Gaston Lachaise (1882-1935) French artist and sculptor; acquaintance of MM's whose work she admired. His alabaster head of her is in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Illustrations of his work appeared in The Dial.
Amy Lowell (1874-1925) American poet; casual acquaintance of MM's during the 1920s.
John Warner Moore brother of MM. B.A. Yale, 1908; B.D. Princeton Theological Seminary, 1914; chaplain, U.S. Navy, 1917-48, retiring as captain. Thereafter became chaplain at boys' preparatory school, The Gunnery, Washington, Ct. Married Constance Eustis, 1918. Primary family nicknames: "Biter" and several other names suggesting dogs; "Turtle;" "Badger;" "Toad;" "Fish;" "Bible;" referred to himself in the third person as "Porker."
Marianne Moore (1887-1972) Primary family nicknames: "Uncle;" "Gator;" "Fangs;" "Rat;" "Basilisk;" "Feather;" "Weaz." Referred to herself in the third person as "Barca" ("Barka") and as "Willow."
Mary Warner Moore (1862-1947) mother of MM and John Warner Moore. Daughter of the Reverend John Riddle Warner and Jane ("Jennie") Craig Warner. Married John Milton Moore (1885); separated from him before the birth of MM. Primary family nicknames: "Bunny" and other names suggesting rabbits; "Fawn;" "Mouse;" "Mole;" "Bear;" "Cub."
Alfred Stieglitz (1864-1946) American photographer and promoter of modern painting. Editor of American Amateur Photographer (1892-96), Camera Notes (1897-1903), and the quarterly Camera Work (1903-17).
Scofield Thayer (1890-1982) American poet and co-owner of The Dial with James Sibley Watson. Editor of The Dial from 1920 to 1925, at which point MM became editor. A friend of MM's with whom she corresponded throughout the twenties.
James Sibley Watson, Jr. (1894-1982) co-owner, with Scofield Thayer, of The Dial; contributor, under W. C. Blum; creator of experimental films; M.D. and innovator in field of radiology. MM frequently addressed him as "Doctor Watson. " A friend of MM's whose work she admired and with whom she corresponded between 1921 and 1970.