Friday, April 4, 2014

Case Study No. 1345: Marianne Craig Moore

Silence by Marianne Moore
Silence by Marianne Moore

Like all truly great poets, Marianne Moore is just a little bit bitter. After all, what is the point of having a way with words if you don't allow yourself to be witty?
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She was born Marianne Craig Moore in Kirkwood, Missouri, the daughter of John Milton Moore, a construction engineer and inventor, and Mary Warner. Moore had an older brother, John Warner Moore. She never met her father; before her birth his invention of a smokeless furnace failed, and he had a nervous and mental breakdown and was hospitalized in Massachusetts. Moore's mother became a housekeeper for John Riddle Warner, her father, an, affectionate, well-read Presbyterian pastor in Kirkwood, until his death in 1894. Moore's mother, always overly protective, moved with her children briefly to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and then to Carlisle, Pennsylvania, where Moore attended the Metzger Institute (now part of Dickinson College) through high school. In 1905 she entered Bryn Mawr College, in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania; published nine poems, including "A Jelly-Fish," in its literary magazines Tipyn O'Bob and the Lantern; and majored in history, law, and politics, graduating with a B.A. in 1909. Much--perhaps too much--has been made of Moore's later casual assertion that laboratory studies in biology and histology caused her to consider studying medicine; at any rate, one result of such work was her love of intricately shaped animals and also a lifelong respect for precision in description. She also expressed a desire to become a painter. After taking secretarial courses at Carlisle Commercial College (1910-1911), she taught bookkeeping, stenography, and typing and commercial English and law at the U.S. Industrial Indian School at Carlisle with admirable success until 1915. One of her students was Jim Thorpe, the famous Native American athlete.

In the summer of 1911 Moore and her mother traveled in England, Scotland, and France, and while abroad they visited art museums in Glasgow, Oxford, London, and Paris. In 1915 Moore began to publish poems professionally. Seven poems (including "To the Soul of 'Progress,'" displaying her early habit of rhyming single-syllable lines, sometimes spaced apart) appeared in the Egoist, a London bimonthly edited by Hilda Doolittle (H.D.) and featuring modern imagist poets, whose delicacy and compression she admired. Four (including "That Harp You Play So Well" about David the psalmist, and two about Robert Browning and George Bernard Shaw) appeared in Poetry: A Magazine of Verse (Chicago), which featured innovative writers quickly admired and influential. And five (including two on William Blake and George Moore) were published in Others, a magazine Alfred Kreymborg coedited. During these years Moore was reading much avant-garde poetry and criticism and was beginning to publish subjective reviews and critical essays.

In 1916 Moore moved with her mother from Carlisle to Chatham, New Jersey, to help keep house for her brother, by then a Yale University graduate and a Presbyterian minister. When in 1918 he joined the U.S. Navy as a chaplain, Moore and her mother moved to Manhattan. By this time she was friendly with Kreymborg, photographer Alfred Stieglitz, and poets Wallace Stevens and William Carlos Williams and was also esteemed by H.D., T. S. Eliot, and Ezra Pound. H.D., with the help of her patron Bryher (Winifred Ellerman), who was then H.D.'s lover, selected twenty-four of Moore's poems, many of which had appeared in the Egoist, and published them in a small book titled Poems (1921) without her knowledge. From 1921 until 1925 Moore worked part-time in the Hudson Park branch of the New York City library.




Let me see. You taught at the Carlisle Indian School, after Bryn Mawr. Then after you moved to New York in 1918 you taught at a private school and worked in a library. Did these occupations have anything to do with you as a writer?


I think they hardened my muscles considerably, my mental approach to things. Working as a librarian was a big help, a tremendous help. Miss Leonard of the Hudson Park branch of the New York Public Library opposite our house came to see me one day. I wasn't in, and she asked my mother did she think I would care to be on the staff, work in the library, because I was so fond of books and liked to talk about them to people. My mother said no, she thought not; the shoemaker's children never have shoes, I probably would feel if I joined the staff that I'd have no time to read. When I came home she told me, and I said, “Why, certainly. Ideal. I'll tell her. Only I couldn't work more than half a day.” If I had worked all day and maybe evenings or overtime, like the mechanics, why, it would not have been ideal.

As a free service we were assigned books to review and I did like that. We didn't get paid but we had the chance to diagnose. I reveled in it. Somewhere I believe I have carbon copies of those “P-slip” summaries. They were the kind of things that brought the worst-best out. I was always wondering why they didn't honor me with an art book or medical book or even a history, or criticism. But no, it was fiction, silent-movie fiction.



"Silence" by Marianne Moore

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
by speech which has delighted them.
The deepest feeling always shows itself in silence;
not in silence, but restraint."
Nor was he insincere in saying, "Make my house your inn."
Inns are not residences.

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