Last reviewed: June 2018
November 15, 1887
February 5, 1972
New York, New York
Most biographical sources on Marianne Craig Moore include the facts that T. S. Eliot was also born in St. Louis (Kirkwood is a St. Louis suburb) about ten months after Moore, that his father and her grandfather were both ministers, and that both became important figures in very different schools of poetry: Moore did much to promote new American poetry in the 1920s; Eliot revamped past poets’ reputations. Their paths eventually crossed, and Eliot wrote the introduction for her Selected Poems, a volume which stabilized her reputation as an important new poet. Marianne Moore
Moore was much influenced by close family ties. When her father suffered a nervous breakdown, she and her brother John moved with their mother to the home of her grandfather, the Reverend John Riddle Warner. After his death in 1894 they moved to Carlisle, Pennsylvania, where Moore attended school. She received a BA degree from Bryn Mawr in 1909. While there she published a number of poems in the college literary magazines; the poems, she says, were not “earth shaking.” She spent considerable time working in the biology lab; she also considered becoming a painter. Before graduating, Moore served on the editorial board of Bryn Mawr’s literary magazine. From 1911 to 1915 Moore taught business subjects in the United States Indian School in Carlisle. From 1916 to 1918 she and her mother lived in Chatham, New Jersey, with her brother John, who was a Presbyterian minister. When John joined the US Navy as a chaplain, Moore and her mother moved to a basement apartment in Greenwich Village.
During her eleven years in Greenwich Village, Moore became one of the leading members of a “new” group of area poets that included William Carlos Williams, Kenneth Burke, and Wallace Stevens. She was the first of the group to be recognized by avant-garde publications when her poem “England” appeared in The Dial in 1920. In 1921 her first book of poems was published by two friends in England without her knowledge. Following her second book, Observations, Moore was awarded $2,000 by The Dial, whose founders were aware that writing poetry was not a lucrative profession. The next five issues of The Dial published and praised her work; she was named acting editor in June, 1925. A year later she became editor, a post which lasted until the magazine’s dissolution in July, 1929. While working on The Dial, Moore did not have time to work on her own writing; no new works appeared from 1924 until Selected Poems in 1935. This volume gave her work wide distribution; her reputation had already been established by The Dial, and such poets as Ezra Pound and Eliot had praised her.
When her mother became ill in 1929 they moved to an apartment in Brooklyn where Moore was to live for the rest of her life. It was an “average” neighborhood among tenement buildings, an ideal location for a writer who said that her chief occupation was observation.
Moore’s mother died in 1947. To abate the loneliness she felt after losing her best friend and critic, Moore began translating Jean de La Fontaine’s Fables (1668-1694). She completed the project in 1954. Although the translating project occupied a great deal of time, she still devoted much energy to her poetry. Her Collected Poems won the Pulitzer Prize, the Bollingen Prize, and the National Book Award.
It is difficult to consider Moore’s biography apart from her poetry. She was, in both her life and her works, a moralist; her honesty would not let her avoid it. She followed her own advice: “Whatever you do, put all you have into it.” Elizabeth Bishop’s poem, “For M.M.,” ends each stanza with a plea: “Please come flying.” That line captures the enthusiasm and energetic magic that permeates Moore’s life and works. Moore herself called it a “tame excitement.” Eliot said of Moore that “her poems form part of that small body of durable poetry written in our time”—a statement amply borne out by her work.