Authors: Marianne Moore

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

Last reviewed: June 2018

American poet

November 15, 1887

Kirkwood, Missouri

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. {$I[AN]9810000459} {$I[A]Moore, Marianne} {$I[geo]WOMEN;Moore, Marianne} {$I[geo]UNITED STATES;Moore, Marianne} {$I[tim]1887;Moore, Marianne}

Marianne Moore

(Library of Congress)

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.

Author Works Poetry: Poems, 1921 Observations, 1924 Selected Poems, 1935 The Pangolin, and Other Verse, 1936 What Are Years, 1941 Nevertheless, 1944 Collected Poems, 1951 Like a Bulwark, 1956 O to Be a Dragon, 1959 Tell Me, Tell Me, 1966 The Complete Poems of Marianne Moore, 1967, 1981 Drama: The Absentee, pb. 1962 Nonfiction: Predilections, 1955 Selected Letters, 1998 Translation: Selected Fables of La Fontaine, 1955 Miscellaneous: A Marianne Moore Reader, 1961 The Complete Prose of Marianne Moore, 1986 Bibliography Costello, Bonnie. Marianne Moore: Imaginary Possessions. Harvard UP, 1981. Having studied the notebooks, clippings, pamphlets, and books from which Moore’s many quotations are derived, Costello provides a guide to understanding Moore’s poetry. Each chapter discusses a poetic element: symbols, images, poems on poetry, and three of Moore’s critical essays and forms. Goodrich, Celeste. Marianne Moore and Her Contemporaries. U of Iowa P, 1989. In some respects a study for specialists, this work does document the interactions between Moore and her more conspicuous male colleagues T. S. Eliot, Wallace Stevens, Ezra Pound, and William Carlos Williams. It is fully documented and indexed, and contains a selected bibliography. Hadas, Pamela White. Marianne Moore: Poet of Affection. Syracuse UP, 1977. Hadas brings out the human qualities in the objects and animals that are often the subjects of Moore’s poems. She shows how Moore bridges the scientific knowledge of animals and the human fields of music, art, and language. This useful book helps to make difficult poems more understandable and ends with notes, a bibliography, and an index. Holley, Margaret. The Poetry of Marianne Moore: A Study in Voice and Value. Cambridge UP, 1987. This mainstay standard scholarly commentary on Moore’s poetry is more readable and useful than most. It provides insights and persuasive interpretations. The biographical sketch is separate and concise, and the text also includes a chronology of publication, notes, an accurate bibliography, and an index. Joyce, Elisabeth W. Cultural Critique and Abstraction: Marianne Moore and the Avant-Garde. Bucknell UP, 1998. A critical assessment of Moore’s work and her association with the avant-garde. Includes bibliographical references and index. Martin, Taffy. Marianne Moore: Subversive Modernist. U of Texas P, 1986. Martin attempts to integrate Moore into the women’s movement, with some success but also some strain. The study combines biography and commentary, and includes notes and an index. Miller, Christine. Marianne Moore: Questions of Authority. Harvard UP, 1995. Takes a feminist approach to reading Moore’s poetry, analyzing how her female voice counters masculine views of poetic “authority.” Molesworth, Charles. Marianne Moore: A Literary Life. Atheneum, 1990. Access to Moore’s letters to her mother and brother provided Molesworth with valuable biographical material. The story of Moore’s life revealed here shows how carefully she made decisions about each step she took. Sixteen pages of photographs, notes, and an index complete the work. Moore, Marianne. Selected Letters. Edited by Bonnie Costello, Celeste Goodridge, and Cristanne Miller. Penguin Books, 1998. Moore was an inveterate letter writer; she sometimes wrote up to fifty letters a day to her brother and a variety of other writers and artists. The letters, chosen by the editors from about thirty thousand that survive, are the crème de la crème. Moore’s writing describes both the quotidian events of her life and her deepest insecurities about her writing and provides insight into contemporary events. Stamy, Cynthia. Marianne Moore and China: Orientalism and a Writing of America. Oxford UP, 1999. Criticism and interpretation of Moore’s poetry. Bibliography, index. Stapleton, Laurence. Marianne Moore: The Poet’s Advance. 1978. Reprint. Princeton UP, 1999. Stapleton chronicles the continuity of Moore’s “courageous act of self-exploration” in a detailed examination of her poems, essays, and translations. Includes notes and an index. Tomlinson, Charles, ed. Marianne Moore: A Collection of Critical Essays. Prentice-Hall, 1969. Twenty-one articles by leading critics and poets are grouped in five sections: an interview with Moore; early comments by Ezra Pound, T. S. Eliot, and others; later comments by Wallace Stevens, William Carlos Williams, Randall Jarrell, and Kenneth Burke; the Jean de La Fontaine translations; and articles from the 1960’s. Willis, Patricia C., ed. Marianne Moore: Woman and Poet. National Poetry Foundation, University of Maine, 1990. This major work is invaluable for making possible an uncluttered view of the poet. It collects essays about Moore’s life and writings from a kaleidoscopic array of perspectives and by a formidable battery of scholars. It also contains a complete and useful annotated bibliography.

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