I don’t know what it was with me and Marianne Moore. For years I kept meaning to read her ‘properly’. I knew her from such gems as Poetry (who could resist that opening line?) and a few others, but I’d never looked further. I was daunted by the Collected Poems, which seemed too hefty a volume for such a springy and light-footed poet – so I was delighted to eventually get my hands on the Faber Selected Poems, an elegant and beautifully designed little volume, which I am enjoying quite tremendously, loving particularly her deft illuminating way with the natural world.
The selection opens with the wonderfully breezy The Steeple-Jack – after which what can you do but read on?… And this little volume has her Notes too, which are a joy in themselves: the notes to Tom Fool In Jamaica (Tom Fool was a famous racehorse) are a great deal longer than the poem, and contain another one, by Mme Boufflers, called Sentir avec Ardeur, which begins
Il faut dire en deux mots
Ce qu’on veut dire;
Les longs propos
For all her apparent profligacy and luxuriance, Moore says it all en deux mots. Here’s a wonderful short poem:
‘I am not treacherous, callous, jealous, superstitious,
supercilious, venomous or absolutely hideous’:
studying and studying its expression,
though at no real impasse,
would gladly break the glass;
when love of order, ardour, uncircuitous simplicity
with an expression of inquiry, are all one needs to be!
Certain faces, a few, one or two – or one
face photographed by recollection –
to my mind, to my sight,
must remain a delight.
Moore is to me one of those poets who seem to fill the world, and the business of living, with so many more possibilities and so much less ponderous necessity.