Marianne Moore

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
Sont sots…

For all her apparent profligacy and luxuriance, Moore says it all en deux mots. Here’s a wonderful short poem:

A Face
‘I am not treacherous, callous, jealous, superstitious,
supercilious, venomous or absolutely hideous’:
studying and studying its expression,
exasperated desperation
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.

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About Author Profile: Nige

Cravat-Wearer of the Year Nige, who, like Mr Kenneth Horne, prefers to remain anonymous, is a founder blogger of The Dabbler and has been a co-blogger on the Bryan Appleyard Thought Experiments blog. He is the sole blogger on Nigeness, and (for now) a wholly owned subsidiary of NigeCorp. His principal aim is to share various of life's pleasures.

3 thoughts on “Marianne Moore

    August 9, 2011 at 16:09

    ‘a face’ is very snappy and energetic isn’t it

    August 9, 2011 at 18:37

    It is – like so much of MM’s verse – I think she’s incapable of writing a dull line.

    August 9, 2011 at 22:42

    I’ve long admired Miss Moore’s poetry: never a dull line indeed. She was, like quite a few American poets, a great reviser of her work in print. For example, the poem “Poetry”: I too like it. My 1980s Faber Complete Poems has a cut-down version of this poem that consists of just the first three lines; that’s right, just three. She left out nearly half her poems from her Collected,and these are restored, together with ones that were never collected, and the other 26 lines of “Poetry” in the Penguin Classics The Poems of Marianne Moore (2005).

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