Marianne Moore: Chronology & Notes on Texts
For several women poets of first importance we still lack authoritative, or even comprehensive, editions of their complete works--thus making serious examinations of their poetry difficult. Hilda Doolittle, Lorine Niedecker, Mina Loy, and Marianne Moore are only a few of the women thus neglected. Only for Loy is an effort under way to remedy the disaster.
The sequence of Moore’s 1935 Selected Poems was suggested by T.S. Eliot, who also wrote the introduction. Though Moore deleted some poems from her later Collected Poems (and its revised version, Complete Poems, now the only collection in print) she made only slight changes to the sequence of those that remained. The arrangement is thematic and places several of her poems from the early 1930s first, with poems from 1915 appearing as far as 88 pages into the book . Thus it obliterates all sense of development and obscures differences among Moore’s periods of high poetic production up to 1935. (One argument for containing Moore as a "minor" poet is that she "did not develop.") Though you may not be reading Moore’s poems in strictly chronological order, you will wish to recognize these periods and place her work in the context of contemporary public and private events.
The list below includes only the poems I assigned the last time I taught Moore (Fall 2000). When time permits (or hell freezes over, whichever comes first) I will complete the list. What is here should at least allow you to pinpoint the characteristics of each of her most productive periods. The sequence is based on several sources, most prominently Margaret Holley’s “Chronology of Moore’s Published Poems,” in her The Poetry of Marianne Moore: A Study in Voice and Value (Cambridge University Press, 1987) where you can find the chronology of poems not listed here.
The number at left is the page number in Complete Poems. A quick scan of those numbers reveals the extent to which chronology is ignored in this arrangement -- though poems of near-contemporaneous composition are clustered when their subjects are also related. The date in parentheses is the date of first publication. The book title in CAPS indicates the poem’s first book publication, followed by the relevant date.
Two poems written while at Bryn Mawr, though not included in a book
Poems written while in Carlisle, Pennsylvania--
The later “Observations”--
Lyrics of the war years--
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Marianne Moore’s miscalled Complete Poems (1967, revised 1981) the only edition of her poems now in print, omits roughly half the poems Moore published before 1925--the period of her greatest innovation. Of those present, many have been revised to make them accord both formally and thematically with her later, less challenging work. Thus, the Complete Poems can’t be used alone to read Moore’s early poems or to trace her development.
Early studies of Moore took the Complete Poems (hereafter CP) as authoritative and thus often valued her later work more highly than the bowdlerized early work.[See note 1] The 1980s and 1990s produced an explosion of Moore criticism. Most of these more recent critics have made an effort to assess Moore’s development by taking the poems/versions in sequence and/or by seeking to determine the “authoritative” version of each poem. Thus, in the criticism you will encounter both poems that do not appear in CP and earlier texts of poems that do. Read carefully when a critic quotes a passage--the argument may be based on lines that differ from those you have read in CP. John Slatin, for example, in The Savage's Romance: The Poetry of Marianne Moore, bases his arguments on the earliest published text of each poem and treats later revisions as revisions--or, as he puts it, as Moore’s later critical responses to her own work. Linda Leavell, in Marianne Moore and the Visual Arts, does not limit herself to first or to later texts, but bases her readings on whatever text she believes to be definitive for each poem. For the convenience of readers who have access only to the CP, Cristanne Miller, in Marianne Moore: Questions of Authority, cites mostly from versions printed there, except where chronology is important to her argument or where earlier versions of a poem more adequately represent an analytical problem.
Nearly all critics of Moore divide her work into distinct phases, though the exact basis for division may vary. The first phase generally extends from her first publication in 1915 to 1920. The poems of this phase were composed in syllabic verse, and most appeared in two radical new journals: The Egoist and Others. The second phase runs from 1920 to 1925, a period in which Moore published only free verse, though several of the poems had been first composed in syllabics then revised into free verse. These poems contain more quotations [See Note 2] than those of other periods, and the poems become longer and more complex as the years pass. From January 1925 through June 1932 Moore served as acting editor, and then as editor, of The Dial and published no new poems. Thus her third phase begins in 1932 and runs through 1936--or to 1941, depending on your criteria. These poems return to syllabic form but are longer and more formally complex than the poems of 1915-1920. They appeared in a variety of well-established literary journals. Most readers locate the apex of Moore’s achievement somewhere in the work of these years--but there are exceptions (such as Jeanne Heuving, in Omissions Are Not Accidents: Gender and Authority in Marianne Moore) who find most of the post-1932 poems disappointing in comparison to the radical work of Moore’s youth.
Though Moore lived until 1972 and published
through the late 1960s, few readers make any brief for her poems after
the early 1940s, which rarely challenge a reader at either the level of
content or the level of form. Some critics, however, including Linda Leavell,
prefer to withhold judgment until a definitive edition of the poems appears,
arguing that the early poems have been weeded down to the best, while later
poems were (and continue to be) published indiscriminately, thus making
it impossible to compare periods on equal terms.
Note 1: The first full-length study of Moore, Bernard F. Engle's Marianne Moore, 1951, appeared before the Complete Poems. Laurence Stapleton's Marianne Moore: The Poet's Advance, 1979, examined Moore's development but assessment of early poems was based on their revised versions in CP. Return to text
Note 2: Good resources on Moore's use of quotation include Leonard Diepeveen's Changing Voices: The Modern Quoting Poem (University of Michigan Press, 1993) and Joyce Gregory... oh, can't find the citation - you'll find it. John Slatin also addresses quotation. Return to text