Moore once told an interviewer for the New York Times: "Poetry. I, too, dislike it: There are things that are important beyond all this fiddle. [But,] if you demand on the one hand / the raw material of poetry in / all its rawness and / that which is on the other hand / genuine, then you are interested in poetry."
Moore continued: "I don't call anything I have ever written poetry. In fact, the only reason I know for calling my work poetry at all is that there is no other category in which to put it. I'm a happy hack as a writer. . . . I never knew anyone with a passion for words who had as much difficulty in saying things as I do. I seldom say them in a manner I like. Each poem I think will be the last. But something always comes up and catches my fancy."
In spite of Moore's rather humble thoughts, many critics believe in the significance of her poetry. For example, John Ashbery glowed: "I am tempted simply to call her our greatest modern poet. This despite the obvious grandeur of her chief competitors, including Wallace Stevens and William Carlos Williams. It seems we can never remind ourselves too often that universality and depth are not the same thing. Marianne Moore has no 'Arma virumque cano' prefacing her work: She even avoids formal beginnings altogether by running the first line in as a continuation of the title. But her work will, I think, continue to be read as poetry when much of the major poetry of our time has become part of the history of literature."
Ashbery isn't alone in his praise of Moore's poetry. James Dickey wrote: "Each of her poems employs items that Ms. Moore similarly encountered and to which she gave a new, Mooreian existence in a new cosmos of consequential relationships. What seems to me to be the most valuable point about Ms. Moore is that such receptivity as hers . . . is not Ms. Moore's exclusive property. Every poem of hers lifts us toward our own discovery-prone lives. It does not state, in effect, that I am more intelligent than you, more creative because I found this item and used it and you didn't. It seems to say, rather, I found this, and what did you find? Or, a better, what can you find?"
Nation critic Sandra Hochman agreed: "The art of Marianne Moore is not just the valuable art of observation. She is magical. Her poems do have riddles. They can irk us. But they finally carry us forward by the strength of language and, in her own words, the poet's 'burning desire to be explicit.' Nothing is wasted. All is transformed."
It is this desire that underlies Moore's poetry. James Dickey explained that "Ms. Moore tells us that facts make her feel 'profoundly grateful.' This is because knowledge, for her, is not power but love, and in loving it is important to know what you love, as widely and as deeply and as well as possible. In paying so very much attention to the things of this earth that she encounters, or that encounter her, Ms. Moore urges us to do the same, and thus gives us back, in strict syllables, the selves that we had contrived to lose. She persuades us that the human mind is nothing more than an organ for loving things in both complicated and blindingly simple ways, and is organized so as to be able to love in an unlimited number of fashions and for an unlimited number of reasons. This seems to me to constitute the correct poetic attitude, which is essentially a life-attitude, for it stands forever against the notion that the earth is an apathetic limbo lost in space." As Ms. Moore herself explained to Howard Nemerov: "I am . . . much aware of the world's dilemma. People's effect on other people results, it seems to me, in an enforced sense of responsibility—a compulsory obligation to participate in others' problems."
Marianne Moore is almost as famous for her practice of rewriting her previously published poems as for her poetry itself. This practice has often disturbed many of her followers. Jean Garrigue explained: "Poets who revise their poems are apt to incur surprise or weak query (a guise of protest) from those who have long ago fallen in love with that 'one and only,' the original. The poet, patient about perfection, has a right to be impatient with such resistance. But there it is. And a good deal is involved. A line taken out of a poem sparingly built in the first place, that line's removal subtly alters the whole in tone. An 'excess' excised—a qualifying extension or elaboration—complicated one's responses, for one is busy dismissing and it takes time to adjust to the revision. What is being felt is the absence, almost as much as the new presence."
And Anthony Hecht once wrote that as "an admiring reader I feel that I have some rights in [this] matter. Her poems are partly mine, now, and I delight in them because they exhibit a mind of great fastidiousness, a delicate and cunning moral sensibility, a tact, a decorum, a rectitude, and finally and most movingly, a capacity for pure praise that has absolutely biblical awe in it. She (and Mr. Auden, too, as it will appear) however much I may wish to take exception to the changes they have made, have provided a field day for Ph.D. candidates for years to come, who can collate versions and come up with theories about why the changes were made."
In addition to her poetry, Moore wrote a significant number of prose pieces, including reviews and essays. Many of these were collected and published as The Complete Prose of Marianne Moore. The pieces in this work cover a broad range of subjects: painting, sculpture, literature, music, fashion, herbal medicine, and sports (Moore was an avid baseball follower). Calling the collection "a civilized delight," Chicago Tribune Books contributor Larry Kart remarked that "characteristic shafts of light refract from every corner of [Moore's] universe."
- Poems, Egoist Press, 1921, published with additions as Observations, Dial, 1924.
- Selected Poems, introduction by T. S. Eliot, Macmillan, 1935.
- Pangolin, and Other Verse: Five Poems, Brendin, 1936.
- What Are Years and Other Poems, Macmillan, 1941.
- Nevertheless, Macmillan, 1944.
- Collected Poems, Macmillan, 1951.
- Like a Bulwark, Viking, 1956.
- O to Be a Dragon, Viking, 1959.
- A Marianne Moore Reader, Viking, 1961.
- The Arctic Ox, Faber, 1964.
- A Talisman, Adams House, 1965.
- Tell Me, Tell Me: Granite, Steel, and Other Topics (poetry and prose), Viking, 1966.
- The Complete Poems of Marianne Moore, Macmillan, 1967, Penguin, 1987.
- Selected Poems, Faber, 1969.
- Unfinished Poems, P. H. and A.S.W. Rosenbach Foundation, 1972.
- Eight Poems, illustrations by Robert Andrew Parker, New York Museum of Modern Art, 1962.
- Occasionem cognosce, Stinehour Press, 1963.
- Dress and Kindred Subjects, Ibex Press, 1965.
- Le mariage... , Ibex Press, 1965.
- Poetry and Criticism, privately printed, 1965.
- Silence, L. H. Scott, 1965.
- Tippoo's Tiger, Phoenix Book Shop, 1967.
- (Co-translator) A. Stifter, Rock Crystal, Pantheon, 1945.
- (Translator) Selected Fables of La Fontaine, Faber, 1955, revised edition, Viking, 1964.
- Predilections (essays and reviews), Viking, 1955.
- Letters from and to the Ford Motor Company, Pierpont Morgan Library, 1958 (first appeared in New Yorker, April l3, 1957 ).
- (Compiler with others) Riverside Poetry Three: An Anthology of Student Poetry, Twayne, 1958.
- Idiosyncrasy and Technique: Two Lectures, University of California Press, 1958.
- The Absentee: A Comedy in Four Acts (play based on Maria Edgeworth's novel of the same name), House of Books, 1962.
- (Contributor) Poetry in Crystal, Spiral Press, 1963.
- Puss in Boots, The Sleeping Beauty, and Cinderella (retelling of three fairy tales based on the French tales of Charles Perrault), illustrated by Eugene Karlin, Macmillan, 1963.
- (Contributor) A. K. Weatherhead, The Edge of the Image, University of Washington Press, 1968.
- The Accented Syllable, Albondocani Press, 1969 (first appeared in Egoist, October, 1916).
- (Contributor) Homage to Henry James, Appel, 1971.
- The Complete Prose of Marianne Moore, edited by Patricia C. Willis, Penguin, 1986.
- The Selected Letters of Marianne Moore, edited by Bonnie Costello, Knopf (New York, NY), 1997.
- Becoming Marianne Moore: The Early Poems, 1907-1924, University of California Press (Berkeley, CA), 2002.
- Auden, W. H., The Dyer's Hand and Other Essays, Random House, 1962.
- Birkerts, Sven, The Electric Life: Essays on Modern Poetry, Morrow, 1989.
- Contemporary Literary Criticism, Gale, Volume 1, 1973, Volume 2, 1974, Volume 4, 1975, Volume 8, 1977, Volume 10, 1979, Volume 13, 1980, Volume 19, 1981, Volume 47, 1988.
- Costello, Bonnie, Marianne Moore: Imaginary Possessions, Harvard University Press, 1981.
- Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 45: American Poets, 1880-1945, First Series, Gale, 1986.
- Engel, Bernard F., Marianne Moore, Twayne, 1964.
- Gregory, Elizabeth, Quotation and Modern American Poetry: Imaginary Gardens with Real Toads, Rice University Press, 1995.
- Hadas, P. W., Marianne Moore: Poet of Affection, Syracuse University Press, 1977.
- Hall, Donald, Marianne Moore: The Cage and the Animal, Pegasus, 1970.
- Jarrell, Randall, Poetry and the Age, Knopf, 1953.
- Joyce, Elisabeth W., Cultural Critique and Abstraction: Marianne Moore and the Avant-Garde, Bucknell University Press, 1998
- Juhasz, Suzanne, Naked and Fiery Forms: Modern American Poetry by Women, A New Tradition, Harper, 1976.
- Kreymborg, Alfred, Our Singing Strength, Coward-McCann, 1929.
- Lakritz, Andrew M., Modernism and the Other in Stevens, Frost, and Moore, University Press of Florida, 1996.
- Leavell, Linda, Marianne Moore and the Visual Arts: Prismatic Color, Louisiana State University Press, 1995.
- Miller, Cristanne, Marianne Moore: Questions of Authority, Harvard University Press, 1995.
- Molesworth, Charles, Marianne Moore: A Literary Life, Atheneum, 1990.
- Nemerov, Howard, Poets on Poetry, Basic Books, 1966.
- Rosenthal, M. L., The Modern Poets, Oxford University Press, 1965.
- Schulman, Grace, Marianne Moore: The Poetry of Engagement, University of Illinois Press, 1986.
- Schulze, Robin G., The Web of Friendship: Marianne Moore and Wallace Stevens, University of Michigan Press, 1995.
- Sielke, Sabine, Fashioning the Female Subject: The Intertextual Networking of Dickinson, Moore, and Rich, University of Michigan Press, 1997.
- Sorrentino, Gilbert, Something Said, North Point Press, 1984.
- Stapleton, L., Marianne Moore, Princeton University Press, 1978.
- Tomlinson, Charles, editor, Marianne Moore: A Collection of Critical Essays, Prentice-Hall, 1970.
- Vendler, Helen, Part of Nature, Part of Us: Modern American Poets, Harvard University Press, 1980.
- American Poetry Review, Volume 17, number 4, July-August, 1988.
- Atlantic, February, 1962.
- Chicago Review, Volume 11, number 1, spring, 1957.
- College English, Volume 14, number 5, February, 1953.
- Contemporary Literature, Volume 27, number 4, winter, 1986; Volume 30, number 1, spring, 1989.
- Critical Inquiry, Volume 13, number 3, spring, 1987.
- Detroit News, February 6, 1972.
- Dial, Volume 78, May, 1925.
- Esquire, July, 1962.
- Freeman, Volume 6, number 152, February 7, 1923.
- Harper's, May, 1977.
- Hudson Review, spring, 1968.
- Life, January 13, 1967.
- McCall's, December, 1965.
- Nation, May 8, 1967.
- New Leader, December 4, 1967.
- New Republic, January 4, 1960; February 24, 1968.
- Newsweek, January 2, 1967.
- New Yorker, February 16, 1957; April 13, 1957; November 28, 1959; January 29, 1966; October 16, 1978.
- New York Times, June 3, 1965; July 13, 1965; February 6, 1972; February 21, 1981; February 8, 1987; October 14, 1987.
- New York Times Book Review, May 16, 1954; October 4, 1959; December 3, 1961; December 25, 1966; March 14, 1967; November 26, 1967.
- Parnassus: Poetry in Review, Volumes 12 & 13, numbers 2 & 1, 1985.
- Poetry, April, 1925; May, 1960; September, 1967.
- Publishers Weekly, February 14, 1972.
- Quarterly Review of Literature, Volume 4, number 2, 1948.
- Sagetrieb: Marianne Moore Special Issue, Volume 6, number 3, winter, 1987.
- Sewanee Review, Volume 60, number 3, July-September, 1952.
- Spectator, Volume 187, number 6439, November 23, 1951.
- Times (London), February 5, 1987.
- Tribune Books (Chicago), March 8, 1987, p. 6.
- Twentieth Century Literature, Volume 30, numbers 2 & 3, summer-fall, 1984.
- Virginia Quarterly Review, Volume 58, number 4, autumn, 1982.
- Washington Post, March 16, 1968; February 7, 1972; January 19, 1988.
- Washington Post Book World, November 23, 1986, p. 1.
Poems By MARIANNE MOORE
Audio & PodcastsThe Poetry Magazine Podcast
Just Now Between Positions
Poems from Adam Vines, Judith Hall, Kimiko Hahn, and Devin Johnston, plus Maureen McLane on Marianne Moore.
POET’S REGION U.S., Mid-Atlantic
SCHOOL / PERIOD Modern
LIFE SPAN 1887–1972