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American Passages: A Literary SurveyUnit IndexAmerican Passages Home
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3. Utopian Promise   

11. Modernist Portraits

•  Unit Overview
•  Using the Video
•  Authors
- Sherwood Anderson
- Hart Crane
- F. Scott Fitzgerald
- Susan Glaspell
- Ernest Hemingway
- Nella Larsen
- Marianne Moore
- John Dos Passos
- Gertrude Stein
- Wallace Stevens
- Suggested
•  Timeline
•  Activities

Authors: Marianne Moore (1887-1972)

Portrait of Marianne Moore
[4011] Carl Van Vechten, Portrait of Marianne Moore (1948), courtesy of the Library of Congress [LC-USZ62-42513].

Marianne Moore Activities
This link leads to artifacts, teaching tips and discussion questions for this author.
Moore, like many other authors in this unit, was born in the Midwest but eventually settled in the East. She graduated from Bryn Mawr College in 1909, and, after traveling for two years with her mother abroad, taught at the Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania for four years. She continued to live with her family and in 1916 moved with her mother to Brooklyn, New York, to be with her brother, who was a minister there. In New York, Moore worked as a teacher and librarian, all the while producing poetry. Her first poems came out in "little magazines" such as Poetry and Egoist, and her connections with them introduced her to the artistic avant-garde. Unknown to Moore, in 1921 the poets H.D. and Winifred Bryher published her volume Poems. In 1924 Moore published another collection, Observations, which received the Dial magazine award for poetry. Moore became editor of the Dial in 1925 and remained there until the magazine ceased publication in 1929. Her work on the Dial introduced her to many key literary figures of the time, including Ezra Pound, Hart Crane, and James Joyce. Though she did not write much poetry while editing the Dial, her work for the magazine helped to sharpen her critical abilities, and her next book, Selected Poems (1935), is considered one of her most important. This volume contained some of her best-known poems, including "The Jerboa" and "Poetry." Moore was also an insightful critic and published many essays of literary criticism. In 1951 Moore's Collected Poems won the Pulitzer Prize, the Bollingen Prize, and the National Book Award, and she became something of a celebrity; the Brooklyn Dodgers, a baseball team Moore followed avidly, once asked her to throw out the ball that would open their season.

Moore's poetry is characterized by an attention to careful observation of the natural world in an attempt to find new connections between poetry and the world. She includes many references to scientific and historical texts that inform her thinking about the natural world; notably, she avoids literary allusions that would link her poetry to a literary tradition. Her verse structure and meter are subtle and complex, and readers must look carefully to understand her formal and linguistic choices. She came to favor a simpler style of diction in her later work, and her language is considerably more ornate in her earlier poems than in her later ones. In the face of World War II, many of Moore's poems became more social in theme, expressing her desire that humankind would work toward becoming more humane. In her poem "In Distrust of Merits," for example, she posits that the mutual distrust that promotes war may be overcome, suggesting that "contagion of trust can make trust." She asks readers to look inward to understand the causes of war and offers hope that if one can win internal battles, war may be averted in the future.

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