Study Guide

Marianne Moore

Marianne Moore Biography

Biography (History of the World: The 20th Century)

0111201253-Moore_M.jpg(Library of Congress) Published by Salem Press, Inc.

Article abstract: An early leader in Modernist poetry, Moore eventually gained recognition as one of the half-dozen major poets in English of the middle twentieth century.

Early Life

Marianne Craig Moore was born on November 15, 1887, in Kirkwood, Missouri, near St. Louis, where her mother had moved after a breakdown had permanently institutionalized her father. Her mother’s brother, pastor of the Presbyterian Church, provided all Marianne knew of a father during her first years. Upon his death in 1894, Marianne, an older brother, and her mother moved to be with friends at Carlisle, Pennsylvania. Here Marianne attended the Metzger Institute, where her mother took a part-time teaching position. Another Presbyterian pastor, George Norcross, involved young Marianne in the life of the mind and the spirit.

Marianne next enrolled at Bryn Mawr College, where she struggled, especially during the first two years, gradually finding a home in the biology laboratory and at the literary magazine, although literature courses daunted her. To contribute to the household income after receiving her degree in 1909, she took a business and secretarial course at Carlisle Commercial College. This gained her a job at the Carlisle Indian School, at the time a center for assimilating American Indians into the common culture. Here she taught classes in English and business skills, maintained the typewriters and stenographic equipment, and coached both boys and girls in field sports for four years. She also sent out poems for publication, placing pieces in the most prestigious and progressive journals of the time: Egoist (London) and Poetry (Chicago).

In 1916, mother and daughter moved first to Chatham, New Jersey, and then two years later to New York, where Marianne lived for the rest of her life. At first supporting herself by tutoring, Moore eventually obtained a part-time position with the New York Public Library, but she quickly decided to devote her life to literature. Without her knowledge, some of her editors and readers at Egoist published her first book, Poems, in 1921. Her subsequent volume Observations (1924), however, proclaimed her entry into the literary lists. Besides containing some of her finest and most reprinted poems, it declared her dedication to the literary life. Editing Dial, another pioneering journal, from 1925 to 1929 confirmed her decision. When that journal ceased publication, Moore resolved to devote the rest of her life solely to writing.

Life’s Work

For the next forty years, Marianne Moore supported herself as a freelance reviewer, essayist, and poet, proving it possible to make money by writing: By the time she “retired,” she had put enough away so that she could live comfortably on the interest, even in a sickbed. She also gained recognition, though quietly. Throughout her publishing career, every new work earned both acclaim and merit; her list of literary prizes was longer, the weight of her medals heavier, than those of her more celebrated colleagues. She may look at first like a token “female representative” among the writers, but a second look reveals that if there was prejudice against women writers, Moore deserves more credit for having broken through the barriers. Besides, her male peers were the first to acknowledge her eminence.

At least some of her lack of celebrity stems from her own withdrawn habits, her failure to promote herself. Still, within her own limits, she outperformed all of her rivals. She alone succeeded at supporting herself entirely by writing—the only professional among amateurs. Moreover, she is the only world-class poet to have thrown out the first pitch of the season for both the Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Yankees, just as she is the only one to have held a conference on poetry with then-heavyweight boxing champion Muhammad Ali. Late in life, she even gained a semipopular following, especially after being seen about New York conspicuously garbed in billowing cape and tricorn hat. In the 1960’s, the picture magazines made regular copy of her. Yet she never found the audience she deserved.

What is called her early work was hardly early; she was in her mid-thirties before her publications gained much currency. Still, many of her best-known poems and several signature techniques appeared in her first two books. Her fascination with animals, especially with exotic and bizarre forms, stands out, as do her jagged lines, quirky rhythms, and metaphorical tangents. Still, although she gained positive reviews, she had not yet found herself. Editing The Dial, however, introduced her to the leading writers of the time, and she made much of her contacts. Several of those writers urged her to publish more widely, and her Selected Poems (1936) was introduced by T. S. Eliot (1888-1965)....

(The entire section is 2006 words.)

Marianne Moore Biography (Poetry for Students)

Known for her precise and measured observations of insects and animals, an often ironic tone, and idiosyncratic form, Marianne Craig Moore...

(The entire section is 459 words.)

Marianne Moore Biography (Masterpieces of American Literature)

In keeping with the principle of restraint that she espoused throughout her career, Moore did not presume to have any extraordinary vision; critics and fellow poets have disagreed. James Dickey, an American poet and Moore’s contemporary, believes that her poetry reached new conclusions. She accomplished this by weaving together particulars that people see but do not understand. To Dickey, her poetry presented moments of perception to renew the spirit.

Moore explored the nature of paradox. She insisted on strong values; determination and independence permeate all of her poems. She practiced the restraint that enables strong values to develop, devising new forms of poetic technique and constantly reworking to pare down to the simple yet elegant image and line.

Marianne Moore Biography (Poets and Poetry in America)

The relaxation in Marianne Craig Moore’s later verse and the rise of public acclaim demonstrate that late in her life the poetic self that had begun in a reticence that approached diffidence, that had armored itself as much against temptation from within as against threat from without, had burst through its early encasements to take on the role of moralist and even of sociopolitical adviser. A degree of tolerance for the self and the world perhaps made her choices easier, although it did not always benefit her art.

Moore seems to have had an inborn disdain for the self-indulgent. After a girlhood in Missouri and Pennsylvania and an education at Bryn Mawr College, she taught commercial subjects at the United States...

(The entire section is 645 words.)

Marianne Moore Biography (Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

ph_0111201253-Moore_M.jpgMarianne Moore Published by Salem Press, Inc.

Probably most biographical sources on Marianne Craig Moore include the facts that T. S. Eliot was also born in St. Louis (Kirkwood is a St. Louis suburb) about ten months after Moore, that his father and her grandfather were both ministers, and that both became important figures in very different schools of poetry: Moore did much to promote new American poetry in the 1920’s; Eliot revamped past poets’ reputations. Their paths eventually crossed, and Eliot wrote the introduction for her Selected Poems, a volume which stabilized her reputation as an important new poet.

Moore was much influenced by close family ties. When her father suffered a nervous breakdown, she and her brother John moved with their...

(The entire section is 660 words.)

Marianne Moore Biography (Masterpieces of American Literature)

ph_0111201253-Moore_M.jpgMarianne Moore Published by Salem Press, Inc.

Marianne Craig Moore was born in her maternal grandfather’s home in Kirkwood, near St. Louis, Missouri, on November 15, 1887. She never knew her father, an engineer and inventor, because earlier that same year he suffered a nervous breakdown and was committed to an institution. Her mother, Mary Warner Moore, and brother John then moved to Kirkwood to live with Marianne’s grandfather, the Reverend John Riddle Warner, a Presbyterian minister.

Moore spent her first seven years in an affectionate, close-knit environment. Her grandfather and her mother encouraged serious reading and a tolerant attitude toward diverse religious beliefs. They both believed in the education of women. From her mother, she learned a verbal...

(The entire section is 1205 words.)

Marianne Moore Biography (Poetry for Students)

Marianne Moore was born to John Milton Moore and Mary Warner Moore on November 15, 1887, in Kirkwood, Missouri. Moore never knew her father,...

(The entire section is 557 words.)