Form and Content

(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

The 1981 edition of The Complete Poems of Marianne Moore is the “Definitive Edition, with the Author’s Final Revisions” of a 1967 collection of the same title, and includes five additional poems written in her last years. It contains all the poems the poet wished to preserve, 125 in all, along with a handful of her translations from the Fables (1668-1694) of Jean La Fontaine.

These are poems of immaculate phrasing, metrically and formally intricate, containing frequent quotations from a variety of sources and dealing in many instances with animals and athletes. There is nothing quite like them. They are a woman’s poems: Marianne Moore’s poems, the poems of a very particular woman. Moore was born in 1887 near St. Louis—T. S. Eliot was born in St. Louis less than a year later—and grew up without a father. She was extraordinarily close to her mother, to whom she dedicated her collected poems. It was of her mother that she wrote, “In my immediate family there is one who ‘thinks in a particular way,’ ” and “Where there is an effect of thought or pith in these pages, the thinking and often the actual phrases are hers.”

They are the poems of someone who would declare of poetry, “I, too, dislike it,” but who nevertheless “discovers in it . . . a place for the genuine.” They are, in a sense, reluctant poems—poems that forced themselves on their author. “I certainly never intended to write poetry,” she once told an interviewer. “That never came into my head.”

They are the poems of one who was not considered particularly good at her chosen majors, English and French, while at Bryn Mawr College, one who spent most of her time in the biology laboratories and thought about studying medicine. Many of them deal with Moore’s minute observance of many different...

(The entire section is 754 words.)