One of America's foremost literary figures, Moore has been considered by feminist critics to be a singular and important female poetic voice. She is known for creating verse characterized by loose rhythms, carefully chosen words, close attention to descriptive detail, and acute observation of human character. Her poems often reflect her preoccupation with the relationships between the common and the uncommon; advocate discipline in both art and life; and espouse virtues of restraint, modesty, and humor. She frequently used animals as a central image to emphasize themes of independence, honesty, and the integration of art and nature. Although some critics consider much of her poetry overly affected and her subject matter inconsequential, Moore has been praised as an important poetic voice by such outstanding literary figures as T. S. Eliot, William Carlos Williams, Hilda Doolittle, and Ezra Pound.
Moore was born November 15, 1887, in Kirkwood, Missouri. She attended Bryn Mawr College, where she published her early poetry in the campus literary magazine, and received a degree in biology and histology in 1909. At Bryn Mawr, Moore established an enduring friendship with Doolittle as well as with Williams, Pound, and Eliot, to whom her work would later be compared. From 1911 to 1915 Moore taught stenography at the U.S. Indian School in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. In 1915 her poems began to appear in such respected literary periodicals as the Egoist, Others, and Poetry; her first volume, Poems (1921), includes many of these early pieces. Moore moved with her mother to Greenwich Village in New York City in 1918, and worked as an assistant at the New York Public Library branch in Hudson from 1921 to 1925. In 1925 she became editor of the Dial, a position she retained until the magazine ceased publication in 1929. Her experiences with the Dial brought her into contact with many of the noted literati of the time and helped advance her international reputation. In 1951 her Collected Poems (1951) was awarded both the Pulitzer Prize in poetry and a National Book Award, awards which brought her more widespread recognition outside the literary world. Moore died February 5, 1972.
Much of Moore's early verse is marked by stylistic originality, unique subject matter, and unconventional humor. Such poems as "Critics and Connoisseurs" and "Poetry" reflect Moore's concerns with literature and art. One of Moore's best-known pieces, "Marriage," is a long experimental work written in free verse that features collage-like assemblages of quotations and fragments. In this poem, Moore employs wit and satire to comment on the tensions of marital coexistence. Critics have noted the distant, often sexless perspective not only of "Marriage," but of all Moore's work.
The content of Moore's first book, Poems, was arranged by Doolittle and others; however, Moore chose the poems in her second volume, Observations (1924), to represent the variety of her themes and forms. Observations includes a scrupulously described exploration of the flora and fauna of Washington state's Mount Rainier in the poem "An Octopus." The poem derived its name from the shape of the glacier that surrounds the mountain peak, and it is often regarded as one of the twentieth century's great odes to nature.
Among Moore's other volumes are The Pangolin and Other Verse (1936), which reflects her interest in animals as subjects for art; What Are Years (1941), which combines poems from The Pangolin with several previously uncollected works; and Nevertheless (1944), which captures Moore at perhaps her most impassioned. One of her later poems, "In Distrust of Merits," details Moore's condemnation of the atrocities of war. This poem was singled out by W. H. Auden as the best poem to emerge in reaction to World War II, and the poem remains highly regarded and widely discussed. Publication of The Complete Poems of Marianne Moore (1967) prompted poet John Ashbery to predict that Moore's work would "continue to be read as poetry when much of the major poetry of our time has become part of the history of literature."
Moore has been the subject of much feminist criticism. Some critics regard her work as an example of a strong female voice, as demonstrated by specific elements of her poetry in addition to her prominence in literary society. A few critics have contended that Moore emerged as an important poet because she denied femininity and sexuality in her work. Other critics fault Moore for this denial, claiming that her disregard for such central subjects as gender and sexuality reinforces the limitations society places on women. In the latter part of her life, Moore's literary contributions were recognized with a host of awards and honors, including the Poetry Society of America's Gold Medal for Distinguished Development, the National Medal for Literature, and an honorary doctorate from Harvard University. In the twenty-first century, noted poets and commentators continue to praise Moore's verse, hailing the poet as one of the most important in modern literature.