The Complete Prose of Marianne Moore
edited and with an introduction by Patricia C. Willis
Viking/Elisabeth Sifton Books, 618 pp., $24.95
Large as it is, The Complete Prose of Marianne Moore is not complete. It doesn’t contain the Ford Correspondence, in which she offered Ford’s Marketing Research Director Robert B. Young many wondrous names for the car eventually called Edsel, or the waywardly informative interview with Donald Hall. These items have appeared in A Marianne Moore Reader (1961). Some juvenilia remain unrescued from the Carlisle Evening Sentinel, to which she contributed, according to her “Subject, Predicate, Object” (1958), “woman’s suffrage party notes.”
The book begins in 1907, when Moore, in her junior year at Bryn Mawr, started writing stories, sketches, subdued melodramas, drawing-room episodes, the dialogue aphoristic and in other respects neo-Wildean. The remark that “angels are not happier than men because they are better than men, but because they don’t investigate each other’s spheres” is well and characteristically met by the response: “You don’t separate pedantry from art, I see.” Already, Moore had a mind inclined to make itself up. In 1908 Ford Madox Ford’s The English Review showed her several of the discursive forms available to an untimid intelligence. But she was slow in getting started. Although her first poems were published in The Egoist in May 1915 and later in Poetry, her work was much rejected, and she withdrew from occasions of disappointment. “I do not appear,” she informed Ezra Pound in January 1919, as if she were Emily Dickinson.
But she was returning to authorship, encouraged by Alfred Kreymborg and his companions in the magazine Others. When Scofield Thayer and J.S. Watson took The Dial upon themselves in 1920, she contributed reviews—of T.S. Eliot’s The Sacred Wood, William Carlos Williams’s Kora in Hell, Wallace Stevens’s Harmonium, and many minor works—in a style equably responsive to procedures she did not choose to emulate. Welcoming Eliot’s appreciation of Swinburne’s genius, and receiving the point that appeal from Swinburne’s words to the objects supposedly denoted by them is not in general rewarding, she went beyond Eliot to say that “there is about Swinburne the atmosphere of magnificence, a kind of permanent association of him with King Solomon ‘perfumed with all the powders of the merchants, approaching in his litter’—an atmosphere which is not destroyed, one feels, even by indiscriminate browsing—and now in his verse as much as ever, as Swinburne says of the Sussex seaboard, ‘You feel the sea in the air at every step.”’
Moore became acting editor of The Dial, and took first responsibility for the issue of July 1925. She was not, on the whole, a daring editor. In matters of style and structure, she trusted her judgment more than anyone else’s. Without hesitating, apparently, she turned Hart Crane’s “The Wine Menagerie” into a new poem, “Again,” and published it under his name in May 1926. “His gratitude was ardent and later his repudiation of it commensurate—he perhaps being in both instances under a disability …