Skip to main content

The Responsibilities of Inclusion and Omission: Editing Marianne Moore’s Poetry

ISSUE:  Winter 2004

Becoming Marianne Moore: The Early Poems, 1907–1924. Ed. Robin G. Schulze. California, April 2002. $50
The Poems of Marianne Moore. Ed. Grace Schulman. Viking, November 2003. $40

In 1967, Viking Press published The Complete Poems of Marianne Moore. Moore’s only explanation for the dozens of published poems eliminated from her “complete” work consisted of the brief epigraph: “Omissions are not accidents.” This was the last volume of verse produced or arranged by Moore and hence stands as her final word on her own poems. Robin G. Schulze’s introduction to Becoming Marianne Moore: The Early Poems, 1907-1924, however, informs us that before her death in 1972, Moore revised some of the poems in her 1967 edition, suggesting that perhaps that word was not so final. And indeed, Viking reissued a corrected Complete Poems in 1981, adding a handful of late poems (Schulze 3, 2). As Grace Schulman comments in her introduction to The Poems of Marianne Moore, Moore had a “predilection for change” (xxi). Moore revised poems throughout her life, changing sometimes only words, lineation, or punctuation, but in other cases adding or dropping major passages, rewriting free verse in syllabic stanzas and vice versa, and substituting titles. In her scholarly monograph Marianne Moore: The Poetry of Engagement, Schulman writes that Moore’s continuing revisions are “the lifeblood of the poems and are fundamental to an understanding of what the body of work consists of.” Schulze also writes at length about Moore’s revisions and the consequent need for an edition of her poems that is in tune “with the scope and influence of [Moore’s] unique brand of literary modernism” (11). Moore, in effect, creates a poetic in which no version of a text takes obvious authority over any other, since apparently only death prevented further revision to her texts, and one might just as well argue for the authority of the first as of the last (or “best”) printed version. Authorial intent, in this case, seems both to claim the necessity of radical editorial decisions (leading to omissions) and to acknowledge the fact of ongoing change.

Moore’s Complete Poems does not include well over a hundred poems that she chose not to publish or at some point dropped from her collections, and it gives no sense of her characteristic ongoing revisions. While some of the poems Moore purged from her collections are weak, she omits some of her most illuminating and strongest poems as well. As she aged, her tendency was increasingly toward brevity. The Complete Poems stands as a monument to the results of this tendency. Moore’s reputation in relation to other modernist poets, however, has suffered from the inaccessibility of the more expansive earlier versions of poems that established her reputation and of many significant uncollected and unpublished texts. She is the only major modernist poet whose self-published volumes have remained unsupplemented by a scholarly edition of her poems. We are now overdue in waiting for a collection of poems that moves beyond the restrictive choices of Moore’s late years.

Becoming Marianne Moore and The Poems of Marianne Moore both significantly extend the range of Moore’s poems readily available, and both—albeit in different ways—attend to aspects of Moore’s writing and publishing process. These editions will make a tremendous difference to the next generation of Moore scholars, in their presentations of the poems and in the poems each has selected. In both editions, one finds great early poems like “Roses Only” (1917), with its feminist critique of women who “do not seem to realize that beauty is a liability rather than / an asset” and concomitant implied manifesto for the construction of modern poetry:

            … What is brilliance without co-ordination? Guarding the
         infinitesimal pieces of your mind, compelling audience to
      the remark that it is better to be forgotten than to be remembered too violently
your thorns are the best part of you. (Observations, 1924; Schulze 83/Schulman 80)

Another of Moore’s great early poems inexplicably dropped from her collections after 1951 is the 1918 “Black Earth,” a brilliant exploration of the limitations and necessity of the body in relation to the soul as well as a lively intertextual response to her poetic contemporaries. The poem begins with the elephant speaker’s declaration of independence:

      Openly, yes
       with the naturalness
            of the hippopotamus or the alligator
            when it climbs out on the bank to experience the

      sun, I do these
      things which I do, which please
            no one but myself. Now I breathe and now I am sub-
            merged … (Observations, 1924; Schulze 87-89)

And yet, the poem later reveals, the elephant also perceives even its skin as a “manual” for others; its colossal ears are “sensitized to more than the sound of the wind.”

Other marvelous and interesting early poems include a self-portrait of the poet as root vegetable (“Radical,” 1919) and “Is Your Town Nineveh?” (1916), which anticipates Moore’s use of Jonah as a representative for the woman and poet in “Sojourn in the Whale” but questions more broadly the relation of duty to “personal upheaval in / the name of freedom” (Observations; Schulze 59/Schulman 66). “To Be Liked By You Would Be A Calamity” (1916) begins with Moore’s characteristic humor and delight in possibilities of physical aggression (“Attack is more piquant than concord”) only to turn to the even more characteristic ethical response of wit. To the antagonist who “would like to feel / My flesh beneath your feet,” Moore’s speaker responds:

                   … I can but put my weapon up, and
                        Bow you out.
            Gesticulation—it is half the language.
      Let unsheathed gesticulation be the steel
      Your courtesy must meet,
      Since in your hearing words are mute, which to my senses
      Are a shout. (Observations; Schulze 79/Schulman 71)

These two editions provide both the crucial scholarly service of recovering, and unmitigated pleasure to the reader of rediscovering, these and many other poems not collected by Moore.

Schulze and Schulman both base their selections on original research and engagement with the available archive. Whatever one’s editorial preferences, this is surely the most basic requirement of any edition of poetry. It is a sad comment on the state of current publishing that such editions are at times numerically overwhelmed by editions making no contribution to the range, presentation, or understanding of texts already in print. Competing editions of Dickinson’s poems serve as a case in point. Harvard University Press has published two landmark variorum editions of Dickinson’s poems during the last half century—the first by Thomas H. Johnson in 1955 and then an updated, corrected version by Ralph W. Franklin in 1998. Johnson and Franklin also each produced a one-volume reading edition of the poems, both of which are still in print. The Franklin Poems, however, is available only in cloth, at a cost of $29.95, in comparison with the earlier, less accurately dated and compiled (Little, Brown and Company) Johnson paperback edition for $19.95. At the other end of the scale, buyers find a $7.99 Collected Poems of Emily Dickinson published by Outlet in 1988 and reprinting the 1890, 1891, and 1896 Mabel Loomis Todd and Thomas Wentworth Higginson editions of the poems, in which words are altered, poems are assigned titles, and whole stanzas of several poems are omitted. Doubleday and Barnes & Noble publish similarly inexpensive and out-of-date editions of the poems. The economics of the publishing industry and prohibitive cost of reproduction allowed by current copyright law encourage such discrepancy between popular and scholarly editions.

The extreme variety in quality of Dickinson editions now in print is unusual and driven by the circumstance that her poems (as reliably edited) are still subject to copyright. Yet to the extent that the editing of poetry generally is becoming driven by insistence on the inclusion of multiple versions, contextual framing, and extensive previously unpublished work, the discrepancy in price between out-of-date, incomplete, or inaccurate editions and reliable scholarly editions will only grow; broadly inclusive editions are of necessity longer and more complex in format than those based on the idea that a poem may be represented adequately by a single text. The nearly 1,200-page Collected Poems of Robert Lowell (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2003) exemplifies the current tendency toward inclusion. While this edition relieves scholars from having to find out-of-print poems, one wonders how large the readership base is for early versions of most poems. One must ask both whether this edition giving nearly equal space to not fully formed, mediocre, and great poems serves the poet well, and whether the publication of such a volume prevents the compiling of a slimmer “complete poems” usable in the classroom or for the nonspecialist. Elizabeth Bishop’s reissued Complete Poems: 1927-1979 (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1983), while primarily devoted to Bishop’s self-published poems, similarly includes unpublished and occasional poems of questionable interest to anyone but a scholar, and not even most scholars—like her 1971 inscription to Frank Bidart on a Fannie Farmer Cookbook or a 1938 rhymed observation about her landlady in Key West.

It will be a distinct loss if the service of proposing knowledgeable aesthetic and historical/bibliographic criteria for the selection of single printings of a poem disappears from the editing profession. Scholarly editions—whether in variorum, hypertext, or annotated format—are certainly necessary, but there is equal need for teaching and reading editions of reasonable price and accuracy, and for most purposes readers do not need or desire multiple versions, drafts, or printings—let alone extensive description of the material context—of every poem. The two-volume edition of William Carlos Williams’ Collected Poems edited by A. Walton Litz and Christopher Macgowan (New Directions, 1991) is a model of scholarly editing that is welcoming to the general reader. In preparing their edition, Litz and Macgowan “collated every known printing of each poem” and examined manuscript and typescript materials, but the edition itself for the most part prints each poem once, as arranged by Williams in his own collections or (if uncollected) presented chronologically by date of first publication (470). Exceptions occur for texts radically revised: “very different” earlier versions of a poem appear in the notes or—when a very different early version is printed several years before the final one—each text is printed in its chronological place (469-70). The editors explain the principles of their editorial procedure but do not ask the reader to rethink each decision by reproducing most of the material they saw.

In Moore studies today, I see two competing and simultaneous needs: for scholarly presentation of the multiple versions of Moore’s poems—especially the poems of her early years, which received most frequent and radical revision—and for an inexpensive reader’s and teaching edition that collects far more of her poetry than is currently available. To some extent, the editions of Schulze and Schulman respond to these needs. Both, to degrees I will discuss later, provide scholarly context for Moore’s writing and publication. Neither, however, provides an inexpensive reliable edition of Moore’s poems that will easily encourage new readers to discover for themselves the excitement of her poetry. Although Schulman is best known as a poet, she and Schulze have each published scholarship on Moore. Both edit the poems on the basis of critical as well as personal understandings of the poet, modernism, and, in Schulze’s case, textual editing itself. These editions herald a new era for studies of Moore. They also reflect in interesting ways a period of flux in theories of textual editing. For this reason, before turning to their editions as such, I want to locate them within the shifting sands of recent editorial practice and debate.

As they were understood by the mid-twentieth-century Anglo-American editing tradition, the general goals of editing were aesthetic quality and authorial intention, as represented by a single version or compilation of any given work. For many, this shared understanding of editorial goals has changed. Just as in the 1970s and 1980s, deconstruction, ecriture feminine, trickster motifs, and performance theory undercut traditional ways of understanding and evaluating texts by celebrating indeterminacy, multiplicity, form-shifting, and the materiality of bodies, editorial theory began shifting about twenty years ago toward a concept of text as unstable, material, and constituted by numerous “codes.” As already suggested, editors working according to such theory seek to provide their readers not with the best, first, or last version of a poem but with multiple presentations, including the social-historical and visual framing of each text. In such editions, the literary work is not referred to in the singular (“the poem”) but as any number of “material instantiations” or “presentations.” The poem is a text defined for particular use—not in the Wordsworthian sense that perception defines its object but by editorial determination of the parameters of its “textual condition.” This is the phrase of Jerome McGann, one of the most influential promoters of a “materialist” editing. In The Textual Condition, McGann argues that mid-twentieth-century editing practice has led to the “evil consequence” that “privilege” is “assigned to ‘meaning’ ”; language is privileged over the multiple bibliographic and social codes that, McGann argues, make every text an “interactive locus” of codes. In contrast to the assumptions of what is sometimes called Greg-Bowers editing theory, McGann argues that “meaning,” that focus of a romantic hermeneutics, represents only one textual level; meaning constitutes one aspect of the “textual medium … like its various visual components” (12).
Because Moore revised her poems so radically and repeatedly over decades, her verse would seem to be the perfect candidate for editing of the type that conceives of the poem as dynamic, in flux, and materially grounded in each specific printing. Moore’s “Sun,” for example, was printed in at least seven distinct versions from 1916 to 1966. More famously, she published “Poetry” in multiple versions ranging from 3 to 30 lines, over a period of fifty years. That Moore included two versions of this poem in her Complete Poems—the first as text, the second as a “longer version” in the volume’s notes—suggests that she herself perceived the poem as existing in multiple forms, unfixed. In “Pressing Women: Marianne Moore and the Networks of Modernism,” George Bornstein regards her poems as “among the most striking modernist examples of works that change their meanings as they alter both their linguistic and their bibliographic codes”; without the bibliographic codes that reveal “both the social embedding and the aesthetic variations of her works,” he contends, “we are left with her poems as largely aesthetic objects, existing outside of social space.” As Bornstein’s diction of loss and marginality suggests, the poem as “aesthetic object” is from his perspective thin. The old-fashioned “poem” that one could recite, anthologize, or (as a teacher) distribute and discuss as such is inadequate. An “ideal edition” of Moore’s poems would include not just multiple versions of all revised poems but substantial editorial notation or visual reproduction of each of their printings (117). But “Poetry” is the only one of Moore’s many revised and reprinted poems for which she provided more than one text and consequently probably not the best guide to her ideas about poetic form. Moore is in fact far more likely to have seen poems as improvable than as fluid. As an editor of her own and of others’ work, Moore excised ruthlessly. She saw editing as a process of selection and omission: for her, history is fluid but the text, at any given moment of printing, is not.

The ethical and (albeit indirect) political tenor of many of Moore’s poems—within the arenas of international relations, racial and nationalist attitudes, feminism, and economics—indicates that for her the poem was never a purely aesthetic object, as it probably is not for most poets. On the other hand, Moore loved the poem that could be heard, read aloud, quoted as such. And even taken in isolation from their publishing venues or social embedding, most of Moore’s poems resonate in multiple ways beyond the aesthetic. The editor may or may not regard authorial intention as relevant to decisions about textual editing. As Christopher Ricks remarks of T. S. Eliot in his recent edition of poems Eliot repeatedly refused to publish, Inventions of the March Hare: Poems 1909-1917 (Harcourt, Brace and Co., 1996), Eliot lived in an age of different attitudes about publication; the attitudes of that era should not govern our own. Inevitably at stake for the editor, however, are questions about the relation of selected texts to the poet’s publication history and to the archive or whole set of available materials from which the editor must work. For a poet of such influence, Eliot wrote relatively few poems. The publication of his early work that reflects directly on his revision and composition of later, famous poems has, therefore, great impact on an understanding of the poet. Moore wrote more verse than Eliot and left more poems unpublished. The archive of material pertaining to her poetry is vast, forcing different kinds of decisions on her editors.

In the Marianne Moore collection at the Rosenbach Museum and Library, one finds “at least 35,000 pieces” of correspondence, approximately 150 manuscripts of Moore’s poems, and assorted notebooks, scrapbooks, typescripts, photographs, objects, and sketches. The poetry texts fall into numerous categories: poems or drafts never published, those published and then dropped from later collections, those republished in one or more revised forms, and those published poems later emended but not printed with the marked changes. Several poems may be traced from their earliest chaotic draftings in poetry notebooks through multiple typed versions into published, and then later revised, forms, and the threads of connection between Moore’s poems, notebooks, and letters are intricate, raising the question for any scholarly editor of where a Moore poem begins or ends. The poem “Qui S’Excuse, S’Accuse,” for example, included in both Schulze’s and Schulman’s volumes without comment beyond initial date of publication (The Lantern, Spring 1910), was emended after publication in interesting ways. Retitled “Looking at It” on one typescript, the poem begins with a (never published) epigraph that reads: “Henry James: Explanation is self accusation / F. G. Cooper: Lemme out. / Max Eastman: Take off your blinders. / The Pre-Evolutionist: I won’t take ‘em off, I like ‘em” (RML I:02:58). The James quotation seems to be a source for the 1909 published title, “Qui S’Excuse, S’Accuse,” but the lines ascribed to political cartoonist F. G. Cooper and socialist Max Eastman come from a May 16, 1914, Colliers cartoon called “The Standpatter,” printed five years later and which Moore painstakingly copied into a reading notebook (RML VII:01:01). In the cartoon, an unnamed speaker wearing a top hat and huge blinders says, “No! I won’t take ‘em off! I LIKE ‘EM!!” while a tiny figure in the corner, also wearing blinders, cries, “Lemme out.” It is unlikely that any print or even electronic edition of Moore’s poems could, or would, include all such contextualizing information available in the archive.
Moore was documentably attuned to the visual in her construction of poetry. Her attention to publishing venues and her conservation of manuscripts and typescripts at multiple stages of composition and revision provide the material for rich interdisciplinary, historical, and bibliographic scholarship. Detailed attention to all documents or information regarding her published and unpublished versions of a poem, however, would overwhelm the poem itself, except in the context of a critical exposition about her compositional-revision process or an interpretive critical essay on that single poem.

And hence we return to questions of interpretation or meaning in relation to editing. I would argue that it is difficult, if not impossible, to divorce meaning from other aspects of understanding or appreciation. Even practitioners of a materialist hermeneutics, like that McGann calls for, choose to include particular bibliographic and social codes because they illuminate aspects of meaning important to the editor. Bornstein’s writing on Moore is a case in point. Generally, Bornstein proposes that there are “multiple authorized versions” of many texts and that “any particular version of a text that we study is always already a construction”; to understand that construction, a reader needs to see its “material instantiation.” Yet in a chapter taking Moore’s “The Fish” as an example of the way in which “changing the bibliographic and contextual codes [of presentation] changes the meaning of [a] poem, even though the words remain the same,” Bornstein makes a prioritizing claim (“Pressing Women,” 11). The “anti-war sentiment” of “The Fish,” he argues, is revealed through seeing its first publication in The Egoist, a British journal with strong antiwar alignment, and through Moore’s later placement of the poem in Observations on the facing page with “Reinforcements,” a poem Bornstein reads as “explicit[ly] compar[ing] military reinforcements to fish.” Later printings of the poem, beginning especially with T. S. Eliot and Moore’s arrangement of her texts in her Selected Poems, aestheticize this “antimilitary,” political text. This argument privileges both meaning (an interpretation of the poem as anti-war) and authorial intention (first printing and first arrangement).

Bornstein’s theory that one text has as much authority as any other hence runs into partial conflict with his reading that prefers the Egoist and Observations instantiations of “The Fish” above others. At the same time, his focus on bibliographic codes erases (as he would say) other contextual elements that may illuminate the poem’s frame of reference. By 1918, Moore’s brother was serving as a chaplain in the U.S. Navy, and she had arguably stopped writing poems against World War I, like those of unquestionable opposition written in 1914 and 1915. Perhaps the context of first publication in The Egoist misleads a twenty-first-century reader to mistake a poem of lament over general human destructiveness and violence for one of specific political opposition. My reading of “The Fish” differs from his only in the matter of degree—as to whether the poem articulates the poet’s continuing general pacificism or particular opposition to World War I (meaning, U.S. involvement in the war? the fact of the war itself?). While bibliographic frames unquestionably illuminate shades of meaning for the scholar, a poem must surely ultimately resonate beyond the framing of any particular instantiation or it would cease to be of interest to readers nearly a century later. If not “meaning” in some sense, what accounts for the human love of patterned and compressed language we call poetry, and our ability to distinguish the powerful from the banal? Meaning must not be singular and may be historical, political, or ideological in its articulations. If the poem, however, cannot stand on its own as a performance or instantiation of some power, no amount of attention to its bibliographic codes will make it more interesting as a poem.

Robin G. Schulze’s Becoming Marianne Moore manifests the principles of current editing theory. Bornstein, in fact, extols Schulze’s edition as a “profound contribution to the notions of material textuality” and “the first edition of a modernist writer to incorporate the revolutionary developments in recent editorial theory” (back cover). Printing all the poems Moore published up through her first edition of Observations in 1924 (revised and reprinted in 1925), Schulze’s edition articulates its focus explicitly: to make available texts and historical, material contexts of all poems published through 1924. The jewel in the crown of this edition is the facsimile reprint of the 1924 Observations, the volume for which Moore won the Dial Award for literature. This reprint importantly includes Moore’s first construction of “Notes” for her poems and her utterly fascinating nine-page index—including categories like “toads, real,” “shorthand,” “monoceroses,” “Jew, brilliant, 16; not greedy, 64,” and “Burke, Edmund, make my house your inn, 82, 105; psychologist, 55; some have rights, 79, 104”—the latter note specifying both phrases Moore quotes from Burke and the context in which she mentions his name in “Picking and Choosing.” This reproduction of Observations is followed by two sections containing chronologically ordered “First Presentations of Moore’s Poems Published between 1907 and 1924” that do and do not appear in Observations, followed by a lengthy (over 100-page) set of essays on “Moore’s Poems in Their Publication Contexts,” describing the journals in which she published between 1907 and 1924. Balancing the concluding set of essays on journals is a twenty-page introductory essay on “Moore’s Early Volumes: From Poems (1921) to Observations (1924).” The volume concludes with a chronological list of the first presentations of Moore’s early poems and an alphabetical index to all poems presented.
Apart from the facsimile reproduction of Observations, every “presentation” of a poem receives commentary. In the “First Presentation” category of commentary following the facsimile reproduction of each poem’s first printing, Schulze is perhaps somewhat repetitive in describing verbally what can be seen on the facing facsimile page. For “In the Days of Prismatic Colour,” she specifies that “the poem consisted of six stanzas, each of five lines, arranged in a 13, 12, 7, 11, 18 syllabic template” and restates the information of the bibliographic gloss note: the poem first appeared “in 1919 in the Bryn Mawr Lantern.” On the other hand, it is useful not to have to count syllables and to learn that “The British spellings in the poem reflect the house style of the Lantern” (243). The facsimile page for poems reprinted in Observations includes a page reference to the Observations facsimile page, facilitating visual comparison of the two presentations. “First Presentation” notes are followed, when relevant, by a section describing “Presentations Preceding Observations” and a “Table of Linguistic Variants.” When there are several variants, Schulze prints the revised version in full. For the Moore scholar, such information is invaluable. The publication of Observations marked a major landmark in Moore’s career. To have it reprinted, with variorum notes on all previous presentations of a poem and the additional collection of all other poems published before 1924, provides a substantial foundation for significant new work on Moore’s early career. The bibliographic work of this volume is superb and, to my knowledge, absolutely reliable. The volume’s organization, while complex, is utterly clear and consistent, and the information provided immensely useful.

As Bornstein’s praise suggests, this edition of poems also functions as a theoretical treatise. In her seventeen-page introduction to the volume, Schulze not only outlines the need for a collection of Moore’s early published poems but argues for an organizing concept of “authorial selection” rather than of “intention” (11). She addresses directly the editorial theorizing of major writers in the field and the commentary of Moore scholars in relation to the limited availability of her often revised texts, including Grace Schulman. Moreover, the double facsimile representation of both the 1924 Observations and the first presentation of each poem, especially in the context of the introductory and concluding essays on editing and bibliography, manifests her conviction that “each of Moore’s versions constitutes a discrete historical and bibliographic event” and that Moore needs to be approached “as a poet whose texts respond to and reflect, in various ways, the historical contexts in which they were produced and the material facts of the venues in which they were published” (16). Every detail of Schulze’s edition reflects this conviction. She specifies “linguistic variants” to avoid confusion with other variant codes, “presentation” as opposed to version of a poem to stress the materiality of a publication event, and she is scrupulous in informing the reader about the bibliographic context in which each “presentation” appears—sometimes through direct interpretive commentary and sometimes through reference to other apparatus (“For a full account of Williams and McAlmon’s presentation of Moore’s work, see pages 406-16”; 243).

The kinds of detail included in this highly scholarly edition may not strike lay readers as being of particular significance and may not even interest Moore scholars of more theoretical, aesthetic, or political than historical-bibliographic bent. On the other hand, they will delight those keen on historical detail. Moore’s “Radical,” we learn, was first printed in Others (1919) with a duplicated line in the third stanza. Schulze points to this duplication and the fact that editor Alfred Kreymborg struck through it by hand as evidence of “the magazine’s chronic financial difficulties and Kreymborg’s waning interest in the Others enterprise” (240). Elsewhere, Schulze informs the reader that Moore’s notes to Observations misidentify Dostoyevsky as the source of a quotation, then quotes at some length from the Turgenev novel Moore in fact quoted, and sketches a context for the cited dialogue. As such commentary suggests, Schulze does not hesitate to be interpretive in her reflections. Especially in her “First Presentation” sections, she frequently calls attention to details that she regards as meaningful. At times, full source citation would have been useful. In writing of “To the Soul of ‘Progress’ ” (revised as “To Military Progress”), Schulze includes the information that the poem was part of a set of thirteen published in the 1919 Others and that “evidence in the Moore archive suggests that Moore planned to issue” the set “as a separate Others pamphlet before the magazine fell victim to failing finances,” without saying where this “evidence” can be found (189). Such a comment is a little like pointing to a haystack and saying one may find a needle there. The appearance of this information only in the note for “To the Soul of ‘Progress‘ “—which is the earliest published of the thirteen hence is presented before the other twelve—also suggests the critical nature of Schulze’s volume: if one did not read through the “First Presentation” pages sequentially one might not stumble across this information relevant to the whole set of poems.

If Schulze’s edition disappoints at all, it is only in its thoroughness. By producing a volume of extensive presentation and commentary, Schulze inevitably chooses not to produce, for example, an inexpensive reader’s edition of Observations, a text that would be of enormous value to all teachers of modernist Anglo-American poetry. Becoming Marianne Moore is beautifully produced, from its jacket cover reproducing the design of Moore’s Poems to the spacious margins of each page. This is a book Moore herself would have loved to hold and look at. The choice of production materials and cost, of course, stems from the University of California Press. On the other hand, the choice of what to include in the volume, hence the determination of its length, is consistent with Schulze’s explicit argument about the requirements of Moore study and textual editing.

Grace Schulman’s The Poems of Marianne Moore, even more than Becoming Marianne Moore, expands the body of texts readily available to Moore readers, and its selection of poems is generous and varied. In addition to the already published early poems, Schulman’s volume contains several poems never before published. “Piningly” is a 28-line, early stanzaic feminist poem including lines and ideas developed later in published poems (Moore frequently tried out lines in several contexts before settling on their placement in a single poem). “To a Stiffwinged Grasshopper” adds to the list of Moore’s early poems of address and of reference to World War I, and again reveals much about Moore’s drafting process: she wrote two quite different poems with this title, the second of which Schulman prints in full in her notes. “Am I a Brother to Dragons and a Companion to Owls” reads in its entirety:

             I am exactly that: brusque, blind—
            Unsocialized in deed, convinced in mind,
             Of my strict duty to mankind. (21)

—a typically pithy and humorous introduction to the self-confident and self-critical budding poet, who went by animal nicknames and was dubbed masculine (hence a “Brother”) within family name-play. Also included are a few later unpublished poems—for example, “To Peace,” a historically significant draft apparently written in response to a League of Nations Association announcement of an “International Hymn Contest of American Poets.” Schulman wisely includes very few of the numerous unpublished late poems Moore wrote in response to various people and occasions, although poems like “Assistance” (written for Mona Van Duyn) and “A Christmas Poem” represent the genre (309, 311).

Both in the selection of single foregrounded representative texts for each poem and in its apparatus and organization, Schulman’s volume reveals its philosophical differences from Schulze’s. First, there is no sense in which Schulman’s edition serves simultaneous historical, critical, and theoretical functions; its focus is on the isolatable poem. Schulman’s is primarily (although not unambiguously) a reader’s edition and contains an appropriately brief introduction and editorial commentary in small type at the end of the volume. For most poems, Schulman lists only her source text and the place and date of initial publication. In her “Editor’s Note on Marianne Moore’s Notes,” she explains that she will “offer a partial view of the author’s notes that are found in all of her editions,” reprinting Moore’s first published notes for most poems (327). While Moore revised her notes as well as her poems, Schulman gives no later corrections or additions to Moore’s notes: for example, the misidentification of the phrase “it is not the business of gods” as stemming from “Dostoievsky” rather than Turgenev in “In This Age of Hard Trying Nonchalance Is Good And” is not corrected in her volume, as it is in Schulze’s. While there is occasional commentary in the “Editor’s Notes,” it does not occur consistently. Schulman instructs the reader to “note [the] early syllabic pattern” in some poems—for example, “So far as the future is concerned …”—but not in others. She identifies some allusions (to II Chronicles 20:15, in “You Are Fire Eaters”). Several times she prints alternate versions of a poem in full-giving unpublished variants or drafts from the Moore archive as well as alternate published presentations of a poem, a great boon to scholars. For the notorious “Poetry,” she prints five variants in full—a marvelous opportunity to read through these competing texts. Equally useful to the scholar is Schulman’s printing in full of three of Moore’s poetic sequences: “Pouters and Fantails” (1915), “Part of a Novel, Part of a Poem, Part of a Play” (1932), and “Old Dominion” (1936).

The occasional personal note reminds the reader of Schulman’s long friendship with Moore: “Miss Moore told me that she did not want the question mark after the title [“What Are Years?”],” Schulman remarks, quoting Moore’s words to her and then concluding that she nonetheless included the question mark because that is the way it was published (387). Similarly, she occasionally provides interpretative commentary. For “Old Tiger,” Schulman relates that Moore mailed excerpts of the poem to Ezra Pound in 1918-19, although the poem was not published until 1932. She then continues: “His suggested revisions embodied principles—the best word, lowered caps, naturalness, precision—that remained important to Moore throughout her writing career. The poem, like others of the period, including ‘Critics and Connoisseurs’ and ‘Melanchthon,’ is built on the ‘intellectual, argumentative evolution’ that Sir Herbert Grierson admired in the poems of Donne” (360). The inconsistency of such comment, however, is troubling. Why not include, for example, the more obviously relevant information that Moore tries out the title “Our Imported Grasshopper, ‘North of Boston’ ” on one draft of “To a Stiffwinged Grasshopper,” in allusion to Robert Frost’s recently published volume, indicating that her “grasshopper” was at some point in her thinking either Frost or his poems? Similarly, why not correct the (rare!) misidentification of sources in Moore’s notes, or provide information about all Moore’s biblical allusions?

Schulman gives a poetic rationale for her procedure in her introduction, which strikes a personal note throughout. It begins with a history of her relationship with Moore; phrases like “she told me” recur. Apparently addressing a general reader rather than the scholar, Schulman briefly introduces Moore’s major concerns: the inevitability of change, the importance of perception to knowledge (xxii), moral precepts with particular focus on “elevation of the oppressed,” and the “dramatic struggle between the poet’s mind and the world” (xxvi). Her two-and-a-half pages explaining the selections and organization of the volume conclude, “In the end, I chose what I loved best by a method I can only describe as ‘conscientious inconsistency’ ” (xxiii).

Schulman’s edition is indeed characterized by “conscientious inconsistency” at every level. She is conscientious in her selection of Moore’s poems. Inconsistency appears in her commentary on the poems, as already noted, and in her choice of source texts. “Whenever possible,” she explains, she used the 1981 Complete Poems, but “in many cases, I used versions that I liked from earlier editions.” While one may achieve a high quality of text by having one poet select from another’s oeuvre “what I loved best,” the idiosyncracies resulting in this case from such a method detract from the usefulness of the volume. First, idiosyncratic choice of source texts presents an unacknowledged problem for the chronological ordering of the volume. When printing the 1951 “Melanchthon” revision of the 1918 “Black Earth,” where is the poem’s proper chronological place? Schulman places it under “Little Magazines, 1915-1919,” although “Melanchthon” is not the poem Moore published in either 1918 or (slightly revised) 1924, in Observations. Chronological arrangement by date of publication makes excellent sense as a principle of organization in a volume significantly adding to the poems available to readers, but then one would also logically expect to see the first published (or first collected) version of each poem.

Varying choice of source texts creates outright confusion with regard to titles. A reader seeking the 1918 “Black Earth” in the 1915-1919 section will be disappointed unless she also happens to know the poem by its 1951 title. In the same early period, one finds “So far as the future is concerned, ‘Shall not one say, with the Russian philosopher, “How is one to know what one doesn’t know?”’ So far as the present is concerned” (1915)—a poem Moore revised and retitled “The Past Is the Present” in Observations and then reprinted under that title in all subsequent volumes of her poetry (after dropping from her canon an unrelated poem for which she first used the title “The Past Is the Present”). While differences in the early and later texts justify Schulman’s choice of the 1915 printing, some reference to the better-known title more noticeable than the small print of the “Editor’s Notes” would be useful; again, the student attempting to find that frequently discussed early poem “The Past Is the Present” will not succeed. Because of the inconsistency in use of source texts, even a knowledgeable reader does not know how to look for a particular poem. “To Military Progress” appears in its Observations (1924) revision rather than in its initial version as “To the Soul of ‘Progress’ ” (1915). “To Disraeli on Conservatism” (1915), mistitled in the “Editor’s Notes” as “To Disraeli on Conservation”), appears in its Observations printing as “To a Strategist.” The uncorrected proofs copy from which I write does not yet contain the volume’s index and may correct typographical mistakes like this one. A thorough index, including titles of poems for the printings Schulman uses and better or equally well-known titles used for other presentations of these poems would obviate the difficulty of identification and enormously increase the use value of the volume.

Equally troubling is this edition’s lack of attention to previous historical selections and arrangements of Moore’s poems. Schulman might, for example, have arranged poems in broad chronological categories but within each category presented first the poems as ordered by Moore in her book collections, followed by a chronological presentation of the uncollected poems—or, as in Bishop’s Complete Poems, placed uncollected poems and “Poems Written in Youth” at the end of the volume. No simple chronological arrangement of the unpublished work is possible, let alone a combination of unpublished with first published and revised and republished work. Since the unpublished poems are rarely dated, they can be placed only within a period of years (unless Moore refers to or quotes them in a letter): the poems typed on small blue-green paper with a Carlisle return address, for example, were probably composed between 1910 and 1916. Some poems first published in the late teens or twenties seem by topic, tone, and allusion to belong to the Carlisle period but appear in Schulman’s edition under the date of their publication; for example, “The Bricks Are Fallen Down, We Will Build with Hewn Stones. The Sycamores Are Cut Down, We Will Change to Cedars” was first published in Observations but almost certainly written around 1914-15, when Moore frequently used such long titles, quoted Hebrew prophets, and wrote in response to the war. Similarly, Moore’s letters indicate that the “Pouters and Fantails” sequence published in Poetry in May 1915 had been accepted in July of 1914, hence was definitely composed earlier than, for example, “To the Soul of ‘Progress‘ “—a poem responding to World War I and probably composed in early 1915, although it appeared in print before the Poetry sequence. Schulman prints “To Military Progress” (the 1924 revision) as earlier than the Poetry sequence composed before July 1914. More puzzling is that Schulman prints two poems first published in the same 1920 issue of the Dial in two different sections of her volume—”Picking and Choosing” as the final poem of “Little Magazines, 1915-1919” and “England” as the first in “The Dial Years, 1920-1925.” “Dock Rats,” also published in 1920, similarly appears in the 1915-1919 section. Schulman’s edition combines elements of the scholarly variorum (multiple previously unpublished poems, some draft or variant revisions in the notes, some scholarly notes on composition and allusions) with elements of the reader’s edition addressed to a nonspecialist. The result is at best whimsical, with the charm of a friend selecting and arranging an older friend’s poetry, and at worst both frustrating and misleading as to the accuracy of detail.

Moreover, because Schulman intersperses previously unpublished and uncollected poems with those Moore frequently reprinted, the reader loses all sense of Moore’s own judgment in relation to the poems and occasionally has the unfortunate surprise of encountering a relatively weak or unfocused poem directly following a poem of great force and polish. Given the difficulties of determining chronology consistently and Schulman’s inconsistent attention to the available facts, a presentation reproducing the integrity of Moore’s own ordering choices within chronological sections would have better served both the reader and the poet. It would have acknowledged her own (perhaps too) severe judgment of quality in presenting her poems, while maintaining the generous inclusions of Schulman’s selections. Perhaps even more troubling for an edition addressed to the general reader, Schulman’s (more or less) chronological mixing of poems unpublished, uncollected, and prized by Moore determines that the volume begin with forty pages of apprentice poems, of interest only to the historical-biographical scholar. The first poem written in Moore’s mature style, and constituting a kind of watershed in her early years of writing—”Critics and Connoisseurs”—appears on pages 68-69. It is not clear that a new reader of Moore would ever get that far in this volume, especially since nothing marks the accomplished from the apprentice or unpolished poems.
As suggested above, Schulman’s headings are also problematic. For Moore scholars, the “Dial years” refers to those in which Moore edited The Dial (1925-1929)—and, incidentally, wrote no poems. The heading “Lyrics and Sequences: 1926-1940” misleads in implying that Moore in fact wrote poetry between 1926 and the beginning of 1930 and gives an odd interpretive emphasis to the period; it implies that “lyrics” were more important to Moore in these years than in others and privileges Moore’s publication of the 1932 and 1934 sequences published in Poetry and her 1936 publication of the slim volume The Pangolin and Other Poems above the momentous publication of The Selected Poems in 1935. While Schulman’s attention to these lyric sequences is applaudable, Moore’s Selected Poems is probably the single volume most influential in establishing her career—after the 1924 Observations. And why the poems from 1956-1965 should be collected under the heading “The Magic Flute” is simply puzzling, as the heading refers to none of the three volumes Moore published during this decade and alludes to a poem (“Logic and ‘The Magic Flute’ ”) that is far from her most impressive work of the period.

Most troubling, however, are the errors in Schulman’s volume. The most striking I have found comes in her notes to “An Egyptian Pulled Glass Bottle in the Shape of a Fish” (366-367), where in addition to admirably printing the early version of the poem “In Einar Jonsson’s ‘Cow’,” Schulman inexplicably prints two other unpublished poems completely unrelated to “An Egyptian Pulled Glass Bottle.” “Garter Snake” and “Eloquence” anticipate “The Monkey Puzzle” in their use of the quoted phrase “we prove, we do not explain our birth,” as well as in their slightly differing versions of the lines leading up to this conclusion. At the same time, both poems include as a central component a statement that there are no snakes in Ireland—an idea Moore played with in drafting “Spenser’s Ireland,” although she omits it from her finished poem. An earlier note mislabels the 1913 Lantern printing of “Councell to a Bachelor” as being from Poetry and misspells “Councell” as “Concell” (357). Schulman’s note on the previously unpublished “To Peace” implies that the poem was written on “June 30, 1933” rather than acknowledging that this is the date on the League of Nations Association contest information sheet, on which Moore typed her poem. Schulman’s note informs the reader accurately that the poem is “typed on the reverse side of Beethoven’s ‘Ode to Joy’ ” and mentions the League of Nations contest but fails to mention that the score appears on the contest announcement, which requires a hymn that can be sung to its sixteen measures (373). Moore also typed out “To Peace” under the musical notes for the “Ode.” A simple error of sloppiness occurs in the introduction, where Schulman claims that “Three [of Moore’s lyric] sequences are given in their entirety in ‘Additional Variants,’” but no section of that name exists and I can find only two lyric sequences in the “Editor’s Notes with the Poetry’s Attributions and Variants”; the sequence “Pouters and Fantails” is printed as such in the main body of the text (xxiii, 53-55). This printing is also problematic, however: because the last poem of the sequence is followed immediately by another poem on the same page it is impossible to tell where the sequence ends without turning to the “Editor’s Notes.” Hence the effect of printing the sequence as a sequence is lost. These are in part trivial errors, but they make the reader wary of other potential inaccuracies in the volume’s commentary, bibliographical citations, and the printing of texts.

“Blessed Is the Man,” Moore wrote, “who does not sit in the seat of the scoffer— / the man who does not denigrate, depreciate, denunciate”—the opening lines of a poem, Schulman informs us, first published in The Ladies’ Home Journal in 1956 (248, 390). In the spirit of this indirect admonition, let me reiterate the considerable strengths of Schulman’s edition. She provides us with several dozen poems of great power not previously collected or published. For a significant number of these, and other poems, Schulman provides either a variant or draft full text in her notes or provides information about the composition or sources of a poem. It is extremely useful that Schulman includes first publication citations for all poems, given Moore’s lifelong tendency to publish poems in journals before collecting them in volumes. Assuming that Viking eventually publishes an inexpensive paper issue of this volume, it will be a serviceable classroom text, in many ways superior to the 1981 Complete Poems. At the same time, it must be reiterated that Schulman’s edition will introduce misleading and in some cases inaccurate information about Moore’s poems into broad circulation, and that it is not an unquestionable boon to have her idiosyncratic selection, arrangement, and commentary on Moore’s poems rather than T. S. Eliot’s or Moore’s own. This reviewer hopes that Viking will keep Moore’s Complete Poems in print in its paper format even while making Schulman’s edition of her Poems similarly available in paper.


By submitting this form, you accept the Mollom privacy policy.

Recommended Reading