Marianne Moore


The first aspect in which Miss Moore’s poetry is likely to strike the reader is that of minute detail rather than emotional unity. The gift for detailed observation, for finding the exact words for some experience of the eye, is liable to disperse the attention of the relaxed reader. The minutiae may even irritate the unwary, or arouse in them only the pleasurable astonishment evoked by the carved ivory ball with eleven other balls inside it, the full-rigged ship in a bottle, the skeleton of the crucifix-fish. The bewilderment consequent upon trying to follow so alert an eye, so quick a process of association, may produce the effect of some "metaphysical" poetry. To the moderately intellectual the poems may appear to be intellectual exercises; only to those whose intellection moves more easily will they immediately appear to have emotional value. But the detail has always its service to perform to the whole. The similies are there for use; as the mussel-shell "opening and shutting itself like an injured fan" (where injured has an ambiguety good enough for Mr. Empson), the waves "as formal as the scales on a fish." They make us see the object more clearly, been called to this object, and though we may not immediately grasp its association with a number of other objects. So, in her amused and affectionate attention to animals–from the domestic cat, or "to popularize the mule," to the most exotic strangers from the tropics, she succeeds at once in startling us into an unusual awareness of visual patterns, with something like the fascination of a high-powered microscope.

...My conviction, for what it is worth, has remained unchanged for the last fourteen years: that Miss Moore’s poems form part of the small body of durable poetry written in our time; of that small body of writings, among what passes for poetry, in which an original sensibility and alert intelligence and deep feeling have been engaged in maintaining the life of the English language...


Excerpts from "Introduction to Selected Poems." T.S. Eliot’s preface to Selected Poems by Marianne Moore (New York: Macmillan Company, 1935; London: Faber & Faber, Ltd.,). Copyright 1935 by T.S. Eliot.