Marianne Moore's Early Poems

Maggie Millner
Illustration by The Yale Review. Source image: Getty

In October 2003, The Yale Review printed four never-before-published early poems by the great modernist poet Marianne Moore. These poems, all written in Moore’s early twenties, bear many of the stylistic hallmarks of her later work: jaunty concision, arch humor, and a heightened attention to the syllabic (even more than the accentual) measure of the poetic line. In the same folio, The Yale Review also published a poem mistakenly attributed to Moore: “Majestic Haystack,” by Algernon Blackwood, from his 1913 book A Prisoner in Fairyland. Moore had typed a transcript of the poem, omitting a few lines, and kept it among her early papers, leading archivists to assume, wrongly, that she had written it herself.

The five poems TYR published that autumn comprised a short selection from The Poems of Marianne Moore, edited by the poet Grace Schulman and released later the same month from Viking Press. The book was groundbreaking, containing dozens of uncollected poems composed before the publication of Moore’s first collection in 1921. Many of these poems—which Schulman discovered in Moore’s archive at the Rosenbach Museum and Library in Philadelphia, where the original versions still live—date from Moore’s time as a precocious undergraduate at Bryn Mawr. Though often shorter, slighter, and more regularly rhyming than her later work, these early poems already show the thematic eccentricity and prosodic precision that would come to define Moore’s body of work—poems with “the lacy, mathematical extravagance of snowflakes,” in the words of the poet Randall Jarrell.

Though two seemingly comprehensive volumes of Moore’s poetry already existed (Collected Poems, from 1951, and The Complete Poems of Marianne Moore, from 1967), both books were published before Moore’s death in 1972, and both excluded much of her early and late work. Schulman was a family friend of Moore’s, and she took seriously the decision to unearth and print these early poems, which offer readers fresh insights into the development of one of this country’s most visionary and influential poets. In the same spirit and in celebration of National Poetry Month, we’re pleased to share this piece of our archive with our readers.

Marianne Moore, "As Has Been Said"

Marianne Moore, "Rodin's Penseur"

Marianne Moore, "To See It Is to Know That Mendelssohn Would Never Do"

Marianne Moore, "Man's Feet Are a Sensational Device"

Maggie Millner is a poet and a senior editor at The Yale Review.
Originally published:
April 19, 2023


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