American Literature of the Sea and Great Lakes

MOORE, MARIANNE [CRAIG] (1887-1972). A member of the generation of poets that included T. S. Eliot,* Ezra Pound,* and William Carlos Williams,* Marianne Moore was highly regarded by her contemporaries for poetry that was metrically unique and that characteristically subjected her close observations of the physical world to the transforming power of her poetic imagination. Her impact on American poetry was felt not only through the force of her own comparatively small body of work (approximately 160 published poems) but also through her close ties with other poets and their work.

Many of her poems, particularly the earlier work, use very concrete marine images to ground her sense of the relation between the real and the imagined. See, for example, “The Frigate Pelican,” “The Fish,” “A Grave,” “Sea Unicorns and Land Unicorns,” and “Sojourn in the Whale,” all published in Selected Poems (1935). While the marine imagery in these poems is often startlingly precise, the corporeal world of nature is not ultimately what interests Moore, who views the sea and most things in it as mutable, flexible, the image of change and the ungraspable. Rather, what interests Moore is the way the particular world of the sea informs, shapes, even “charms” our understanding of more abstract concepts such as aesthetics and morality. The short poem “A Jelly-Fish” (1959) exemplifies this superbly when it describes its subject as “Visible, invisible/ a fluctuating charm.” [See also SEA IMAGERY IN MODERN AND CONTEMPORARY POETRY]

Thomas R. Brooks