“A Grave” is one of Marianne Moore’s most well-known poems. It was initially called “Graveyard,” and was first published in The Dial in July of 1924; it was revised slightly for its appearance in 1924’s Observations. It was the first to be translated into a foreign language and appeared in the Anthologie de la nouvelle poésie (1928).
The poem actually stemmed from a real moment Moore and her mother shared. Moore recounts it thusly: “As for ‘A Grave,’ it has a significance apart from the literal origin, which was a man who placed himself between my mother and me, and the surf we were watching from the middle ledge of rocks on Monhegan Island [in Maine] after the storm. (‘Don't be annoyed,’ my mother said. ‘It is human nature to stand in the middle of a thing.’)”
Moore corresponded with the poet Ezra Pound on this work (he published an even earlier version of the poem entitled “A Graveyard in the Middle of the Sea” which Moore had worked on between September 1916 and September 1918). He told her in letters “your stuff holds my eye” and gave her feedback. He suggested switching the words “volition” and “consequence” but Moore ignored this suggestion.
At the time of the poem’s completion, Moore was disenchanted with the publishing side of poetry. She wrote to Pound, “I grow less and less desirous of being published, produce less and have a strong feeling for letting alone what little I do produce. My work jerks and rears and I cannot get up enthusiasm for embalming what I myself, accept conditionally.”