“Marriage” is unequivocally one of Moore’s most challenging and compelling works, often anthologized and studied. It came out just a year after the other High Modernist achievements of T.S. Eliot’s “The Wasteland” and James Joyce’s Ulysses. Its difficulty is due in part to to the sheer amount of quotations and citations, many of which are not easily grasped without assistance. It is also her longest work.
Perhaps the most fascinating fact about “Marriage” is that Moore was writing on a subject of which she had no personal experience; she never married and never observed the marriage of her own parents. The poem is said to be a manifestation of her feelings about the hasty and loveless February 1921 marriage of her friends Bryher and Robert McAlmon, but other scholars have claimed that it was a rebuke to Scofield Thayer, Moore’s friend and editor who proposed to her in April 1921.
The poem was published as a small series of pamphlets in Monroe Wheeler’s Manikin Press. In January of 1923, Wheeler had asked Moore to write something for him, and she composed the poem over a four-month period (though she’d been compiling sources for a good amount of time prior). The poem came out in September of 1923 in a limited run of 200; Moore later included it in her collection Observations (1924). Moore wrote her brother that she hoped the poem would offend people. In an interview with Grace Schulman, she commented that her poem is “just an anthology of words that I didn’t want to lose, that I liked very much, and I put them together as plausibly as I could. So people daren’t derive a whole philosophy of life from that.”
Moore’s contemporaries lauded the poem. William Carlos Williams noted its many allusions, calling it “an anthology of transit,” and admired its “rapidity of movement.”