Poetry Study Guide

“Poetry” was published in 1921 as a lyric poem written in free verse. Moore tinkered with this poem a couple times and in her 1967 Complete Poems of Marianne Moore she reduced it to just three lines: “I, too, dislike it. / Reading it, however, with a perfect contempt for it, one discovers in / it, after all, a place for the genuine.” Interestingly enough, she included the full, earlier text in an endnote to the revised one, and also in the back of the volume in notes under the title “Original Version.”

Critic Bonnie Honigsblum unpacks this situation of the multiple versions further: “[there is] a version with five stanzas of six long, divided lines… almost rhymed (printed fifty-seven times and once as a note to the three-line version, during Moore's lifetime )...a thirteen-line version in free verse without stanzas (printed once)...a fifteen-line version with three stanzas of five long, divided lines… with internal rhyme (printed five times in anthologies compiled by foremost poet-editors)...and a three-line version to which she appended a revision of the five-stanza version in a footnote (printed ten times)... The notes to the poem were printed twenty-four times in a shortened version slightly modified and expanded in The Complete Poems of Marianne Moore (1967) to include the five-stanza version, where the notes to this version become notes on a note, referring to lines no longer part of the three-line version of ‘Poetry.’”

Of the five-stanza version, the New York Times said “Miss Moore is perfectly in the American tradition when she continues,’. . . these things are important / not because a / high- sounding interpretation can / be put upon them but be- / cause / they are useful.’ . . . When we say ‘the American tradition’ we mean in the way it has cut into the English tradition of the singing lyric and the sacred eloquence of blank verse. Ezra Pound in his way, Eliot, Cummings and Marianne Moore in their ways have helped in this new pragmatism of poetry.”

When a college student asked Moore in 1950 what she meant by “genuine,” she replied: “I meant by the genuine, a core of value—expressed in whatever way the writer can best express it. Like you, I prefer rhyme to free verse; I like a tune and I feel that one should be as clear as one's natural reticence allows one to be. The maximum efficiency of expression in poetry, should be at least as great as it could be in prose; certainly, one should be natural. The reversed order of words seems to me poetic suicide. We put up with it often for the sake of some preponderant virtue but it is always disaffecting—to me—except as an archaic effect sustained with an artistry as exacting as the opposite effect could be sustained.”