Erickson examines the work of Marianne Moore in order to provide some consistently successful strategies for understanding her poetryIn 1935, T.S. Eliot wrote that Marianne Moore’s poems “form part of the small body of durable poetry written in our time.” In this comprehensive critical study of the American poet Marianne Moore (1887-1972) and her work, Erickson amply justifies Eliot’s praise, demonstrating the poet’s ability to combine close observation with a worldview presentation that is at once intuitive, kaleidoscopic, and optimistic. Unfortunately, over the years the excellence and originality of Moore’s work has been overshadowed by its apparent inscrutability. Erickson examines the work of Marianne Moore in order to provide some consistently successful strategies for understanding her poetry.
The thesis is centered in a line from Moore’s poem, “Armor’s Undermining Modesty”:” What is more precise than precision? Illusion.” Erickson argues that Moore came to see herself humorously as “Imagnifico, a Wizard in Words,” a magician who used her conjuries to express a truth beyond reason, a truth described by the philosopher Henri Bergson as intuition, the highest stage of the evolution of human understanding. Is Erickson’s contention that Moore’s sense of magic is inextricably bound up in her own uniquely feminine epistemology, the tendency to place great value on intuition, and to find one’s own voice among collections of many voices.
This study demonstrates that Moore’s voice is arguably the strongest female voice in twentieth century American literature and her poetic voice could hold its own in the company of the best of the other modernists. Unlike many current scholars, Erickson examines closely the texts of Moore’s poems themselves, allowing the poet’s own voice to speak clearly. The study also explores Moore’s obsession with time, her preoccupation with the visual, her interest in the forms of Hebrew verse and her “susceptibility to happiness,” an outlook at some odds with the twentieth century’s fascination with the “romance of failure.”
While the book is scholarly in its intent and carefully documented, it is eminently readable and will be of interest of anyone fascinated by the mind of a brilliant twentieth century woman.
“A timely contribution to the field, it is a careful, imaginative study of Moore’s work that offers several new perspectives…. This study pushes at the limits of previous Moore scholarship, offering further, new thoughts on each subject it addresses.”—Patricia C. Willis, Curator of American Literature, Beinecke Library, Yale University