Tara Stubbs

A biographical entry on the modernist poet Marianne Moore (1887–1972), published recently in Ireland and the Americas: Culture, Politics and History, points out that although Moore is “typically regarded as an American writer, she expresses a persistent affinity with the Ireland of her distant inheritance.” [1] Moore had first referred to this inheritance in a letter to Ezra Pound, written towards the beginning of her poetic career on 9 January 1919. Pound had written to Moore, asking the younger poet to describe not only her background, but also her physical and racial characteristics. [2] She replied, by way of introduction: “I am glad to give you personal data and hope that the bare facts I have to offer, may not cause work that I may do from time to time, utterly to fail in interest.” [3] These “bare facts” included that she was born in 1887 and brought up in the home of her grandfather, and that she graduated from Bryn Mawr, Philadelphia, in 1909. Moore added, in response to Pound’s query concerning whether she was African in origin, like the elephant she describes in “Black Earth” (1918), that the poem “was written about an elephant that I have, named Melanchthon”; and that “contrary to your impression, I am altogether a blond and have red hair.”

But the “personal data” and “bare facts” of Moore’s letter also include an oft-quoted, though somewhat unclear, description of her heritage: “I am Irish by descent, possibly Scotch also, but purely Celtic.” Here “possibly” and “purely” seem to contradict each other, so that the reader is left unsure of exactly what Moore means by the adjectives—“Scotch” and “Celtic” —they describe. In contrast, the “I am” of “I am Irish” appears strident, though it is undermined by the relative uncertainty of the apparent qualifiers that follow. This enlightening but evasive letter exposes Moore’s precision concerning the “bare facts” of her adolescence and adulthood when contrasted with her imprecise description of her racial and cultural inheritances. Discussing the letter, Cristanne Miller commends Moore’s “deliberate avoidance” of “racist or nativist labels” such as “white” or “American,” and suggests that Moore offers “instead ‘Irish by descent’ and ‘blond’ (with red hair).” Miller views these latter “facts” as “all but buried” in Moore’s “detailed report” of her education and family life (134). It is likely that Moore was embarrassed by having to respond to the racist question Pound had asked her in his letter, considering whether she was “a jet-black Ethiopian, Othello-hued”; in a later letter he would admit to being relieved by her answer. [4] At the same time, however, Moore appears keen to please the older poet, and to gain his good opinion—after all, she had only been a published poet since 1915. Perhaps, then, Moore includes in her answer the descriptors “purely Celtic” and “altogether a blond” as a means of confirming that she is Caucasian, and therefore giving Pound the answer he expects, without addressing the question directly. Her answer might also have been influenced by the loose racial stereotyping that had become fashionable in American intellectual circles since the publication of Edward A. Ross’s The Old World in the New (1912) and Madison Grant’s The Passing of the Great Race (1916): by describing her fair colouring and red hair she would have implied that she ascribed to the “native American type,” which included the Scotch-Irish, who according to Ross “had settled in the colonies and stamped the national character” (see Haller, 147).

Despite Moore’s claim that this information represents “bare facts,” investigations into Moore’s family background point to her relatively weak connection to Ireland, therefore shedding doubt on her claim of Irish descent. Moore’s biographer Charles Molesworth discusses the poet’s 1964 trip to Ireland, claiming that during her trip Moore visited “the house their grandfather had been born in” in Merrion Square, Dublin (425): but this is incorrect. In her memoir of Moore, Elizabeth Bishop recounts Moore’s connection to Merrion Square: “she liked being of Irish descent; her great-great-grandfather had run away from a house in Merrion Square, Dublin […] and I remember her delight when the book in which the poem appeared was bound in Irish green.” [5] Moore’s diary for 1964 records that she visited Merrion Square, taking photographs of 12 Merrion Square during a trip to Dublin on 7 October 1964. [6] Yet Moore’s family connection with the address is historical rather than enduring. A typed “Autobiography” written by Moore’s great uncle Henry Warner, found among Moore’s papers, gives further clues about the identity of Moore’s distant Dublin relatives. Henry Warner describes his “paternal grand-father,” another Henry Warner, as “an Irish gentlemen of wealth and leisure who resided in the City of Dublin, Ireland.” In the “Autobiography,” Warner describes how his own father, the son of this Dublin gentleman, “ran away and enlisted, as a common sailor before the mast” at the age of twelve, eventually travelling to America, and settling in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (1). The evidence points to the fact that, as Bishop suggests, Moore’s tear-away great-great-grandfather is her closest Dublin ancestor. Moore continued to celebrate her link to Merrion Square despite the weakness of the connection. Consider, for example, a letter that the Irish-American writer John L. Sweeney sent to Moore in 1959, regarding a lecture on American poetry that he was planning to give in Dublin. In the letter Sweeney proposes, “to mention to the Dublin audience that Merrion Square is an ancestral association of yours,” but adds, “I can’t recall exactly how. If you think well of this mention would you send the particulars.” [7]

Moore’s continued celebration of her Irish connections makes it unsurprising that critics have tended to accept at face value her claim of Irish descent, and to draw conclusions from this. But such conclusions—for example that Moore was an Irish-American writer, or that her “Irish” poems were informed by her Irish heritage—become problematic when we consider Moore’s tenuous familial connection to Ireland. Why did Moore, according to Bishop, like “being of Irish descent,” and why was she so fond of “Irish green”? (481). The answer lies in Moore’s shaping of an American-Irish inheritance that is by turns personal and poetic, and through which Ireland is viewed both as an appropriated ancestral homeland and as a place of cultural inspiration.

In order to begin to assess Moore’s claim of Irish descent, and the factors that influenced this claim, it is necessary to decide whether Moore should be viewed as an Irish-American writer. Some critics choose to use this label to describe Moore; Cristanne Miller, for example, claims that “As a Protestant rather than [a] Catholic Irish-American, and because of her solidly middle-class circumstances,” Moore “seems not to have suffered the discrimination directed against many Irish at the turn of the century” (267, note 42). Yet there is no evidence that Moore described herself as “Irish-American.” Molesworth gives a convincing argument that in Robert McAlmon’s “openly fictionalised” novel-memoir Post Adolescence, McAlmon represents Moore as a character, Martha Wellus, whose mother “expresses her disapproval of Irish-Americans” (cited by Molesworth, 166). Considering the intensity of Moore’s relationship with her mother, and the extent of Mary Warner Moore’s influence over her daughter, Moore is likely to have been aware of her mother’s apparent “disapproval.” Moore probably did not suffer discrimination because she did not claim to be “Irish-American”; indeed, her letter to Pound represents the only written evidence of her racial or cultural affiliations.

However there is some evidence to suggest that Moore was influenced by Irish and Irish-American political and cultural thinking during the same period in which she composed her letter to Pound. Although Moore did not associate with Irish-American communities in particular, she did maintain friendships and working relationships with prominent Irish-American writers and artists. Shortly after moving to New York at the end of 1918, Moore began attending parties at the apartment of the Irish-born poet Lola Ridge. Moore’s “Daily Diary” from 1920 records frequent visits to Ridge’s apartment. [8] Another Irish-American figure whom Moore met at this time was the journalist, critic and novelist Francis Hackett; Moore had admired Hackett since he had been appointed literary critic for The New Republic in 1914. Lola Ridge, it seems, made the introduction—in a letter, probably from 1920, Moore thanks Ridge for showing Hackett her work. [9] Moore also became acquainted with the Irish poet, critic and children’s short story writer Pádraic Colum, who had settled in America with his wife Mary in 1914. Moore’s “Daily Diary” for 1920 suggests that she first visited Colum in his apartment on 28 October, but she had probably met him on several previous occasions, either at Ridge’s parties or through her early dealings with The Dial magazine. [10] The majority of entries to the “Daily Diary” for 1920 record visits to see either Ridge or Colum, implying that they were her main social outlet at the time.

Moore’s interest in Irish politics seems to have been stirred during her first extended visit to New York at the end of 1915, as Moore appeared to connect Ireland’s bid for independence with her own experiences as a young poet being launched upon the New York art scene. Having already entitled her trip her “sojourn in the whale” in a series of letters to her brother, John Warner Moore, she gave the same title to her first “Irish” poem “Sojourn in the Whale” (1917), which was written in indirect response to the “Easter Rising” in Dublin. [11] Tellingly, she enclosed a copy of the poem in a letter sent to Ridge in April 1919. [12] Moore would have been exposed to the debates concerning Irish political issues that had been widely disseminated in American newspapers since 1910. One such newspaper, The Literary Digest, from which Moore borrowed the phrase “Water in motion is far from level” for lines 14–15 of “Sojourn in the Whale,” had discussed the question of Home Rule. [13] Moreover, while Moore was not associated directly with any of the Irish-American “relief” efforts that followed the “Easter Rising,” they involved people with whom she would become associated in New York. After the “Rising,” The Washington Post carried short biographical sketches of some of the known leaders and an analysis of the rebellion by Pádraic Colum. The Colums also published The Irish Rebellion of 1916 and its Martyrs, a book of short portraits of the leaders of the “Rising.” [14] Around the same time, the poet Eleanor Cox arranged a meeting of New York poets to express sympathy for the rebels. As F.M. Carroll points out, “native American opinion” was generally sympathetic towards the rebels, thanks to the British government’s mishandling of the situation, with the result that the “Irish question” “could no longer be ignored or forgotten” (55). It is perhaps unremarkable that Moore’s poem “Sojourn in the Whale,” considering its date of publication in the Others anthology for 1917, was composed in the wake of such political excitement.

Moore’s relationships with Ridge, Hackett and Colum, and her poem “Sojourn in the Whale,” are indicative arguably of her interests in the interrelations between Irish and American culture and ideas, but they need to be considered in the context of her experiences as a relatively green poet arriving in New York during a period of excitement and renewal in Ireland and Irish America. They do not point necessarily to her self-identification as “Irish-American.” Employing the term “Irish-American” to describe Moore would require a dual simplification: it would mean applying her experiences up to 1919 and her resulting letter to Pound to a life and career that would extend into the 1970s, and it would also mean an oversimplification of her racial inheritance. Indeed, her own claim of “Irish,” “possibly Scotch, but purely Celtic” descent represents a complex and uncertain set of racial and cultural identifiers that pushes beyond the parameters of the “Irish-American” label.

To understand the reasons behind Moore’s self-description, we need to assess its value as a racial and cultural claim. According to the “Autobiography” of Henry Warner, Moore’s nearest Irish-born relative on her mother’s side was her great grandfather, also named Henry Warner, who was born in Kells, County Meath, in 1795, while her maternal great grandmother, Mary Riddle, was born in County Monaghan in 1803 (1). Moore’s great grandparents on the side of her maternal grandmother were William Craig (1794–1855) and Mary Vance Watson (1798–1878), both born in Pennsylvania. A book Moore kept in her library, Five Typical Scotch-Irish Families of the Cumberland Valley written by her cousin Mary Craig Shoemaker, describes how the Craig family emigrated from Ulster and settled in Pennsylvania, forming a settlement “known as ‘Craigs’ or ‘The Irish Settlement’” (45). Billy Kennedy traces the Craig family to eighteenth-century Philadelphia, and emphasises their Presbyterian background. It is likely that Moore’s maternal grandmother, Jane Craig, was descended from this Presbyterian family. Kennedy also gives examples of the intermarriage of the Boyd and Craig families: this tradition continued into subsequent generations as Moore’s maternal great great grandfather John Craig (d.1801) married Jean Boyd (See Kennedy, 37; Shoemaker, 57).

Bearing this information in mind, it becomes difficult to see how Moore’s racial inheritance might be described accurately as “Irish by descent, possibly Scotch also, but purely Celtic.” Henry Warner traces the Warner family to Dublin, Kells and County Monaghan, while Mary Shoemaker and Billy Kennedy trace the Craig family back to Ulster, and possibly to Donegal. Geographically speaking, then, Moore’s ancestry on her mother’s side was Irish. Yet one might be tempted to describe this background, as it is largely Protestant on both sides, as a mixture of Anglo-Irish and Scotch-Irish. [15] In A Hidden Phase of American Nationality, a book published in 1919, the same year as Moore’s letter to Pound, the Catholic Irish-American writer Michael J. O’Brien described the distinction between the Scotch-Irish and the Irish as “bogus,” arguing that it had been “manufactured by the Irish immigrants, especially those from the province of Ulster” (343). Back in 1898, Joseph Smith, had dismissed “the Scotch-Irishman, and Scotch-Irish race” as an “ethnical absurdity” (4). Amidst this complex and ongoing debate, Moore’s claim of both “Irish” and “possibly Scotch” descent adds fuel, however innocently, to the semantic fire. A further complication arises upon investigating Moore’s paternal background. A printed piece, found among Moore’s papers at the Rosenbach, describes the English ancestry of the Moore family. A “History of the Moore family,” written “for a family reunion by Mrs. Mittie Moore Sharp” (a distant cousin of Moore), mentions William Moore, Moore’s paternal grandfather. Moore Sharpe explains how William Moore’s investigations into the history of the Moore family led him to discover that “Thomas More [sic] came over in a boat named the ‘Mary and John’ from London, England, in 1630.” [16]

By deducing from the evidence that Moore’s racial background is a mixture of Anglo-Irish, Ulster/Scots-Irish and English, and considering this alongside her own self-description as “Irish by descent, possibly Scotch also, but purely Celtic,” we can see how the latter represents a simplification of the racial and linguistic complexities that shape her inheritance. The claim of “purely Celtic” descent is particularly problematic; as R. F. Garratt points out, in Ireland the “rich Celtic heritage” is “inaccessible to the Irish Protestant Community” (10). Historically, speakers of old “Scots” claimed their language was descended from Old East Anglian rather than an admixture of Celtic and Gaelic, in order to dissociate themselves from pejorative “Celtic” connotations. Wayland Fuller Dunaway argues along similar lines, contending that the Scotch-Irish are a “people” originally of “Lowland Scots” ancestry who emigrated in large numbers to Ulster and then later to America, many settling in Pennsylvania “where they have long been known as Scotch-Irish to distinguish themselves from the Celtic, Catholic Irish, who were a different race-stock” (8–9). More significantly, Moore’s English ancestry, from her father’s side, appears completely at odds with her self-description as “purely Celtic.” Examples of the use of “Celtic” in the OED employed near the time of Moore’s letter to Pound in 1919 are of W.B. Yeats’s expression “The Celtic Twilight,” referring to the cultural and artistic movement Yeats and others had inspired in Ireland around the turn of the century; and of the “Celtic Fringe,” a (frequently derogatory) coinage referring to “(the land of) the Scots, Welsh, Irish and Cornish, regarded as occupying the fringe or outlying edge of the British Isles.” In both uses, with which Moore was likely to have been familiar, there is a distinct, even deliberate, absence of “Englishness.” Perhaps Moore was ignorant of her English roots—although this is probably unlikely given that she kept the piece by Mittie Moore Sharp that traced her English inheritance—or perhaps, like her mother, she was keen to distance herself from her paternal family. Moore had never met her father, who had suffered a nervous breakdown shortly before her birth. Irrespective of her reasons, by overlooking her paternal line Moore would have been able to lend greater credibility to her claim of a “purely Celtic” inheritance.

It might be the case, then, that Moore’s simplification of her racial background results from an attraction to Irish and Celtic cultures. This could explain, for example, why in her letter to Pound Moore chooses the labels “Irish” and “Scotch,” rather than “Anglo-Irish” or “Scotch-Irish,” which might be viewed as cultural rather than racial terms: and which could be incorporated into the umbrella term “Celtic.” Yet Moore’s deliberate association with a “purely Celtic” inheritance might be explained in the context of the date of the letter, and the fact that she was still starting out in her career. As we have seen, in 1919 the term “Celtic” was still associated with the “Celtic twilight” and the Celtic Revival. Moore was clearly attracted to the link between Celtic mythology and modernism that Matthew Arnold had first hinted at in 1866—and which had been concretised by the Revival begun by Yeats, Lady Gregory and Edward Martyn in 1896. Moore had addressed a poem to Yeats in 1915, owned early editions of his poetry and prose, and wrote several reviews of his poetry. [17] In Yeats’s essay “The Celtic Element in Literature,” written in 1897, he refers to Ernest Renan’s essay “La Poésie des races celtiques” (1859), which emphasises the link between nature and magic in “The Celtic race” (369). Moore would celebrate this connection through acknowledging her susceptibility to “Irish magic” in a “Comment” in The Dial magazine, which she edited from 1925 to 1929, in March 1928 (270). A Revivalist sentimentalism would surface in some of Moore’s writings on Irish subjects—most notably in the optimism of “Sojourn in the Whale,” and in the nostalgia of her late play The Absentee (1954), a dramatic adaptation of the Anglo-Irish writer Maria Edgeworth’s 1812 novel.

Matthew Arnold’s theory, dispensed in his lectures On the Study of Celtic Literature, that the “Celtic” element could be divined in English literature as well as in Irish or Welsh literature, might have appealed to Moore as a writer whose self-description as “purely Celtic” attempted likewise to fuse her cultural influences. Arnold had argued that an increasing awareness of the “Celtic” element necessitated a blurring of boundaries between the “Englishman” and the “Celt”: “let us […] remove the main ground of the Celt’s alienation from the Englishman, by substituting, in place of that type of Englishman with whom alone the Celt has too long been familiar, a new type, more intelligent, more gracious, and more humane” (7). This conscious act of substitution of new racial or national types for old may have appealed to Moore as a poet looking for inspiration. Heather O’Donoghue argues that modernist writers embraced mythology as a result of their search for “new systems of belief,” but that “only in special cases was their mythology culture-specific”; it was, she argues, “more often a vague distillation of traditional ideas” (164). Moore might well have been enticed by the apparently culture-specific, but in reality rather distilled, definition of “Celtic” as she perceived it. Thus “purely Celtic” identification could provide Moore with a “system of belief” which encompassed the “Irish,” “possibly Scotch,” and even the less emphasised English elements of her hybrid cultural inheritance.

It would be unfair, however, to dismiss Moore’s claim of Irish descent as cultural plunder backed up by oversimplified racial affiliations. Such a conclusion, painting the impression of a modernist poet looking merely for a new mythology from which to derive inspiration, would fail to acknowledge the important role Ireland played in Moore’s life. Moore made regular mention of her “Irish” inheritance as she saw it, and felt a strong personal attachment to Ireland. Tellingly, the part of Moore’s ancestry that was Southern Irish was that of her grandfather, Reverend John Riddle Warner, with whom Moore and her brother lived when they were growing up. A letter to the Reverend Warner from his sister Anne in 1854 describes an impending visit from family friends in Ireland, suggesting that the Warner family had immediate links with Ireland in the decades preceding Moore’s birth. [18] These links, however tentative by the time Moore reached adulthood, would prove significant. The journalist Brian O’Doherty, summarising an interview with Moore for Dublin’s University Review in 1956, explains how Moore stressed the importance of her Irish “roots”: “She spoke […] of poetry, of her Irish origins, which she felt important; ‘one must not forget one’s roots’ she said again and again.” [19] It is significant that Moore’s “Irish origins” were as important to her in 1956 as they had been back in 1919.

Moore’s reiteration of “one not must forget one’s roots” suggests a link between the roots of her perceived family tree and those of her poems. In an editorial “Comment” for The Dial in September 1926, Moore had hinted at such a connection: “something beneath the surface, a sense of life and roots, is attested by work which is aesthetically serious—a scientifically potent energy which seems to involve us in a centripetal force of its own.” If, then, Moore’s own “sense of life and roots” was derived, as O’Doherty suggests, from placing importance upon her Irish origins, these origins could energise both writer and work, helping to make the poetry “aesthetically serious” with “a centripetal force of its own.” In a passage which Moore marked up in her personal copy of his 1907 work Ideas of Good and Evil, Yeats suggests similarly how one’s roots might have a direct influence upon one’s work: “I could not now write of any other country but Ireland, for my style has been shaped by subjects I have worked on” (329). Moore has put a pencil mark by this passage in her copy.

Yeats’s book represents just one example of the books, letters, clippings from newspapers and daily diaries, all on Irish subjects, that Moore collected. Her clippings files, for example, contain articles on Edmund Burke, James Joyce, George Moore, George Bernard Shaw, James Stephens, Oscar Wilde and Yeats. Moreover her private library at the Rosenbach includes works by Joseph Campbell, Pádraic Colum, Maria Edgeworth, Oliver Goldsmith, Joyce, George Moore, Shaw, Stephens, L.A. G. Strong, J. M. Synge, Wilde and Yeats, many of which are first or collectors’ editions. Her reading notebooks refer to many more Irish, Anglo-Irish and Irish-American writers and thinkers. The clippings include articles on Irish plays, culture and politics, while the reading notebooks make frequent mention of the Irish Review, to which both Moore and her mother appear to have had a subscription. Moore’s diaries also contain multiple references to Irish poetry, Irish satire, and the differences between English and Irish writing. [20] It certainly appears that Moore was intensely fascinated by the “Irish” side of her heritage, despite the fact that her family ties to Ireland were far weaker than she had suggested to Pound.

Taking into account Moore’s enduring interest in Irish and Celtic culture, and her apparent self-identification with the Irish part of her background in particular, we might view her claim of Irish, “possibly” Scotch and “purely” Celtic descent, made in 1919, as part of a process of cultural selection from within her racial inheritance that reflected her personal interests and poetic ideas. Moore would have been aware of the significance of such a process. On the one hand, affiliating herself with a particular culture would have meant acknowledging literary influence as a poet, while on the other an assertion of a particular racial inheritance would have meant accepting a qualifying antecedent to her American identity (such as “Irish-” or “Scottish-”).

In 1915, four years before her correspondence with Pound, Moore had addressed poems to the Irish writers W. B. Yeats, George Moore and George Bernard Shaw, entitled “To William Butler Yeats on Tagore,” “George Moore” and “To a Prize Bird.” In each poem Moore questions her selection of these writers as cultural (male) father figures to her novice (female) poet: a selection that blurs literary and familial affiliations. Jeanne Heuving argues that in these poems “Moore commends her addressees for their powers of resistance as well as of integration” (66), but a closer analysis suggests that central to each poem is Moore’s resistance to her own integration into the particular milieu of each addressee. For example, although in “George Moore” the poet appears to praise the Irish novelist’s style, this praise is complicated by the younger Moore’s ironic commentaries on his misguided arrogance and dubious morals. In “To William Butler Yeats on Tagore” Moore wonders, amidst her own apparent eulogizing of Yeats, whether Yeats’s praise of the Bengali mystic and poet Rabindranath Tagore is misguided. Lastly, in “To a Prize Bird,” addressed to Bernard Shaw, Moore seems uncertain whether Shaw’s pride in his own abilities makes him a poetic “Samson” or a strutting barnyard cock (l.5). Resistance and integration seem to have been primary concerns for Moore during this early period of her career. In her 1916 poem “Is Your Town Nineveh?,” the poet/speaker tries to reconcile her poetic desire for integration with her religious resistance, using Jonah’s eventual acceptance of the “wicked city” of Nineveh as a self-mocking allegory for her own acceptance of secular New York as a place of cultural inspiration and literary opportunities. [21] This poem arguably acts as a companion to Moore’s “Sojourn in the Whale,” in which the poet/speaker uses the Jonah story once again by paralleling her attempts as a young poet to become recognized as an individual voice on the New York literary scene with Ireland’s efforts to gain its independence from Leviathan Britain.

In these five poems written before 1919, Moore attempts to unite her poetic ambitions—to acknowledge influence without losing her poetic voice, and to accept opportunities without damaging her independence—with her personal preferences as an American, a Presbyterian, and a woman who “likes being of Irish descent” (Bishop, 481). Similarly, in her 1919 letter to Pound, the stridency of “I am Irish by descent”—a claim of racial inheritance which is supported both by her loyalty to her maternal inheritance through her Presbyterian grandfather and by her cultural attraction towards Ireland—is challenged by the vague qualifier “possibly Scotch,” an attempt at racial accuracy, and then concluded by the cultural (and aesthetic) idealism of “purely Celtic.” One can almost see the poetic and personal sides of Moore grappling for attention. The tripartite structure of the description, coupled with the move towards accuracy suggested by “possibly Scotch,” implies that Moore’s selection of labels is more careful than it first appears.

This notion of careful selection appears to be foremost in Moore’s mind in her writings on America and American identity. Consider, for example, her 1921 poem “New York,” which views the city, in its infinite variety and endless possibilities, as a microcosm of America. Although the poem praises the vitality of American expression, it scorns the directionless activity of “plunder” (l.24). As Linda Leavell comments, the concluding expression ‘“accessibility to experience,”’ borrowed from Henry James, provides “a moral alternative to the examples of plunder described above it” (231–2). It is fitting that Moore borrows from Henry James for “New York”, as she would later describe him as her “Characteristic American” in an essay of 1934. In the essay, Moore answers those critics who view James’s adoption of English citizenship as an abandonment of his country, by arguing that it is James’s openness to other experiences that makes him American. She continues, “when we consider the trend of his fiction and his uncomplacent denouements, we have no scruple about insisting that he was American,” as he has a characteristically American mind that is ‘“incapable of the shut door in any direction’” (321–2). Moore describes a writer whose mind is open rather than obtuse, careful rather than complacent: his writing will not plunder from experience but rather select from it.

In Moore’s mind, then, the American writer’s freedom to access experience is paramount, but at the same time those experiences should be employed purposefully. Moore had argued along similar lines in her poem “Critics and Connoisseurs” (1919), which hints that by combining the “consciously fastidious” attention to detail of the “Critic” with the zest for experience of the “Connoisseur,” the writer might find a means of harnessing their poetic imagination. Considering this poem alongside others written around the same time, including “Is Your Town Nineveh?,” “Sojourn in the Whale,” and “New York,” we might note how each poem tries to define what it means for the poet/speaker to be an American and a writer. Together they give the impression of Moore’s ideal American poet: someone who draws inspiration from experience without compromising their integrity, in order to reach an “uncomplacent denouement.” Bearing this is mind, it is possible to see how Moore’s claim of “Irish,” “possibly Scotch,” and “purely Celtic” descent, made during the same period, represents a selection of cultural experiences that will inspire her as an American poet. Meanwhile her personal racial and spiritual connections with Ireland and Ulster, through her grandfather Reverend Warner, lend a validity and integrity to her selection that takes it beyond mere “plunder.”

Taffy Martin argues that Moore “aligned herself with and then subverted” a “‘stay put’ version” of modernism in America, describing “American modernism’s determination to divest itself of the burden of the past—not just of nineteenth century romanticism, but European and British assumptions, beliefs, and mannerisms.” Martin adds: “These writers insisted on portraying the experience of living, writing, or otherwise making art in the United States in the twentieth century” (xi). Moore, as an American writer living in New York between the 1920s and 1970s, whose poems deal with subjects as varied as baseball and botany, was undoubtedly concerned with presenting life in the United States in the twentieth century. Yet for Moore it seems that deriving inspiration from her cultural or racial influences was part of this presentation of American life. Although Moore’s loyalty to family and country did give the impression that, geographically at least, she was a “stay put” modernist, she was not a purveyor of “local” modernism like her contemporaries Robert Frost and William Carlos Williams. But rather than subvert their “stay put” ideology, Moore neither rejected nor accepted either “local” or “international” modernism, electing instead to devise a modernist ideology which was trans-national, trans-cultural and highly subjective.

Throughout her career, Moore would continue to explore her attraction to Irish and Celtic cultures. As Editor of the American periodical The Dial in 1925–1929, Moore promoted the publication of Irish material. The significant increase in contributions by or on Irish writers can be seen by comparing the numbers from 1923, under the editorship of Scofield Thayer, with the proliferation of “Irish” writers in just seven issues of The Dial from January to July 1929. Whereas in 1923 there were just eleven pieces by or on Irish subjects, in 1929 there were thirty-two pieces by Irish, Anglo-Irish and Irish-American writers or artists. [22] Moore’s relationship with Ireland continued after her editorship of The Dial, but became more strained with the onset of the Second World War. In 1941 she published her second “Irish” poem “Spenser’s Ireland”; here the poet/speaker expresses her disappointment with Ireland’s continued policy of neutrality, despite America’s attempts at diplomacy—the poem concluding, “I am troubled, I’m dissatisfied, I’m Irish” (67). It is remarkable that Moore continued to assert her “Irish” connections despite such dissatisfaction. Yet even in “Spenser’s Ireland” Moore provides a counter-argument to her speaker’s despair, by implying that Ireland might solve its political problems by “reinstating / the enchantment” of its culture and traditions (ll.19–20).

Moore maintained her affiliations to Ireland throughout her life thanks on the one hand to a loyalty to her maternal grandfather’s Southern Irish background, and on the other to a belief in the value of external cultural experiences to American writing. In the same editorial “Comment” in which she expresses a susceptibility to “Irish magic,” Moore also discusses the possibility that Irish literature and folklore might be “administered to our restiveness,” and implies that “reanimation in Ireland” might herald similar changes within American culture (The Dial, March 1928, 270). Cynthia Stamy expands a similar analogy to contend that Moore “corroborates the essential Americanness of what is garnered abroad,” in order to apply this to her poetry (33). Moore might be viewed, then, as a poet who actively creates an American-Irish inheritance for herself from which to “garner” inspiration—in order to shape, and inflect, her distinctive American voice.


1.Jo Gill. “Moore, Marianne (1887–1972).” Ireland and the Americas. 611–612.
2.Marianne Moore Archive, Rosenbach Museum and Library [“RML”], Philadelphia, USA. V:50:06, letter from Ezra Pound to Moore, 16 December 1918.
3.Moore to Pound, 9 January 1919. Selected Letters. 122–125 (122).
4.Pound to Moore, 16 December 1918.
5.Elizabeth Bishop, “Efforts of Affection: A Memoir of Marianne Moore” (c.1969). Bishop, Poems, Prose, and Letters. New York: Library of America, 2008. 471–499 (481).
6.RML VIII:04:03, Daily Diary 1964, Wednesday 7 October.
7.RML V:64:37, Moore to John L. (“Jack”) Sweeney, 22 January 1959.
8.See RML VIII:01:01, Daily Diary 1920.
9.RML V:53:16, Moore to Ridge, 28 November (1920?).
10. Daily Diary 1920.
11. See especially the letter from Moore to Warner dated 19 December 1915. Letters. 107–12.
12. RML V:53:16, Moore to Ridge, 19 April (1919?).
13. See also “Note” to “Sojourn in the Whale.” Complete Poems. 276.
14. See Pádraic Colum and Maurice Joy, The Irish Rebellion of 1916 and its Martyrs. New York, Devon-Adair Co., 1916.
15. I use the term “Scotch-Irish” according to Mary Shoemaker’s use of the label to describe families, including the Craigs, who came to America from Scotland by way of Ulster in the eighteenth century.
16. RML, not catalogued, “History of the Moore Family” by Mittie Moore Sharpe. 1.
17. Moore’s private library at RML contains early editions of Yeats’s Ideas of Good and Evil (1907) [#MML D2.20]; and The Winding Stair (1929) [#MML 1778].
18. RML VI:01:30, Family Correspondence Feb–June 1854, Annie Warner to John Riddle Warner, 26 May.
19. Brian O’Doherty, “Poetry and Paintings in New York,” University Review, Dublin 1956: see RML V:46:18, Brian O’Doherty to Moore, 3 May 1958, and enclosed cutting.
20. See also RML VII:01:02 1250/2: AMS (1916–1921), VII:02:02 1250/6: AMS (1930–1943),VII:02:03; and notebook VII:07:13 1914–[1921].
21. See also The Book of Jonah, in The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Edition. New York and Oxford: OUP, 1989. 959–961.
22. See individual issues: Vols. 74–5, Jan–June 1923/ July–December 1923; Vol. 86, January–July 1929.

Works Cited

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Byrne, James P., Philip Coleman and Jason King, eds., Ireland and the Americas: Culture, Politics, and History. Santa Barbara: ABC-Clio, 2008.

Carroll, F. M. American Opinion and the Irish Question 1910-1923. Dublin and New York: Gill and Macmillan
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Costello, Bonnie, Celeste Goodridge and Cristanne Miller, eds. The Selected Letters of Marianne Moore. London: Faber, 1998.

Dunaway, Wayland Fuller. The Scotch-Irish of Colonial Pennsylvania. London: Archon Books, 1962.

Garratt, R. F. Modern Irish Poetry: Tradition and Continuity from Yeats to Heaney. Berkley: University of California Press, 1986.

Haller, Mark H. Eugenics: Hereditary Attitudes in American Thought. New Brunswick: Rutgers UP, 1984.

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Leavell, Linda. “Marianne Moore, the James family, and the Politics of Celibacy,” Twentieth Century Literature, Volume 49, No. 2 (Summer 2003). 219–245.

Martin, Taffy. Marianne Moore, Subversive Modernist. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1996.

Miller, Kerby A. “‘Scotch-Irish’ Myths and ‘Irish’ Identities in Eighteenth- and Nineteenth-Century America.” New Perspectives on the Irish Diaspora. Ed. Charles Fanning. Carbondale and Edwardsville: Southern Illinois University Press, 2000. 75–9.

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Moore, Marianne. Editor’s “Comment.” The Dial, Vol. 81, September 1926. 268.

—-. Editor’s “Comment.” The Dial. Vol. 84, March 1928. 269–70.

—-. “Critics and Connoisseurs.” The Complete Poems of Marianne Moore. Ed. Clive Driver. London and Boston: Faber and Faber, 1984. 38–9.

—-. “George Moore” (1915). The Poems of Marianne Moore. Ed Grace Schulman. London: Faber, 2003. 96.

—-. “Henry James as a Characteristic American” (1934). The Complete Prose of Marianne Moore. Ed. Patricia Willis. London: Faber, 1987. 316–22.

—-. “Is Your Town Nineveh?” (1916). Poems. Ed. Schulman. 103.

—-. “Sojourn in the Whale” (1917). Complete Poems. Ed. Driver. 90.

—-. “Spenser’s Ireland” (1941). Complete Poems. Ed. Driver. 112–4.

—-. The Absentee. New York: House of Books, 1962.

—-. “To [Bernard Shaw:] A Prize Bird” (1915). Poems. Ed. Schulman. 90.

—-. “To W. B. Yeats on Tagore” (1915). Poems. Ed Schulman. 85.

O’Brien, Michael J. A Hidden Phase of American History. New York: Dodd, Mead &Co., 1919.

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Smith, Joseph. The “Scotch-Irish” Shibboleth Analysed and Rejected. Washington D.C., 1898.

Stamy, Cynthia. Marianne Moore and China: Orientalism and a Writing of America. Oxford: OUP, 1999.

Yeats, W. B. Ideas of Good and Evil. London and Dublin: A H Bullen & Co., 1907.

—-. “The Celtic Element in Literature.” W. B. Yeats, The Major Works. Ed. Edward Larrissy. Oxford: OUP, 2001. 369–378.