21 April (1944): Marianne Moore to John Warner Moore

Here, Marianne Moore writes to her brother, John Warner Moore, about a recent trip to read some of her work at Bryn Mawr College. The letter reveals some of Moore’s stylistic habits reserved for correspondence, including referring to herself using male pronouns and titles, calling her brother by eccentric nicknames (“Elephant-Ears,” “Bible”), and providing a wealth of emotional observation not usually seen in her poetry.

Dearest Elephant-Ears,

Your brother is back from Bryn Mawr. You would have gazed with benign pussy-eyes on Mr. Auden who sprang out of the Bryn Mawr local with me at 30th St., dashed down through the tunnel, up the escalator, & held the New York train for me, which came in simultaneous with our local train. Otherwise I would have been an hour later reaching home & the Bear would have been sitting up worrying instead of me popping in at 10:30 right as a trivet. I of course was dashing after him, but he carried the brief case and kep’ the train from starting. His having the briefcase, made it easy for me to manage my dress & cape.

Well, Bible, you know how these journeys to halls of learning tremble an animal & require forethought of a speaking & dressing variety. Everything was ideal; Miss Finch met me with the car. Mr. Auden and a number of the Swarthmore faculty, a Dr. Mandelbaum & his wife, joined me at 30th Street station & the Paoli local was so crowded there was a seat only for one. A commuter gave me his seat, then people got out, & we all sat facing. Me. Auden’s father is in charge of a hospital in Birmingham, England. His mother died in 1941. He is truly a “genius” & a shrewd one; & gave a wonderful course of lectures in N.Y. he teaches both at Bryn Mawr & Swarthmore. T.S. published him in England, & Random House publishes him here, & I wrote a recommendation for him to the Guggenheim Foundation. By coming on that early train which he & the Mandelbaums took, he had to put in an hour or so at Bryn Mawr & then stay for dinner till 7:39 but seemed very willing to. I was a little put out with Miss Finch for not bringing us all to the college in the car but she is a level-headed little animal, in her light gray goatskin jacket & raspberry wool dress to the knees, & very firm & I think slightly “opposed” to Mr. Auden for edging away & not accepting her dinner invitation till the last minute.  He meanwhile takes to Miss Donnelly but didn’t address a remark to Miss Finch all through dinner. These little pussy-feelings, are amusing & unavoidable perhaps. A Miss Finch delivered me over to a Miss Henderson who wanted to “record” me in Pembroke East basement. They have laid a stone walk along the campus side of Pembroke East under the window of my old room & the campus looked very very pretty. Miss Henderson is much deplored by Miss Donnelly for being over self-determined in her chosen field and I “feel the same.” My “Carriage from Sweden” sounded as if a drunken falsetto bullfrog had assayed to sing. So I swelled up my frog chest & vowed I would beat the devil at his own game & had a wonderful success in my 3rd attempt. I was hoping to mend 2 bad spots & read my Strawberry & kiwi when Miss Finch peered through the crack at the side of the shade. (Miss H. had turned a little chicken-coop button on the door so no one could come in.) We let Miss Finch in & she gathered my effects & took me away to the car saying she would bring me back but she must get Miss Donnelly to the tea at the deanery. Miss H. said “you could leave Miss Moore here.” “But I want her to see Miss Donnelly. It’s her only chance,” said Miss Finch, meaning the HOUSE, & we never got back. I regard this as a deliverance, for Harvard is as better than Miss H. as day is than night. Well, the drive to “New Palace” was like something in a book, all very handsome, quiet, stone colonial quaker houses, with tall trees & grounds with rocks—like Manchester by the Sea in Massachusetts. Miss Finch built this house for Miss Donnelly. It is 2-stories high with a stone porch at the back & matchless forest trees (greatly thinned) sloping up hill at the back of the house, with some natural wild flowers (all in bloom) reinforced by transplanted ones, hepaticas, grape hyacinths, violets, blood root, & so on. On the stone porch are wire chairs like Alison’s—& the house inside is like his, except the beds had no testers with ball-fringe, & is more learned, with whole walls of bookcases & every chair & picture hand-picked. I’d give my eyes if Bee & Johnny & the others could see it. It is more Oxford & Harvard even than Mr. Spencer’s house. Miss Donnelly had embroidered a burlap rug for Miss Finch’s bedside of an elephant I almost thought I should bring home with me. In the living room was a little ancient table six inches wide with drop leaves, for tea, & pale yellow roses on a table & large pink azaleas on the window sill. BUT the house had the coldness of an English church & I was almost in fear of my life even to be led through it for a fleeting inspection. Each un ‘em, Miss F. & Miss Donnelly, has a little study opening onto the stone porch. Stepping out, the sunshine & mild summer air were like a Medicine, after the house & as we reached the Deanery & went in Miss Donnelly said “this house is always dreadfully overheated.” How fortunate I thought. Miss Finch had a superb little car with 2 seats upholstered in fawn cloth with every kind of nickel & chrome on the dashboard & wheel, & drives most astutely, small & childlike though she is in build.

The Deanery was THRONGED with students & a pleasing bevy they are, in costly dresses of silk, and silver necklaces & French embroidered vests & collars & so on. Four or five (maybe 10) members of the Faculty were there & the immense drawing room was crowded. The tea was really good & the cakes & cookies home made. Miss Donnelly introduced my talk. You would have wept at such generosity. “Miss Moore has been called America’s foremost poet,” she this & that. I remember Miss Thomas—with a copy of The Lantern in her hand—in that blue room—saying to me, “This is the most promising work by any of our English students” etc. She spoke for some time about how my choice of words & craftsmanship were perfect, how T.S. has said with “his fullest weight of authority, ‘her work is part of the durable body of our literature.”

After my talk, hordes & hordes of students were led up,—3 nuns from Rosemont & their students, a party of girls from Swarthmore, older students, graduate students, President McBride just returned from Baltimore (was among the faculty), two of Miss Donnelly’s classmates.

After the talk, a cocktail party in the “blue” room, & Mrs. De Laguna & friends of Dr. Saunders & George Lyne’s sister-in-law from the Shipley Schools & various neighbors of the college were led forward.

Dinner followed, in the room where we had had tea [with] Miss Donnelly, Miss Woodruff of the English faculty, Mr. Auden & Miss [Laurence] Stapleton. Miss Stapleton is a Smith graduate—one of the “brilliant” members of the Faculty. She was wonderfully kind about my talk, said “All your statements are new & fresh and at the same time grains of common sense. You dwell just long enough on each topic & hold the attention all the time. It’s a gift & that means you must use it.” 

Dinner was an apex on cookery—a strange & pleasing soup,—a kind of vegetable broth,—broiled chicken, large young lima beans, potatoes, ice cream with fresh strawberry sauce, & ginger snaps. I was then conveyed to the train with Mr. Auden, by Miss Finch—& we stood talking till our train came. The trains are badly crowded but I had a good seat both going & coming, & such comfortable downy seats & so clean that if I were a bum & could afford it I would spend my time travelling & just live on the train.

I never saw the country so beautiful, all the willow trees like green silk hair, all the lawns green. At Bryn Mawr there were carpets of giant pansies on some of the grounds flanking the walks up to the door.

Say I was not HAPPY to see my Cub when I got here at 10:30—the creature running out to the door with an eager smile to meet me. The sun was brilliant all day yesterday. Today it rains & is raw & cold. I must be an Israelite, Bible, like you learn about in Exodus.

I was urged & begged to come again to stay overnight;—Mr. Auden earnestly invited me to come to Swarthmore. When, (knowing he is poor & seeing his brand new tweed coat & very old trousers & shoes,) I begged him to take money for his transportation as my guest,—he said, “It was a treat,—nothing could induce me to let you do it.” So I did not thrust it on him. 

On arriving home, I saw a strange dress on Bear’s bed,—a handsome beige wool dress; behold Renée has sent it (& an “ensemble” beige & brown reversible coat), “to wear on nasty days to save your good things”; Bear eyed them coldly & said “I don’t like to be given to.” But I am dang glad of the dress for it liberates my new navy blue dress from Hildegarde so I can give it to Bear who looks good in it & is kind of shabby in her equipment. Renée’s daughter Constance has been divorced & has got so thin she can’t wear the dress! Sad. Well Bible, by my elephant hairs—I must write & thank Renée.

                                Dearest love

Hildegarde’s blue dress was much extolled by Miss F. & Miss Donnelly.

From The Selected Letters of Marianne Moore. Moore, Marianne, et al. New York: Knopf, 1997.