52 SONGS

...the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life...

Sunday, March 23, 2014

18. Marianne Moore, on prose

INTERVIEWER
Did any prose stylists help you in finding your poetic style? Elizabeth Bishop mentions Poe’s prose in connection with your writing, and you have always made people think of Henry James.
MOORE
Prose stylists, very much. Dr. Johnson on Richard Savage: “He was in two months illegitimated by the Parliament, and disowned by his mother, doomed to poverty and obscurity, and launched upon the ocean of life only that he might be swallowed by its quicksands, or dashed upon its rocks. . . . It was his peculiar happiness that he scarcely ever found a stranger whom he did not leave a friend; but it must likewise be added, that he had not often a friend long without obliging him to become a stranger.” Or Edmund Burke on the colonies: “You can shear a wolf; but will he comply?” Or Sir Thomas Browne: “States are not governed by Ergotisms.” He calls a bee “that industrious flie,” and his home his “hive.” His manner is a kind of erudition-proof sweetness. Or Sir Francis Bacon: “Civil War is like the heat of fever; a foreign war is like the heat of exercise.” Or Cellini: “I had a dog, black as a mulberry . . . I was fuming with fury and swelling like an asp.” Or Caesar’s Commentaries, and Xenophon’s Cynegeticus: the gusto and interest in every detail! In Henry James it is the essays and letters especially that affect me. In Ezra Pound, The Spirit of Romance: his definiteness, his indigenously unmistakable accent. Charles Norman says in his biography of Ezra Pound that he said to a poet, “Nothing, nothing, that you couldn’t in some circumstance, under stress of some emotion, actually say.” And Ezra said of Shakespeare and Dante, “Here we are with the masters; of neither can we say, ‘He is the greater’; of each we must say, ‘He is unexcelled.’”

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