"It is a privilege to see so much confusion": Marianne Moore and revision
Marianne Moore's Complete Poems is not complete; it contains sixty-six poems, which is about one-third of her published work. What has not been omitted has, in most cases, been revised. Such acts of expurgation and modification have led some critics to argue that the older Moore revised the works of her younger self. Others view Moore's history of revision as a progression leading to succinct and compact poems. The fundamental claim of this study is that Marianne Moore's revisions are not the acts of an idiosyncratic poet but are manifestations of her aesthetic. In her early poetry, Moore uses revision to "make it new." Revision allowed Moore to reinvigorate her poems after they had been published and interpreted. More importantly, in revising her poetry Moore kept her poetry genuine. "The genuine," for Moore, was that which was in a constant state of flux. Moore's revisions, then, achieve "the genuine." Moore's practice of extensive revision emphasizes the pursuit of latent meaning rather than the quick capture of patent understanding. The poems and their variants, then, serve as a "right good salvo of barks" so that Moore's reader must continue the chase, which she deems more meaningful than the arrival at understanding, and it also keeps the work genuine. In Chapter One, I examine four of Moore's early verse essays that educate her reader as to her aesthetic. These poems emphasize Moore's aesthetic of pursuit and how her revisions defamiliarize the text so that the reader has to re-engage the poem and, likewise, his or her imagination. The focus of Chapter Two is "the genuine," which Moore defines in "In the Days of Prismatic Color" and in "Poetry." Her revisions of "Poetry" display "the genuine," and much of the chapter is spent considering these revisions. Chapter Three discusses the shift that occurred in Moore's poetics between the 1936 The Pangolin and Other Verse and the 1941 What Are Years. Moore's revisions of "Virginia Britannia" and "Half Deity" demonstrate a change in audience and a change in Moore's aesthetic that leads to the simplification of what had been complex.