Marianne Moore’s Bryn Mawr Poetry


M. Carey Thomas’ verbal usurping of the poem demonstrates the poem rebirthing itself in a new context. Thomas’ recitation of the poem creates a version that is independent.  Moore’s interplay with context is such that when the poem is introduced  in a new context the poem rebirths itself. Thomas’ position of authority literally lifts the poem from the page and breathes life into it, though the question of who possesses the power of the poem is more complex. By publishing the poem, Moore has framed the context in which Thomas situates herself. In reading the poem, Thomas becomes the possessor and the whole of Bryn Mawr students are the “slaves.” Thomas has already committed to a life of academia, so her rendering of the work becomes an embodiment  of the “tiger-lily” lifestyle. Thus, by reading the poem aloud, Thomas grants Moore as poet the authority of creator.

Though invisible in the poem, Thomas’ reading of the poem heralds her revision of  the ceremony itself. In a letter to Mary Garrett in 1887, M. Carey Thomas encloses the article “Christian Communism.” Although the connection of the author of the article J. Rendel Harris to M. Carey Thomas is unclear, it cannot be coincidence that Thomas highlights this article and finds it striking enough to send to Garrett. Around this time, the Junior-Senior Supper developed with the tradition of the Loving Cup. In the article, Harris begins “There is a communism that is not Christianity; its external symbolism is common purse: and there is a communism is Christianity; of which the external symbol is a common cup.” Though there is not a record of the creation of the ceremony, the connection between M. Carey Thomas’ interest in the article and her influence on the development of the traditions must be more than coincidental.

It seems, especially with Thomas’ own atheist beliefs that her adoption of the tradition is more a reclamation than an adoption of the principles that Harris puts forth in the article. For example in the article, Harris writes, “In some ways Nature herself is such a cup, or, if you like it better, a cup-bearer of God” (fische 148). When comparing Harris’ definition of a cup-bearer, Moore’s description in the poem radically differs. Moore goes beyond the categories that Harris sets out to create her own–one of female tradition. Though Moore probably did not read the article, it certain that Thomas did. Thomas’ recognition of Moore’s assessment of the ceremony not only validates Moore as a poet but also acknowledges Thomas’ own accomplishment in altering the context of the ceremony. In doing so, Thomas models the actions that Moore’s poem fulfills.Like the the cup-bearing ceremony, Moore transforms the poem itself to become a type of communion.