OPINIONSnPoets and the Art of Interior DesignnMarianne Moore: A Literary Lifenby Charles MolesworthnNew York: Atheneum;n472 pp., $29.95nAmerican Poetry: Wildnessnand Domesticitynby Robert BlynNew York: Harper & Row,n341 pp., $22.50nMissing Measures: Modern Poetrynand the Revolt Against Meternby Timothy SteelenFayetteville: University of ArkansasnPress; 264 pp., $22.95nThe Function of the Poetnby Fred ChappellnSalem, VA: Roanoke CollegenThe sculptress Malvina Hoffmannfound the poetry of her friendnMarianne Moore hard to understandnand would sometimes ask her to read anpoem aloud. “Then I would say, ‘Inreally don’t know what that’s all about,nbecause of my own ignorance, I’m sure,nbut just possibly you might explain it tonme.’ She would start explaining it, andnthen she’d say, ‘You know, I don’t reallynunderstand much of it myself,’ andnshe’d laugh and say, ‘Of course, I wasnconvinced I understood it when I wrotenit. I’ll have to work some more on it,’nand then there would be jottings in thenmargin, and revision.”nThis little anecdote reveals morenthan a little of how Marianne Moorenviewed her own art. Throughout herncareer, she revised her work endlessly innan effort to achieve the dry, almostnacademic tone that Eliot praised in hernverse. In the process, she sometimesnThomas Fleming is editor ofnChronicles.n22/CHRONICLESnby Thomas Flemingn’1 too dislike it”n— Marianne Moorenedited out the phrases that might tooneasily betray her intention. The firstnpublished version of “The Pangolin,”nfor example, ends with a Wordsworthianncontrast: “wind- / widened cloudsnexpanding to / earth size above the /ntown’s bothered with wages / childishnsages, / are to the child an intimation ofn/ what glory is.” However, in laternversions Moore dropped the explicitncomment on materialism — “botherednwith wages” — in favor of an endingnthat is possibly more aesthetically satisfyingnbut certainly more puzzling.nIn fact, Moore never wished to benobscure; she was an almost entirelynconventional product of the late VictoriannNew England mind, with a strongnnnsense of tradition, propriety, and uprightness.nWhile she included such notoriousnreprobates as Edna St. VincentnMillay and E.E. Cummings among hernacquaintances, she heartily disapprovednof their erotic irregularities. Her grandfathernand brother were both ministers,nand her mother, who lived with Moore,ngrew so increasingly devout with agenthat her children nicknamed her “Bible.”nAs editor of The Dial Moore’snattempts (stimulated constantly by hernmother) to keep nude painhngs andnprurient fichon out of the journal inspirednHart Crane’s remark that thenfate of American poetry was in thenhands of two hysterical virgins. (Thenother hysterical virgin was MargaretnAnderson at The Little Review.)nAs a student at Bryn Mawr, Moore’snteachers discouraged her from majoringnin English. The young lady, itnseems, was unable to organize hernthoughts in a coherent fashion. In onensense, a young poet should count herselfnfortunate that she does not have tonsnip and tuck her work to the fashionablenpatterns of the Bryn Mawr EnglishnDepartment, but this incoherence wasnto limit the audience for Moore’s worknthroughout her career.nThe difficulties with MariannenMoore’s verse are largely technical.nShe is not, by and large, a poet of grandnor very complicated ideas, and althoughna Christian she is neither mysticalnlike Traherne and Blake nor theologicalnlike Milton and Donne.nMoore’s poems are often litde morenthan reflections upon the history of anplace (for example, in “Spenser’s Ireland”)nor meditahons upon a conventionalntheme like civic virtue. Whatnmakes these essays in verse difficult arennot the profundity of their conceptionnbut her playfulness with language andnher fondness for inexplicable allusions.nHer verse is as freighted with quotahonn