Introduction to Selected Poems, by Marianne Moore
In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

230 ] Introduction to Selected Poems, by Marianne Moore London: Faber & Faber, 1935. Pp. 142; Introduction, 5-12.1 We know very little about the value of the work of our contemporaries, almost as little as we know about our own. It may have merits which exist only for contemporary sensibility; it may have concealed virtues which will only become apparent with time. How it will rank when we are all dead authors ourselves we cannot say with any precision. If one is to talk about one’s contemporaries at all, therefore, it is important to make up our minds as to what we can affirm with confidence, and as to what must be a matter of doubting conjecture. The last thing, certainly, that we are likely to know about them is their “greatness,” or their relative distinction or triviality in relation to the standard of “greatness.” For in greatness are involved moral and social relations, relations which can only be perceived from a remoter perspective, and which may be said even to be created in the process of history : we cannot tell, in advance, what any poetry is going to do, how it will operate upon later generations. But the genuineness of poetry is something which we have some warrant for believing that a small number, but only a small number, of contemporary readers can recognise. I say positively only a small number, because it seems probable that when any poet conquers a really large public in his lifetime, an increasing proportion of his admirers will admire him for extraneous reasons. Not necessarily for bad reasons, but because he becomes known merely as a symbol, in giving a kind of stimulation , or consolation, to his readers, which is a function of his peculiar relation to them in time. Such effect upon contemporary readers may be a legitimate and proper result of some great poetry, but it has been also the result of much ephemeral poetry. It does not seem to matter much whether one has to struggle with an age which is unconscious and self-satisfied, and therefore hostile to new forms of poetry, or with one like the present which is self-conscious and distrustful of itself, and avid for new forms which will give it status and self-respect. For many modern readers any superficial novelty of form is evidence of, or is as good as, newness of sensibility; and if the sensibility is fundamentally dull and second-hand, so much the better; for there is no quicker way of catching an immediate, if transient, popularity, than to serve stale goods in [ 231 Introduction to Selected Poems new packages. One of the tests – though it be only a negative test – of anything really new and genuine, seems to be its capacity for exciting aversion among “lovers of poetry.” I am aware that prejudice makes me underrate certain authors: I see them rather as public enemies than as subjects for criticism; and I dare say that a different prejudice makes me uncritically favourable to others. I may even admire the right authors for the wrong reasons. But I am much more confident of my appreciation of the authors whom I admire, than of my depreciation of the authors who leave me cold or who exasperate me. And in asserting that what I call genuineness is a more important thing to recognise in a contemporary than greatness, I am distinguishing between his function while living and his function when dead. Living, the poet is carrying on that struggle for the maintenance of a living language, for the maintenanceofitsstrength ,itssubtlety,forthepreservationofqualityoffeeling, which must be kept up in every generation; dead, he provides standards for those who take up the struggle after him. Miss Moore is, I believe, one of those few who have done the language some service in my lifetime. So far back as my memory extends, which is to the pages of The Egoist during the War, and of The Little Review and The Dial in the years immediately following, Miss Moore has no immediate poetic derivations. I cannot, therefore, fill up my pages with the usual account of influences and development . There is one early poem, “A Talisman,” not reprinted in the text of this volume, which I will quote in full here, because it suggests a slight influence of H. D., certainly of H. D. rather than of any other “Imagist”:2 Under a splintered mast torn from the ship and cast         near her hull, a stumbling shepherd...