During the summer of 1911 Marianne Moore and her mother visited the British Museum in London while on a trip to England. This post card from the museum was found amongst Ms. Moore’s papers and notebooks after her death in 1972. In the normal course of events, she might have seen similar objects in both the Brooklyn Museum and the Metropolitan Museum in New York.
Whether she encountered it first hand in London or only through this post card, it did inspire the poem titled “An Egyptian Pulled Glass Bottle in the Shape of a Fish.” It is not an isolated example in her oeuvre but part of a larger interest that included references to “Leonardo da Vinci’s Saint Jerome and his lion,” Magritte’s “The Magician’s Retreat,” and a general treatise on the subject of “When I Buy Pictures.” Dial Press in New York first published this poem in 1924.
“An Egyptian Pulled Glass Bottle in the Shape of a Fish”
“Here we have thirst
And patience, from the first,
And art, as in a wave held up for us to see
In its essential perpendicularity;
Not brittle but
Intense—the spectrum, that
Spectacular and nimble animal the fish,
Whose scales turn aside the sun’s sword by their polish.”[i]
[i] Schulman, Grace, ed.; The Poems of Marianne Moore; Viking; New York, New York; 2003; p. 173.