Chapter 16
A Community of Tennessee Writers, Readers & Passersby

Merrill Moore (1903 – 1957)

Austin Merrill Moore was born on September 11, 1903, in Columbia, Tennessee, to parents John and Mary. Moore credited his father, who was also a Tennessee poet, as his earliest literary influence. He had strong Southern values and ties. His grandfather was a captain in the Confederate army and his father was the Tennessee director of libraries, archives, and history for ten years, after which his wife Mary assumed the post.

Moore attended Montgomery Bell Academy, and it was during this time that his aptitude for sonnets was discovered by Isaac Ball. Despite his father urging him to work as a journalist he opted for medical school.

Moore earned his Bachelor’s degree at Vanderbilt University in 1924 and a Medical Doctorate in 1928. Starting with the second issue of The Fugitive, Moore published a total of sixty-two poetic pieces in its pages, forty-six of them sonnets. The remaining were short lyrical pieces, all published under Moore’s pseudonym, “Dendric.” Moore said of his fellow Fugitives, “We all influenced each other; we all rubbed the edges off each other and knocked sparks out of each other in a peculiar way.”

In 1929, shortly after his father’s passing, Moore accepted a position at Boston City Hospital. Later, while in private practice, he taught at the prestigious Harvard Medical School. He served in a medical capacity in the U.S. Army during WWII both in New Zealand and the South Pacific and earned a Bronze Star and an Army Commendation medal.

Moore married Anne Nichols in 1930 and the couple had four children: Adam, John, Leslie, and Hester. During the decade following his graduation, he published three books of poetry and 1,400 individual poems in addition to many articles in medical and psychiatric journals. He was known as something of an expert in the fields of alcoholism and suicide, having researched both extensively.

Robert Frost said of Moore: “Serious physician and serious artist, he had no notion of being taken lightly; still there was something of the rogue there that was a part of his great charm. He seldom cracked a smile.” Merrill Moore died of cancer on September 20, 1957, in Quincy, Massachusetts.

Selected Bibliography

The Noise that Time Makes (poetry), 1929
Six Sides to a Man (poetry), 1935
Clinical Sonnets (poetry), 1953
Merrill Moore and the American Sonnet (poetry), 1954
A Doctor’s Book of Hours (poetry), 1955

Selected Links

Two Biographies of Moore at the NCTE American Collection:

Four Sonnets by Moore:

“Fable,” by Moore, at Poetry 365: