Robert Lowell: Wikis


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Robert Lowell

Born Robert Traill Spence Lowell IV
1 March 1917(1917-03-01)
Boston, Massachusetts, USA
Died 12 September 1977 (aged 60)
New York City, New York, USA
Occupation Poet
Nationality United States
Genres Confessionalism
Spouse(s) Jean Stafford (1940-1948)
Elizabeth Hardwick (1949-1970)
Caroline Blackwood (1970-1977)
Relative(s) Amy Lowell, James Russell Lowell

Robert Traill Spence Lowell IV September 12, 1977) was an American poet, considered the founder of the confessional poetry movement. He was appointed the sixth Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress in 1946.[1]



Lowell was born in Boston, Massachusetts to a Boston Brahmin family that included the poets Amy Lowell and James Russell Lowell. His mother, Charlotte Winslow, was a descendant of William Samuel Johnson, a signer of the United States Constitution, Jonathan Edwards, the famed Calvinist theologian, Anne Hutchinson, the Puritan preacher and healer, Robert Livingston the Elder, Thomas Dudley, the second governor of Massachusetts, and Mayflower passengers James Chilton and his daughter Mary Chilton.

He was at St. Mark's School, a prominent prep-school in Southborough, Massachusetts, before attending Harvard College for two years and transferring to Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio, to study under John Crowe Ransom.[2] He converted from Episcopalianism to Catholicism,[3] which influenced his first two books, Land of Unlikeness (1944) and the Pulitzer Prize–winning Lord Weary's Castle (1946). By the end of the forties, he left the Catholic Church. In 1950, Lowell was included in the influential anthology Mid-Century American Poets as one of the key literary figures of his generation. Among his contemporaries who also appeared in that book were Muriel Rukeyser, Karl Shapiro, Elizabeth Bishop, Theodore Roethke, Randall Jarrell, and John Ciardi, all poets who came into prominence in the 1940s. In the 1950s, Lowell taught in the Iowa Writers' Workshop at the University of Iowa.

Lowell was a conscientious objector during World War II and served several months at the federal prison in Danbury, Connecticut. He would later write about his experience in prison in the poem "Memories of West Street and Lepke" from his book Life Studies.

In 1949, he was involved in Yaddo's share of the Red Scare when he attempted unsuccessfully to oust Yaddo's director Elizabeth Ames who was being questioned by the FBI for her alleged involvement with writer Agnes Smedley, who was being accused of spying for the Soviet Union.[4]

During the 1960s he was active in the civil rights movement and opposed the US involvement in Vietnam. His participation in the October 1967 peace march in Washington, DC, and his subsequent arrest are described in the early sections of Norman Mailer's The Armies of the Night.

Lowell suffered with alcoholism and manic depression and was hospitalized many times throughout his life. He was married to novelist Jean Stafford from 1940 to 1948. In 1949 he married the writer Elizabeth Hardwick. In 1970 he left Elizabeth Hardwick for the British author Lady Caroline Blackwood. He spent many of his last years in England. Lowell died in 1977, having suffered a heart attack in a cab in New York City on his way to see Hardwick. He is buried in Stark Cemetery, Dunbarton, New Hampshire.

In 1962 Lowell's remains, as well as those within the cemetery entire, were moved from Winslow Road to the cemetery's present site on Mansion Road in Dunbarton, near where what is known as the mulberry field. This was due to the Army Corps of Engineers' erecting the Hopkinton-Everett Dam for flood control.

Lowell's Collected Poems, edited by Frank Bidart and David Gewanter, was published in 2003, and The Letters of Robert Lowell, edited by Saskia Hamilton, was published in 2005. These publications have led to a renewed interest in Lowell's writing.


He reached wide acclaim for his 1946 book, Lord Weary's Castle, which included ten poems slightly revised from his earlier Land of Unlikeness, and thirty new poems. Among the better known poems in the volume are "Mr Edwards and the Spider" and "The Quaker Graveyard in Nantucket." Lord Weary's Castle was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1947. Lowell's early poems are formal, ornate, and concerned with violence and theology; a typical example is the close of "The Quaker Graveyard" -- "You could cut the brackish winds with a knife / Here in Nantucket and cast up the time / When the Lord God formed man from the sea's slime / And breathed into his face the breath of life, / And the blue-lung'd combers lumbered to the kill. / The Lord survives the rainbow of His will."

The Mills of the Kavanaughs (1951), a book that centered on its epic title poem, did not receive similar acclaim, but Lowell was able to revive his reputation with Life Studies (1959). The poems in this book were written in a mix of free and metered verse, with much more informal language than he used in his first two books. It marked both a big turning point in Lowell's career, and a turning point for American poetry in general. Because many of the poems documented details from Lowell's family life and personal problems, one critic, M.L. Rosenthal, labeled the book "confessional." For better or worse, this label stuck. Lowell's editor and friend Frank Bidart notes in his afterword to Lowell's Collected Poems, "Lowell is widely, perhaps indelibly associated with the term 'confessional,'" though Bidart questions the accuracy of this label.[5]

Lowell followed Life Studies with Imitations, a volume of loose translations of poems by classical and modern European poets, including Rilke, Montale, Baudelaire, Pasternak, and Rimbaud, for which he received the 1962 Bollingen Poetry Translation Prize.

His next book For the Union Dead, 1964, was also widely praised, particularly for its title poem, which invokes Allen Tate's "Ode to the Confederate Dead." In Near the Ocean, which followed a couple of years later, Lowell had returned to stanzaic forms. The best known poem in this volume, "Waking Early Sunday Morning," is written in eight-line stanzas borrowed from Andrew Marvell's poem "Upon Appleton House" and shows how politics began to enter Lowell's work around this time.

During 1967 and 1968 he experimented with a verse journal, published as Notebook, 1967-68. These fourteen-line poems loosely based on the sonnet form were reworked into three volumes. History deals with public history from antiquity onwards, and with modern poets Lowell had known; For Lizzie and Harriet describes the breakdown of his second marriage; and The Dolphin, which won the 1974 Pulitzer Prize, includes poems about his marriage to Caroline Blackwood and their life in England.

A minor controversy erupted when he incorporated private letters from his second wife, Elizabeth Hardwick, into The Dolphin. He was particularly criticized for this by his friends Adrienne Rich and Elizabeth Bishop.

Robert Lowell was Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress for 1947−1948 (a position now known as "Poet Laureate").


  • Land of Unlikeness (1944)
  • Lord Weary's Castle (1946)
  • The Mills of The Kavanaughs (1951)
  • Life Studies (1959)
  • Phaedra (translation) (1961)
  • Imitations (1961)
  • For the Union Dead (1964)
  • The Old Glory (1965)
  • Near the Ocean (1967)
  • The Voyage & other versions of poems of Baudelaire (1969)
  • Prometheus Bound (1969)
  • Notebook (1969) (Revised and Expanded Edition, 1970)
  • For Lizzie and Harriet (1973)
  • History (1973)
  • The Dolphin (1973)
  • Selected Poems (1976) (Revised Edition, 1977)
  • Day by Day (1977)
  • The Oresteia of Aeschylus (1978)
  • Collected Poems (2003)
  • Selected Poems (2006) (Expanded Edition)
  • Words in Air: The Complete Correspondence Between Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell, edited by Thomas Travisano, with Saskia Hamilton (Farrar, Strauss & Giroux, 2008)


  1. ^ "Poet Laureate Timeline: 1953-1960". Library of Congress. 2008. Retrieved 2008-12-19.  
  2. ^ Robert Lowell Poets of Cambridge, USA
  3. ^ Robert Lowell @
  4. ^ The Lowell Affair: Yaddo's Red Scare
  5. ^ Bidart, Frank, editor. "On Confessional Poetry." Robert Lowell Collected Poems. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2003.

External links


Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

Robert Traill Spence Lowell, IV (March 1, 1917September 12, 1977) was an American poet.

Among his relatives were James Russell Lowell, Percival Lowell and Amy Lowell.


  • A brackish reach of shoal off Madaket--
    The sea was still breaking violently and night
    Had steamed into our North Atlantic Fleet,
    When the drowned sailor clutched the drag-net. Light
    Flashed from his matted head and marble feet,
    He grappled at the net
    With the coiled, hurdling muscles of his thighs:
    The corpse was bloodless, a botch of reds and whites,
    Its open, staring eyes
    Were lustreless dead-lights
    Or cabin-windows on a stranded hulk
    Heavy with sand.
  • Once fishing was a rabbit's foot--
    O wind blow cold, O wind blow hot,
    Let suns stay in or suns step out:
    Life danced a jig on the sperm-whale's spout--
    The fisher's fluent and obscene
    Catches kept his conscience clean.

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