Robert Lowell

February 12, 2007

lowell1.jpg
(1917-1977)

Born in Boston, father was a naval officer
Cousin of Amy Lowell
Attended Harvard but transferred after two years, ending up at Kenyon College
Experimented with divergent styles, poems became ambiguous, Lowell was dissatisfied
Married novelist Jean Stafford after graduation, divorced and remarried Elizabeth Hardwick who he later divorced as well
Converted to Catholicism
Greatly disturbed by WWII, tried to enlist unsucessfully and slowly grew horrified
Attempted in middle age to break through his own formality and obscurity, tried to write about his own experience and more publicly
Gave up Christian symbols of early work, confronted important evens with courage and conviction, protested Vietnam War
Withdrew from political scene, moved to England and married writer Caroline Blackwood
Died in a taxi from New York’s Kennedy Airport
Poetry is confessional, presents himself as a unwieldy figure

Quotations:

‘The hot night makes us keep our bedroom windows open. / Our magnolia blossoms. Life begins to happen. / My hopped up husband drops his home disputes, / and hits the streets to cruise for prostitutes, / free-lancing out along the razor’s edge. / This screwball might kill his wife, then take the pledge. / Oh the monotonous meanness of his lust …. / It’s the injustice … he is so unjust- / whiskey-blind, swaggering home at five. / My only thought is how to keep alive. / What makes him tick? Each night now I tie / ten dollars and his car key to my thigh …. / Gored by the climacteric of his want, / he stalls above me like an elephant.’

-”To Speak of Woe That Is in Marriage” (in whole)

“It is the future generation that presses into being byu means of these exuberant feelings and supersensible soap bubbles of ours.” -Schopenhauer
Perhaps spoken from the Wife of Bath in “The Canterbury Tales”

Nautilus Island’s hermit / heiress still lives through winter in her Spartan cottage; / her sheep still graze above the sea. / Her son’s a bishop. Her farmer / is first selectman in our village; / she’s in her dotage.
Thirsting for / the heirarchic privacy / of Queen Victoria’s century, / she busy up all / the eyesores facing her shore, / and lets them fall.
The season’s ill- / we’ve lost our summer millionaire, / who seemed to leap from an L. L. Bean / catalogue. His nine-knot yal / was acutioned off to lobstermen. / A red fox stain covers Blue Hill.
And now our fairy / decorator brightens his shop for fall; / his fishnet’s filled with orange cork, / orange, his cobbler’s bench and awl; / there is no money in his work, / he’d rather marry.
One dark night, / my Tudor Ford climbed the hill’s skull; / I watched for love-cars. Lights turned down, / they lay together, hull to hull, / where the graveyard shelves on the town…. / My mind’s not right.
A car radio bleats, / ‘Love, O careless Love….’ I hear / my ill-spirit sob in each blood cell, / as if my hand were at its throat …. / I myself am hell; / nobody’s here-
only skunks, that search / in the moonlight for a bite to eat. / They march on their soles up Main Street; / white stripes, moonstruck eyes’ red fire / under the chalk-dry and spar spire / of the Trinitarian Chruch.
I stand on top / of our back steps and breathe the rich air- / a mother skunk with ehr column of kittens swills the garbage pail. / She jabs her wedge-head in a cup / of sour cream, drops her ostrich tail, / and will not scare.

-Skunk Hour (in whole)

Dedicated to Elizabeth Bishop because “re-reading her suggested a way of breaking through the shell of y old manner”
“The first four stanzas are meant to give a dawdling more or less amiable picture of declinging Maine sea town. I move from the ocean inland. Sterility howls through the scenery, but I try to give a tone of tolerance, humor, and randomness to the sad prospect.”

ONly teachin on Tuesdays, book-worming/ in pajamas fresh from the washer each morning,/ I hot a whole house on Boston’s/ “hardly passionate Marlborough Street,”/ where even the man/ scavenging filth in the back alley trash cans,/ has two children, a beach wagon, a helpmate,/ and is a “young Republican.”/ I have a nine monts’ daughter,/ young enough to be my granddaughter./ Like the sun she rises in her flame-flamingo infants’ wear.
These are the tranquilized Fifties,/ and I am forty. Ought I to regret my seedtime?/ I waws a fire-breathing Catholic C.O.,/ and made my manic statment,/ telling off the state and president, and then/ sat waiting sentence in the bull pen/ beside a Negro boy with curlicues/ of marijuana in his hair.
Given a year,/ I walked on the roof of the West Street Jail, a short/ enclosure like my school soccer court,/ and saw the Hudson River onece a day/ through sooty clothesline entanglements/ and bleaching khaki tenements./ Strolling, I yammered metaphysics with Abramowitz,/ a jaundice-yellow (“it’s really tan”)/ and fly-weight pacifist,/ so vegetarian,/ he wore rope shoes and preferred fallen ruit./ He tried to convert Bioff and Brown,/ the Hollywood pimps, to his diet./ Hairy, muscular, suburban,/ wearing chocolate double-breasted suits,/ they blew their tops and beat him black and blue.
I was so out of things, I’d never heard/ of the Jehovah’s Witnesses./ “Are you a C.O.?” I asked a fellow jailbird./ “No.” he answered, “I’m a J.W.”/ He taught me the “hospital tuck,”/ and pointed out the T-shirted back/ of Murder Incorporated’s Czar Lepke,/ there piling towels on a rack,/ or dwadling off to his little segregated cell full/ of things forbidden the common man:/ a portable radio, a dresser, two toy American/ flags tied together with a ribbon of Easter palm./ Flabby, bald, lobotomized,/ he drifted in a sheepish calm,/ where no agonizing reappraisal/ jarred his concentration on the electric chair-/ hanging like an oasis in his air/ of lost connections…

-Memories of West Street and Lepke (in whole)

In 1943 Lowell was sentenced a year in New York’s West Street jail for his refusal to serve in the army. Among the other psioners was Lepke Buchalter, head of Murder, Inc., an dorganized crime syndicate, who had been convicted of murder.

The old South Boston Aquarium stands/ in a Sahara of snow now. Its broken windows are boarded./ The bronze weathervane cod has lost half its scales. The airy tanks are dry.

The stone statues of the abstract Union Soldier/ grow slimmer and younger each year-/ wasp-waisted, they doze over muskets/ and muse through their sideburns…
Shaw’s father wanted no monument/ except the ditch,/ where his son’s body was trhown/ and lost with his “niggers.”

Colonel Shaw/ is riding on his bubble,/ he waits/ for the blessed break.
The Aquarium is gone. Everywhere,/ giant finned cars nose forward like fish:/ a savage servility/ slides by on grease.

-For the Union Dead

“Relinquunt Omnia Servare Rem Publicam.”: “They give up everything to serve the Republic”
Describes a monument depicting Robert Gould Shaw, commander of the first African American regiment organized in a free state, who was killed in the assault his troops led

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