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The Heath Anthology of American Literature, Fifth Edition
Paul Lauter, General Editor

Robert Lowell, Jr.
(1917 - 1977)


Born to Charlotte Winslow and Robert Traill Spence Lowell in Boston, Robert Lowell was the great-grandnephew of James Russell Lowell and a distant cousin of Amy Lowell. He attended St. Marks School and then Harvard (1935–37), but completed his undergraduate education at Kenyon College in Ohio (his degree was summa cum laude in 1940). An avid student of poetry, he chose his friends from an artistic coterie and in 1940 married fiction writer Jean Stafford. During World War II, declaring himself a conscientious objector, Lowell was imprisoned in 1943–44. In 1947 he received a Guggenheim fellowship and the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry (for Lord Weary’s Castle). He also was chosen Consultant in Poetry for the Library of Congress for 1947–48. In 1948 he and Stafford were divorced, and in 1949 he married critic Elizabeth Hardwick.

Lowell’s life was devoted to poetry—writing and teaching—but it was marred by emotional breakdowns that required hospitalization. His periodic instability made relationships troublesome; he tended to find his greatest solace in friendships with other writers (Delmore Schwartz, John Berryman, Randall Jarrell, Elizabeth Bishop, William Carlos Williams, Anne Sexton, and the countless younger writers who studied with him at Boston University, Harvard, and the University of Iowa). His writing charted his cycles of change: from the rebellion of the elite Brahmin to the immersion in art experienced at Kenyon, where Lowell studied with John Crowe Ransom and developed his penchant for allusive, densely referential poetry. In 1940 he became a Catholic; in 1950 he left the church.

After giving a series of readings on the West Coast in 1957, Lowell became dissatisfied with his tightly structured poems, and began the process of self-exploration that led to his masterful autobiographical work. Life Studies and For the Union Dead, the latter of which drew together the autobiographical and Lowell’s fascination with history, marked the apex of Lowell’s influence on the poetry scene. He also had moved to New York, where he remained until his death. There he became politically active, marching against the Pentagon in 1967 and continuing to scrutinize his life against the canvas of world and national events.

In the early 1970s, Lowell and Hardwick divorced and Lowell married Lady Caroline Blackwood. He then divided his life between her home in England and periods of teaching at Harvard, a pattern that allowed him to explore the consequences of his New England roots and his need to cut himself off from that locale. When he died of a heart attack at age sixty, he was considered the most important and most influential poet of his generation.

Some critics reacted harshly to his last poetry, in which the occasion of his divorce from Hardwick and the separation of himself from his child became the subject of his art. And there is some limit to a reader’s interest in seeing self-destruction portrayed in poetry. Like many of his peers, Lowell led a life of difficult and often broken human relationships, and his poems which chart those relationships are often less than great.

Linda Wagner-Martin
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill


Texts
In the Heath Anthology
Memories of West Street and Lepke (1959)
For the Union Dead (1960)
Skunk Hour (1960)
For Theodore Roethke (1963)
Near the Ocean (1967)

Other Works
Land of Unlikeness (1944)
Lord Weary's Castle (1946)
The Mills of the Kavanaughs (1951)
Life Studies (1959)
Imitations (1961)
Selected Poems (1965)
The Old Glory (plays) (1965)
Notebook 1967-68 (1969)
For Lizzie and Harriet (1973)
History (1973)
The Dolphin (1973)
Day by Day (1977)



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Links

Books and Writers
(http://www.kirjasto.sci.fi/rlowell.htm)
A biography and list of selected works.

Modern American Poetry
(http://www.english.uiuc.edu/maps/poets/g_l/lowell/lowell.htm)
Rich with analysis, offers a biography and thirteen critical essays.

Robert Lowell (1917-77)
(http://www.lit.kobe-u.ac.jp/~hishika/lowell.htm)
The text of Father's Bedroom, biographical notes and a bibliography.

The Academy of American Poets
Web exhibit with a biography and several poetry texts.



Secondary Sources





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