| The Heath Anthology of
American Literature, Fifth Edition
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
In the Heath Anthology
Memories of West Street and Lepke
For the Union Dead
For Theodore Roethke
Near the Ocean
Land of Unlikeness
Lord Weary's Castle
The Mills of the Kavanaughs
The Old Glory (plays)
For Lizzie and Harriet
Day by Day
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A biography and list of selected works.
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Rich with analysis, offers a biography and thirteen critical essays.
Robert Lowell (1917-77)
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.