Robert Traill Spence Lowell, Jr. (1917-1977)

    Contributing Editor:
    Linda Wagner-Martin

    Classroom Issues and Strategies

    Lowell's poetry is more difficult than readers expect, deceptively difficult. Since many students come to him expecting an accessible poet (after all, he's one of those "confessionals"), they sometimes resent having to mine his poems for the background and the allusive sources they contain. Attention to an explicative preparation usually helps. "New Critical" methods are very appropriate.

    Major Themes, Historical Perspectives, and Personal Issues

    The combination of the historical with the personal is one of Lowell's most pervasive themes. His illustrious and prominent family (the Lowells) created a burden for both his psyche and his art. The reader must know history to read Lowell. The human mind in search, moving with intuitive understanding (as opposed to a reliance on fact), sometimes succeeding, sometimes not, is Lowell's continuing theme.

    Significant Form, Style, or Artistic Conventions

    A range of forms must be studied--Lowell is the most formal of poets, even toward the end, with the so-called "notebooks." Studying his intense revision (hardly a word left unchanged from the original version to the final) and examining his effort to skew natural language into his highly concentrated form are both good approaches.

    Original Audience

    Consider the whole business of the confessional, as Lowell moved from the historical into his unique blend of the personal and the historical.

    Address the issue of location. Boston, the New England area, held not only Lowell's history but the country's.

    Comparisons, Contrasts, Connections

    Compare Lowell's poetry to that of Randall Jarrell, Anne Sexton, Theodore Roethke, Elizabeth Bishop, and Sylvia Plath.


    Refer to the headnote in the text for complete information.