149. (Robert Lowell)

“Self-accusation,” writes Geoffrey Hill, “is the life-blood of Romanticism.” For a long time, I thought Lowell a late-Romantic, working back, through the reaction of modernism, to the lessons of the early nineteenth-century.  That is not right. Lowell does accuse himself, but whereas, in Hill’s view, self-accusation guards Romanticism against its own excesses, Lowell accuses himself for another end.  Forgiveness is his great subject and it … Continue reading 149. (Robert Lowell)

99. (William Empson)

Whatever else its relationship to genre, wit is a particular way of coping with the world’s fragility, its tendency to waste and isolation. Wit happens when the intelligence detaches itself from a situation in which that fragility is keenly felt and is able, by virtue of that detachment, not only to extract from it those dispersed and discordant elements that threaten to waste and isolate life, … Continue reading 99. (William Empson)

93. (Elizabeth Bishop)

She shares with Eugenio Montale a novel sense of what epiphany a poem can or should seek or record. She only knew the Italian’s work once her career was underway, but she remarks in two letters to Lowell, on his publication of Imitations, that she is especially curious to read the Montale translations. Perhaps she suspected a kindred spirit. The sense one finds in both poets—and the … Continue reading 93. (Elizabeth Bishop)

92. (Robert Lowell)

My mind is snared by wit, and Marvell’s wit in particular. The Greatness of that poet, once proclaimed, has burned out in critical conversation; but it was a real thought, mid-century, that he was very great indeed, and when Robert Lowell decided, in the 1960s, to ride the iambic tetrameter for many poems in Near the Ocean, he had the MP from Hull in mind. But … Continue reading 92. (Robert Lowell)

68. (Robert Lowell)

Here is another attempt at the Lowell muddle, since the last was either abstruse or wrong. Lowell’s poetry can profitably be read against his modernist masters, especially Ezra Pound and T.S. Eliot (who also reaches Lowell by way of the Agrarians). Behind these modernists are the Victorians and Romantics–and picking and choosing from the influences of the nineteenth-century, Eliot and Pound and their followers propose … Continue reading 68. (Robert Lowell)

67. (Robert Lowell)

The disservice of the term “Confessional Poetry,” coined by M.L. Rosenthal in 1957 to describe not only Robert Lowell’s poetry, but the poetry of his rising contemporaries, was soon observed; but the damage of the term was not done to Lowell’s poetry, but to the poets who read Lowell’s poetry through a misapprehension of what the term distorted. Lowell was, like many of the poets … Continue reading 67. (Robert Lowell)

17. (Charles Baudelaire)

Robert Lowell’s 1961 Imitations did more for the reputation of twentieth-century poets Mandelstam and Montale than it did for the nineteenth-century Europeans, Baudelaire and Leopardi, since the latter never needed much rehabilitating in literary circles and since the latter has still not received as much attention, in translation or in cultural myths, as he is due (the somewhat recent Galassi translation notwithstanding). But Lowell’s collection … Continue reading 17. (Charles Baudelaire)