Robert Traill Spence Lowell, Jr. (1917-1977)
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.
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
Refer to the headnote in the text for complete information.