Twentieth Century American Poets


Robert Lowell (1917-1977)






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Biographical Note


Robert Lowell was born in Boston on 1917. He was related through his father, Robert Traill Spence Lowell, to the poets James Russell Lowell and Amy Lowell and was descended on his mother, Charlotte Winslow, from an old New English family. Lowell was first educated at St. Mark's School and entered Harvard University. Lowell left Harvard after 2 years and met Allen Tate, a poet and practitioner, who tried to push poetry into academic study. Lowell went to Tate's home to learn poetry and then transferred to Kenyon College in Ohio to study with John Crowe Ransom. There he met two of his lifelong friends, Peter Taylor and Randall Jarrell. These people had a great influence on Lowell's early poems.


Lowell graduated from Kenyon in 1940 and married Jean Stafford. He in the next year went to Louisiana State University to work with Robert Penn Warren and Cleanth Brooks. Lowell also converted to Roman Catholicism at that time. During WWII, Lowell declared himself a conscientious objector to war and refused his military service. The result was that he was put into jail and community service for several months. During this period, he published his first book Land of Unlikeness (1944). His second book Lord Weary's Castle appeared in 1946 and won great success and literary honor.


Lowell remarried Elizabeth Hardwick in 1949 and they spent next several years staying in Europe in 1950s. It was in this period when Lowell suffered from serious mental breakdown and at the mean time finished his new book Life Studies (1959), in which he regenerated his poetic inspiration from William Carlos Williams and changed his style of his early poems. Life Studies contains an autobiographical project that includes Lowell's private matters about himself, his family and his mental condition. This book provoked a new critical term in literary criticism, "confessional poetry."


Lowell was a public figure and was involved in literary and political areas in 1960s. His next book For the Union Dead (1964) pushed the poet's interest into the realm of politics. Lowell also punished Near the Ocean (1967), which was a collection of lyrics in formal style. Lowell in 1969 published Notebook, 1967-68, which recorded his response toward contemporary events and his own family. Lowell revised and expanded Notebook in 1973 into 3 volumes: History, For Lizzie and Harriet, and The Dolphin. Lowell was died of heart way on his way to New York on 1977. Day By Day, his last book, was punished at the same year.