Report-- The Quaker Graveyard in Nantucket



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"The Quaker's Graveyard in Nantucket" from Lord Weary's Castle (1946)

Robert Well transforms life into art via the medium of myth that is a mode of ordering experience in LWC. It admits a wide range of experiences-religion, history, literature and modern world. Religion (Catholicism) develops into a mode of mythic imagination to organize shared contemporary experiences and the imaginative Catholicism presents effective realities of human behaviors and desire.

The poems of LWC provide a potential of Christian in a modern nightmare of war and sin and provoke a theme of exile: the poet is exiled from his spiritual home in the contemporary world and the human race is exiled in the doomed, sinful world round the poet. The apocalyptic Christian myth provides a perspective that makes meaningful the modern experience without violating the poet's and the reader's sense of reality.

"The Quaker's Graveyard in Nantucket" is one of the best poems in Lord Weary's Castle to provoke the theme of exile and salvation. "Quaker's Graveyard" contains 7 separate poems in whichRobert Lowell's imagination conflates his literal experience and his actual experiences. The poem is a field of conflict between opposing forces within the poet's psyche and the collective psyche of the civilization.


Lowell takes the form of elegy that addresses a meditation to the dead sailor via historical and literary menaings:

an elegy for Lowell's cousin and childhood friend Warren Winslow, whose naval vessel sank during WWII.
an elegy of the English tradition in which lament leads to a larger consideration of modern world.

Title & Subtitle

-Quaker & Nantucket: mapping of spiritual/Geographical American history

-Elegy & Religion: placing life (address to Warren Winslow) into biblical reference (Genesis) to merge the form of art

Speaker's Ego

-The speaker articulates literary experience with mythical experience and identifies himself in the pageant of human sin.

-The speaker shifts from individual ego to omniscient.


Lowell tends to create intension by placing contrast forces of language.

Life & Death (I)

Life (kinetic) Death (still)
"coiled, hurdling muscles"

"matted head" "marble feet"

" a botch of reds and whites"

"clutch" "grapple"

"stranded hulk"

"heavy with sand"

"light flashed" "open, staring eyes"

"lusterless dead-lights"


Nature & Civilization

"earth-shaker" "Atlantic bulwark"
"Orphean lute" "The guns of the steeled fleet"
"puck life back" "hoarse salute"


"whited monster"

"The Pequod"



"morning star"

"sword" "death-lance"

"gun-blue swingle"


The poem brings the association with personal experience (elegy for Warren Winslow) and American history by Melville's metaphor:

History & Literature


Imaginative history:

"hurt beast (Moby Dick)"

"The Pequod" "Ahab's whaleboats"

"IS" "whited monster"


Personal History:

-speaker shows personal warmth and response toward the sailor by addressing him as "my cousin."


Mythic Experience

Ahab's whaleboats:

-the murder of nature

-the murder of young men (via gun, warships)

The drown Quakers:

the portent of human destruction a role equivalent to both killer/suffering victim in the sinful world


-the metaphor of Melville's Moby Dick

-the metaphor of God

Conjunction of Time Levels

Melville's History Lowell's History

The Pequod's sea wings, beating landward, fall/ Headlong and break on Our Atlantic wall (II 5-6)

Where the yawing S-boats splash/ The bellbuoy, with ballooning spinnakers,

Where lubbers lash/ The heavy surf and throw their long lead squids/ For blue-fish? (II 7-12)


There, in the nowhere, where their boats were tossed/ Sky-high, where mariners had fable news/ Of IS, whited monster.(III 16-18)


Gun, cradled on the tide, /... / Our warships in the hand/ Of the great God, (III 6-11)

-Nature "scream" for the dead sailor at "this old Quaker graveyard" where the dead men from the history of whaler cry for "hurt beast" and "Ahab's whaleboats."

-Speaker conjuncts the dual time levels: destruction of "Quaker sailors" from the history of whaler and ominous "warships" of modern world.


The speaker articulates literary experience with religious experience and provides a potential salvation:

Moby Dick



The image of Whale:

"Spouting out blood and water as it rolls,"

"The death-lance churns into the sanctuary"

"Hide,/ Our steel, Jonas Messias, in Thy side"

Biblical Lore

Joining of Jonah and Messiah:

"Our steel, Jonas Messias, in Thy side"

"Where the morning stars sing out together" (IV 15)

"In the dawn of that day the stars sang together," (Job 38:7)


Human Crime:

"Sailor, will your sword/ Whistle and fall into the fat?"

"it works and drags/ And rips the sperm-whale's midriff into rags,"


"To send the Pequod packing off to hell:/ This is the end of them, three-quarters fools,"




Potential Redemption:

Pilgrimage toward "Our Lady" "The castle of God"

"The Lord survives the rainbow of His will"

Ambiguity of Redemption:

"Expressionless, expresses God"

"When the Lord God formed man from the sea's slime/ And breached into his face and breath of life,/ And blue-lung'd combers lumbered to the kill."