Robert Lowell :/

Lowell’s work is so heavy and ornate that I hardly know where to begin with this analysis. His theological and literary references are numerous and his usage of so many poetic devices all at once is incredible. Needless to say, I felt pretty intimidated upon reading it!

So “The Quaker Graveyard in Nantucket” is divided into seven sections that shift in tone along with the poet’s various ruminations. His lament over the death of his cousin intertwines with references to Moby Dick, the Bible, and mythology, and probably some other stuff I am not well read enough to pick up on. But Lowell seems to essentially be asking why God seems to toy so carelessly with the world he has created and perhaps even takes a resentful jab at his power when he contends that God always “survives the rainbow of his will”. Do you agree that Lowell is lamenting the lack of justice in God’s world? Also, what about the whale in this poem? What does he represent? The dead lust after his blood in section 4. Perhaps the whale represents death, justice, revenge…or could he be a Christ-like figure?

The rhythm and rhyme of this poem is also incredible. Shifts in rhyme pattern serve to speed up or slow down the reading tempo. Section 2, for example, is largely made up of couplets which allow the reader to move quickly through it. As then next section begins, however, the first couplet is challenged by a strange, ad hoc set of lines that don’t rhyme very well and thus slow the reading speed down significantly. This kind of variance in rhyme scheme kept me constantly on the alert; it seems like every shift in rhyming pattern is a signal for some deeper symbolism or meaningfulness. But paired with all of the references to religion and mythology, AND Lowell’s awesome lexicon, I feel overwhelmed with trying to derive meaning from such a densely philosophical work. This poet’s ability to compact meaning into few words is unbelievable. How do you feel about Lowell’s ability to integrate all of this at once? Is it confusing? Is it pompous of him? Do you roll your eyes at his pretentiousness, or does such complex poetry really speak to you?

I was going to also comment on Skunk Hour and its use of dark humor, but I feel burned out already and have pretty much confused myself with my own analysis of “The Quaker Graveyard” anyway. Maybe you guys have something to say about Skunk Hour. Is it bleak in its description of a declining town? Or is there a hopeful message, too? Do those skunks immortalize some sort of values that humans should embrace? Is there anything about Robert Lowell that is not confusing?

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3 Responses to Robert Lowell :/

  1. GJF says:

    A really interesting reaction to Quaker Graveyard here, and I’m sure you’re not the only one who feels burned out after a poem like this. I’ll add a question for you or for others, though, in light of that reaction. Do you think you’d read a poem like “Skunk Hour” differently if you didn’t have a poem like Quaker Graveyard before it? Do you think it’s nearly as dense as the first poem?

  2. sph12 says:

    I think that “Skunk Hour” was far less dense than “The Quaker Graveyard in Nantucket”. However, I was not able to read all of Lowell’s poems at once. After reading Quaker Graveyard, I tried to read more but decided to change it up with another author before going back to read his other poems and found it was easier to focus on them after a little break.

    In response to the originial post, I don’t think “Skunk Hour” was that bleak. The failing down was somewhat depressing, but I liked the humor Lowell was able to throw in to offset the darkness. I also thought that the skunks were the to represent the future. Everyone else may be gone and things are falling apart, but the skunks are able to survive and go on with the little that remains. I saw that as hope for the future and that if people came back, they would be able to work toward rebuilding the town and would be able to flourish as they had in the past. As to values the skunks may represent, I am not sure. I think just the fact that they are still there and still trying maybe gives humans something to aspire to. Did anyone else read the skunks differently?

  3. ldhare says:

    I would agree that Lowell was pretty dense, and I laughed at the growing number of footnotes as I began to read his poetry. Referencing footnotes over and over interrupted the flow of my reading but I guess that must be a result of new criticism writing on Philistines like me. I would also agree with everyone that Skunk Hour is much less dense, and we did talk about why in class (the transition that Lowell made from new criticism to a more conversational tone after listening to Ginsberg).

    Also, I would definitely agree about the skunks. While ultimately we do not know how the narrator reacted as he stood on the back steps and watched the skunks foraging, we have to hope that it gave him some solace. He seems to be calm as he “[breathes] the rich air” (2535). I like that “only skunks” immediately follows “I myself am hell; nobody’s here-” (2535). I initially read it after Quaker Graveyard and I was in bleak-mode, but now reading it, it seems much more positive by the end.

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