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?