Robert Lowell, seeker who improved with age

Lowell chart Beset by personal troubles, New England poet Robert Lowell achieved successes as a young man, but the impact of his work deepened when he reached middle age and turned his poetic attention more intensely on his own life. That’s a typical characteristic of experimental innovators, or seekers.

(The chart at top right records Lowell’s age when he wrote the poems that appear in various anthologies of modern poetry.)

Robert LowellLike many other experimental innovators, Lowell continually reworked his earlier poems. Elizabeth Bishop, who complained that he compulsively revised his work, noted sadly in her memorial poem to Lowell that finally “You can’t derange, or re-arrange, / your poems again.”

Like many other experimental poets, Lowell tended to be improvisational in his writing, rather than planning it carefully.

Also like many experimental innovators, Lowell was uncertain about the quality of his creations: After his landmark Life Studies won National Book Award, he wrote, “When I finished Life Studies I was left hanging on a question mark. … I don’t know whether it is a death-rope or a life-line.”

For more about Lowell as a seeker, see the page on him in


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