LOST PURITAN: A Life of Robert Lowell by Paul Mariani

LOST PURITAN: A Life of Robert Lowell

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A generously sympathetic and artistically astute account of one poet by another, the author also of a biography of John Berryman (Dreamsong, 1990). Openly building on Ian Hamilton's 1982 biography of Lowell, Mariani has been able to draw on newly available sources: his own interviews and Lowell's correspondences with, among others, Elizabeth Bishop, George Santayana, Mary McCarthy, Adrienne Rich, and Randall Jarrell. The saga of Lowell and his friends, wives, and lovers (with their addictions, breakdowns, early deaths, and driving accidents) seems scripted for a sudsy TV movie, but Mariani conveys both ""the hugeness and the frailty"" of Lowell: An unwanted child and school bully, he became a precocious poet-historian; his initial literary allegiances to Eliot and Allen Tate later made room for a poetics of greater ""lived experience"" inspired by William Carlos Williams; from ambitious attempts at ""prophecy and myth"" he moved to an appreciation of ""the more humble fragments of the quotidian."" Uncannily strong, Lowell was nicknamed ""Cal"" for Caliban and/or Caligula. The combination of strength and psychosis led to some problems, for Lowell's lyrical and rhetorical violence could turn physical, as it did the time he decided ""it would be good fun"" to steal tickets from a movie theater. ""The police were called, and once more, feeling cornered, Lowell took on the arresting police officer and beat him up."" Lowell was descended from the great preacher Jonathan Edwards, and Mariani sees Lowell as very much in the lineage of a stern, passionate, torn Puritan idealism. Yet through expert (if interpretively familiar) analyses of major poems and quotations of Lowell's brilliant, often wry critical judgments, Mariani argues for the pertinence of Lowell's themes, eloquently defined here as ""our destructive self-interest, our racial fears and self-delusions, our murderous innocence."" A welcome volume about a Rabelaisian monster of a man and a poet, made timelier by the recent publication of Elizabeth Bishop's letters.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1994
ISBN: 0393313743
Page count: 704pp
Publisher: Norton