OR THE UNION DEAD by Robert Lowell


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Lowell's new collection, containing almost all the poems he has been publishing in magazines over the last five years, appears stylistically to be a continuation and extension, in his own idiom, of the amazing Imitations from European poets he recently gave us, with Rimbaud, Montale and Pasternak as strongest influences. These poems are primarily post-crisis pieces, meddle-aged reflections ranging in theme from the New England past to the terrors or tendernesses of the present. A quarter of them rest with his best, especially the title-poem, 'Alps' (the restored Kenyon version), 'Caligula,' 'Edwards,' and `Soft Wood.' Lowell's rhythmic structures, jagged rhymes, his combinations of both prosaic and ""perverse"" imagery, his deepening austerity and at the same time unremitting candor, produce lines of a savaging sadness, startlingly responsive even at the simplest level: ""Nothing! no oil/for the eye, nothing to pour/on those waters or flames/I am tired. Everyone's tired of my turmoil,"" as well as disturbingly delicate, as in 'Child's Song'. He is the most important poet America has produced since Eliot's generation, and the most adventurous. Though the new work is clearly transitional, lacking the eleventh hour intensity of Lord Weary's Castle and the collective pathos of the autobiographical Life Studies, and is sometimes drenched in self-paredy, suggesting one of his own imitators, the sedulous Frederick Seidel, nevertheless his attempts here at increasing self-definition, at a developmental breakthrough augur so well that eventually to speak of his worth in terms of a Nobel Prize will surely be a commonplace.

Pub Date: Oct. 5th, 1964
Publisher: Farrar. Straus & Co.