CIRCLE TO CIRCLE: The Poetry of Robert Lowell by Stephen Yenser

CIRCLE TO CIRCLE: The Poetry of Robert Lowell

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Circle to Circle is a comprehensive, if complicated, study-of Robert Lowell's poetic imagination and the development of ""a form of continuity"" linking one work to the next. The title, and Professor Yenser's main text, seem to come from Hegel: ""The true is its own becoming, the circle that presupposes its end as its aim and thus has it for its beginning--that which is actual only through its execution and end."" Thus the typical Lowell poem is analyzed here as a series of ""mutually qualifying analogies,"" a dynamic structure whose action, in other words, constitutes its meaning. Lowell is preeminently a dramatic poet. He lacks Roethke's lyricism, Berryman's dissonant humor. We go to Lowell, as we go to Eliot, for the testing of experience, the awareness of historical or cultural events set against the closure of the self. It is this conflict between the public and the private realms which creates the drama of Lowell's world--though not necessarily any particular resolution. For unlike Eliot, this poet has yet to achieve an ""objective correlative"" to embody his subjective tensions. Eliot mirrors the age, Lowell records a fragmented consciousness. But what Lowell is wonderfully good at, as Randall Jarrell says, is ""discovering powerful, homely, grotesque, but exactly appropriate"" images for his jagged scenes, a method he himself characterizes as ""a situation in which the several items can lend each other context, reference, and resonance."" Yenser gives as close a reading of Lowell's differing styles and beliefs as is possible. He is especially apt at elucidating the difficult early book, Land of Unlikeliness, and the brilliant free translations that make up Imitations. The emphasis throughout on Lowell's cumulative effect, however, is perhaps more generous than deserved.

Pub Date: Dec. 1st, 1975
Publisher: Univ. of California Press