According to Steven Axelrod, Lowell's work ""centered around his quest for the craft and inspiration to bring even more experience into his art, and his related quest to account for the place art makes in experience."" Fair enough. Upon these related sawhorses Axelrod rests his book: chapter by chapter, half biography, half exegesis. Lowell's ""Emersonian esthetic""--the individual in the world--and his freely admitted influences are well covered, along with a good many of the sometimes confusing political expeditions that the poet was forever making. But what's ultimately striking is how relatively neutral and unexcited Axelrod stays, vis-Ã -vis his subject. He does lavish attention on books like Near the Ocean that have been critically downplayed by others, but how he feels about Lowell's art, judgmentally, we're never quite sure. Standard academic references to Sartre, Camus, and Buber's I-Thou theory seem like buffers against definite opinion; rarely does Axelrod work up an intellectual sweat. Lowell tried very hard--the least his critics and explicators might do is approach that level of felt labor. Students, however, will find the book prosaically useful.