Robert Lowell

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Lowell, Robert

(Robert Traill Spence Lowell 4th), 1917–77, American poet and translator, widely considered the preeminent American poet of the mid-20th cent., b. Boston, grad. Kenyon College (B.A., 1940). A grandnephew of James Russell LowellLowell, James Russell,
1819–91, American poet, critic, and editor, b. Cambridge, Mass. He was influential in revitalizing the intellectual life of New England in the mid-19th cent. Educated at Harvard (B.A., 1838; LL.B., 1840), he abandoned law for literature.
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, he converted to Roman Catholicism and married the writer Jean StaffordStafford, Jean,
1915–79, American writer, b. Covina, Calif., grad. Univ. of Colorado, 1936. Her literary reputation rests primarily on her exquisitely wrought short stories.
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 in 1940. During World War II he served a jail sentence as a conscientious objector. He taught at Boston Univ. and at Harvard. His second wife was (1949–72) the novelist and critic Elizabeth HardwickHardwick, Elizabeth,
1916–2007, American literary critic, novelist, and short-story writer, b. Lexington, Ky.; grad Univ. of Kentucky (B.A., 1938; M.A., 1939). She moved (1939) to New York City, where she studied at Columbia and soon became a member of a circle of
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, whom he left (1970) for an English aristocrat. His use, without permission, of words from Hardwick's letters about the situation in the poems in The Dolphin (1973) caused a literary scandal.

Lowell's poetry is individualistic and intense, rich in symbolism and marked by great technical skill. His later work indicates a philosophic acceptance of life and the world. His Life Studies (1959) is a frank and highly autobiographical volume in verse and prose, one of the first and most influential works of what is widely called "confessional" poetry. Lowell often used his life as raw material for his verse, writing, for instance, of his family, his relationships with his wives, and his frequent bouts of depression and madness, the results of a severe bipolar disorder. Among his other poetry collections are Lord Weary's Castle (1946; Pulitzer Prize), For the Union Dead (1964), Near the Ocean (1967), Notebook: Nineteen Sixty-Seven to Nineteen Sixty-Eight (1969), The Dolphin (1973; Pulitzer Prize), Day by Day (1977), and Last Poems (1977). His translations include Racine's Phèdre (1969), Aeschylus' Prometheus Bound (1969), and miscellaneous European verse, collected as Imitations (1961). His dramatic adaptation of Melville's story "Benito Cereno" is part of Lowell's trilogy of plays, The Old Glory (1968).


See his collected poems ed. by F. Bidart and D. Gewanter (2003) and collected prose ed. by R. Giroux (1987); J. Meyers, ed., Robert Lowell: Interviews and Memoirs (1988); his letters ed. by S. Hamilton (2005), his correspondence with Elizabeth BishopBishop, Elizabeth,
1911–79, American poet, b. Worcester, Mass., grad. Vassar, 1934. During the 1950s and 60s she lived in Brazil, eventually returning to her native New England, where she taught at Harvard (1970–77).
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 ed. by T. Travisano and S. Hamilton (2008), and The Dolphin Letters ed. by S. Hamilton (2019); biographies by I. Hamilton (1982), P. Mariani (1994), R. Tillinghast (1995), and S. P. Stuart (1998); studies by M. Perloff (1973), J. Crick (1974), J. Price, ed. (1974), S. Yenser (1975), S. G. Axelrod (1978), B. Raffel (1981), M. Rudman (1983), N. Procopiow (1984), J. Meyers (1985), S. G. Axelrod, ed. (1986 with H. Deese and 1999), H. Bloom, ed. (1987), K. Wallingford (1988), W. Doreski (1999), and K. R. Jamison (2017).

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Lowell, Robert (Traill Spence, Jr.)

(1917–77) poet; born in Boston, Mass. He studied at Harvard (1935–37), and Kenyon College, Ohio (B.A. 1940). A conscientious objector in World War II, he served a prison sentence (1943–44). He taught at many institutions, was Consultant in Poetry, Library of Congress (1947–48), and wrote several plays and translations. A troubled man and brilliant poet, he combined his two beings in launching the so-called confessional school of poetry, and has been honored for his disquieting works, as in Notebook 1967–1968 (1969; augmented 1970).
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.