Saturday, March 03, 2007


I've been reading Amy Lowell's most famous biography lately (by S. Foster Damon). It's fascinating. It's so interspersed with excerpts from her letters that it's almost as if Amy is telling the story herself. I've been thinking a lot about Lowell's intense sense of place and how her home permeated so much of her work. Lowell grew up in a house named Sevenels, just outside of Boston, then stayed in the home (after renovating it) after her parents died. So, her sense of place was deeply rooted. Her childhood, her adulthood, were both intertwined and lay rooted in the soil of her family home.

She had a unique way of taking anything she learned about - but especially the classics - and planting it in Boston. She was never formally educated in the classics. But she read them voraciously throughout her life. Perhaps her lack of formal education, the fact that she came across these poets eye-to-eye as a poet, made her feel more comfortable renovating their themes and motifs into the new, modern landscape of America. She called Sappho "a burning birch tree" and replaced Arcadian meadows with the flora and fauna of the sunken garden of her estate in Boston. I think this aspect makes her a very American poet. And I think that the audacity of her poems (paired with the sheer honesty and confessional quality of them) was greatly influential on the writers in the generation that would follow her.

I think one of the loveliest versions of Lowell's Boston-Grecian themes is found in ΔΙΨΑ (Thirst) from A Dome of Many-Coloured Glass (1912):

Look, Dear, how bright the moonlight is to-night!
See where it casts the shadow of that tree
Far out upon the grass. And every gust
Of light night wind comes laden with the scent
Of opening flowers which never bloom by day:
Night-scented stocks, and four-o'clocks, and that
Pale yellow disk, upreared on its tall stalk,
The evening primrose, comrade of the stars.
It seems as though the garden which you love
Were like a swinging censer, its incense
Floating before us as a reverent act
To sanctify and bless our night of love.
Tell me once more you love me, that 't is you
Yes, really you, I touch, so, with my hand;
And tell me it is by your own free will
That you are here, and that you like to be
Just here, with me, under this sailing pine...