Robert Lowell

From Notebook


The following piece by American poet Robert Lowell was first published in the November 1970 issue of The London Magazine, edited by Alan Ross. A hugely influential figure in American poetry, Lowell’s Life Studies won the National Book Award in 1960. He was also the recipient of the Pulizter Prize for Poetry in 1947 and 1974.


By miracle, I left the party half
an hour behind you, reached home five hours drunker….
To live a million years, and a million years
longer than the gods on Olympus or Jutland
would be too short to polish up this tarnish.
The gods, employed to haunt and punish husbands,
have no eye for trigger-fine distinctions;
their myopia makes all error mortal.
My Darling, prickly hedgehog of the hearth,
chocolates, cherries, hairshirt, pinks and glass­-
when we drank in the first blindness of courtship,
loving lost half its vice with all its virtue.
Who wants a second life and two more wives?
Cards will never be dealt us fairly again.


In his dark day, Dante made the mistake of treating
politics as if it belonged to life,
not ideology. In Purgatory,
the poor souls eclipse the black and white of God.
Likeness to exile warms the sun in Hell-
the man running for his life never tires:
Ser Brunetto, running like one of those

who ran for the green cloth through the green fields
at Verona, looks like the one who won
the roll of cloth, not like those who lose…. 
All comes from a girl met at the wrong time:
God and her Jove that called him forth to exile
in midwintertime cold and lengthening days,
when the brief field frost mimics her sister, snow.

(May 5, 1970)

The cattle has stopped in the Godstow meadow,
a peacock wheels his tail to move the heat,
then pivots, changing to a wicker chair,
tiara of thistle on his shitty bobtail.
It’s the feathery May and England, but the heat
is American summer. Two weeks use up three months;
at home, the colleges are closed for summer,
the students march…Brassman lances Cambodia,
he has lost his pen, the sword folds in his hand like felt-
Is truth here with you, if I sleep well,
Bystander? The peacock spins, the Revolution
hasn’t involved us…a heat that moves
air so estranged and hot I might be home….
We have climbed above the wind to breathe.


I Eight Months Later
It’s certain we burned the grass, the grass is burning:

the dismal stones of the field make off for the pond;
safe in the muddy water, they change to ducks
in brown fatigues, eight ducks without a drake-
if we lose the war eight women without a man….
The cement mixer sings like a choir of locusts. 
The worst of Manhattan is everything is stacked:
ten buildings dancing in the hat of one,
here a rugged one-family 1890’s château- 
one family? This would house all the first Mormons,
their droit de seigneur. One tower would tent Mohammed,
another Abraham. We wish we were elsewhere:
Mexico . . . Mexico? Where is Mexico?
Who will live this year back, cat on the ladder?

2 Die Gold-Orangen
We see the country where the lemon blossoms,

and the pig-gold orange glows on its dark branch,
and the south wind stutters from the blue hustings;
the bluebell is brown, the cypress points too straight-
­ we see it; its behind us, love, behind us.
Do you see the house, the roof on marble pillars?
The sideboard silvers, and the arbors blaze;
the statue stands naked to stare at you.
What have I done with us, and what was done?
And the mountain, El Volcan, the climb of clouds?
The mule-man lost his footing in the clouds,
seed of the dragon coupled in the caves….
The cliff drops; over it, the water drops,
and steams away the marks that led us on.

3 Volveran
The dark swallows will doubtless come back here killing
the injudicious nightflies with a clack of the beak;
but these that stopped in flight to see your beauty
and my good fortune…as if they knew our names­-
they’ll not come back. The thick lemony honeysuckle,
climbing from its earthroot to your window,
will open more beautiful blossoms to the evening;
but these…dewdrops, trembling, shining, falling,
the tears of the day – they’ll not come back.
Yet love will sound its fireword to you, and
wake your heart, perhaps, from its deep sleep;
but silent, absorbed, and on their knees,
as men adore God at the altar, as I love you­-
don’t be deceived, you will not be loved like that.

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