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Frank Bidart and David Gewanter have compiled the definitive edition of Robert Lowell's work, from his first, impossible-to-find collection, Land of Unlikeness; to the early triumph of Lord Weary's Castle, winner of the 1946 Pulitzer Prize; to the brilliant willfulness of his versions of poems by Sappho, Baudelaire, Rilke, Montale, and other masters in Imitations; to the late spontaneity of The Dolphin, winner of another Pulitzer Prize; to his last, most searching book, Day by Day. This volume also includes poems and translations never previously collected, and a selection of drafts that demonstrate the poet's constant drive to reimagine his work. Collected Poems at last offers readers the opportunity to take in, in its entirety, one of the great careers in twentieth-century poetry.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780374530327
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Publication date: 04/03/2007
Edition description: First Edition
Pages: 1216
Sales rank: 824,793
Product dimensions: 6.05(w) x 9.16(h) x 2.20(d)

About the Author

Robert Lowell (1917–77) was the renowned and controversial author of many books of poetry, including Day by Day (FSG, 1977), For the Union Dead (FSG, 1964), and Life Studies (FSG, 1959).

Read an Excerpt

Collected Poems

By Robert Lowell

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Copyright © 2003 Harriet Lowell and Sheridan Lowell
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0374126178

Chapter One

Lord Weary's Castle



The Exile's Return There mounts in squalls a sort of rusty mire, Not ice, not snow, to leaguer the Hôtel De Ville, where braced pig-iron dragons grip The blizzard to their rigor mortis. A bell Grumbles when the reverberations strip The thatching from its spire, The search-guns click and spit and split up timber And nick the slate roofs on the Holstenwall Where torn-up tilestones crown the victor. Fall And winter, spring and summer, guns unlimber And lumber down the narrow gabled street Past your gray, sorry and ancestral house Where the dynamited walnut tree Shadows a squat, old, wind-torn gate and cows The Yankee commandant. You will not see Strutting children or meet The peg-leg and reproachful chancellor With a forget-me-not in his button-hole When the unseasoned liberators roll Into the Market Square, ground arms before The Rathaus; but already lily-stands Burgeon the risen Rhineland, and a rough Cathedral lifts its eye. Pleasant enough, Voi ch'entrate, and your life is in your hands. The Holy Innocents Listen, the hay-bells tinkle as the cart Wavers on rubber tires along the tar And cindered ice below the burlap mill And ale-wife run. The oxen drool and start In wonder at the fenders of a car, And blunder hugely up St. Peter's hill. These are the undefiled by woman-their Sorrow is not the sorrow of this world: King Herod shrieking vengeance at the curled Up knees of Jesus choking in the air, A king of speechless clods and infants. Still The world out-Herods Herod; and the year, The nineteen-hundred forty-fifth of grace, Lumbers with losses up the clinkered hill Of our purgation; and the oxen near The worn foundations of their resting-place, The holy manger where their bed is corn And holly torn for Christmas. If they die, As Jesus, in the harness, who will mourn? Lamb of the shepherds, Child, how still you lie. Colloquy in Black Rock Here the jack-hammer jabs into the ocean; My heart, you race and stagger and demand More blood-gangs for your nigger-brass percussions, Till I, the stunned machine of your devotion, Clanging upon this cymbal of a hand, Am rattled screw and footloose. All discussions End in the mud-flat detritus of death. My heart, beat faster, faster. In Black Mud Hungarian workmen give their blood For the martyre Stephen, who was stoned to death. Black Mud, a name to conjure with: O mud For watermelons gutted to the crust, Mud for the mole-tide harbor, mud for mouse, Mud for the armored Diesel fishing tubs that thud A year and a day to wind and tide; the dust Is on this skipping heart that shakes my house, House of our Savior who was hanged till death. My heart, beat faster, faster. In Black Mud Stephen the martyre was broken down to blood: Our ransom is the rubble of his death. Christ walks on the black water. In Black Mud Darts the kingfisher. On Corpus Christi, heart, Over the drum-beat of St. Stephen's choir I hear him, Stupor Mundi, and the mud Flies from his hunching wings and beak-my heart, The blue kingfisher dives on you in fire. Christmas in Black Rock Christ God's red shadow hangs upon the wall The dead leaf's echo on these hours Whose burden spindles to no breath at all; Hard at our heels the huntress moonlight towers And the green needles bristle at the glass Tiers of defense-plants where the treadmill night Churns up Long Island Sound with piston-fist. Tonight, my child, the lifeless leaves will mass, Heaving and heaping, as the swivelled light Burns on the bell-spar in the fruitless mist. Christ Child, your lips are lean and evergreen Tonight in Black Rock, and the moon Sidles outside into the needle-screen And strikes the hand that feeds you with a spoon Tonight, as drunken Polish night-shifts walk Over the causeway and their juke-box booms Hosannah in excelsis Domino. Tonight, my child, the foot-loose hallows stalk Us down in the blind alleys of our rooms; By the mined root the leaves will overflow. December, old leech, has leafed through Autumn's store Where Poland has unleashed its dogs To bay the moon upon the Black Rock shore: Under our windows, on the rotten logs The moonbeam, bobbing like an apple, snags The undertow. O Christ, the spiralling years Slither with child and manger to a ball Of ice; and what is man? We tear our rags To hang the Furies by their itching ears, And the green needles nail us to the wall. New Year's Day Again and then again ... the year is born To ice and death, and it will never do To skulk behind storm-windows by the stove To hear the postgirl sounding her French horn When the thin tidal ice is wearing through. Here is the understanding not to love Our neighbor, or tomorrow that will sieve Our resolutions. While we live, we live To snuff the smoke of victims. In the snow The kitten heaved its hindlegs, as if fouled, And died. We bent it in a Christmas box And scattered blazing weeds to scare the crow Until the snake-tailed sea-winds coughed and howled For alms outside the church whose double locks Wait for St. Peter, the distorted key. Under St. Peter's bell the parish sea Swells with its smelt into the burlap shack Where Joseph plucks his hand-lines like a harp, And hears the fearful Puer natus est Of Circumcision, and relives the wrack And howls of Jesus whom he holds. How sharp The burden of the Law before the beast: Time and the grindstone and the knife of God. The Child is born in blood, O child of blood. The Quaker Graveyard in Nantucket (FOR WARREN WINSLOW, DEAD AT SEA) Let man have dominion over the fishes of the sea and the fowls of the air and the beasts and the whole earth, and every creeping creature that moveth upon the earth. I. A brackish reach of shoal off Madaket,- The sea was still breaking violently and night Had steamed into our North Atlantic Fleet, When the drowned sailor clutched the drag-net. Light Flashed from his matted head and marble leer, He grappled at the net With the coiled, hurdling muscles of his thighs: The corpse was bloodless, a botch of reds and whites, Its open, staring eyes Were lustreless dead-lights Or cabin-windows on a stranded hulk Heavy with sand. We weight the body, close Its eyes and heave it seaward whence it came, Where the heel-headed dogfish barks its nose On Ahab's void and forehead; and the name Is blocked in yellow chalk. Sailors, who pitch this portent at the sea Where dreadnaughts shall confess Its hell-bent deity, When you are powerless To sand-bag this Atlantic bulwark, faced By the earth-shaker, green, unwearied, chaste In his steel scales: ask for no Orphean lute To pluck life back. The guns of the steeled fleet Recoil and then repeat The hoarse salute. II. Whenever winds are moving and their breath Heaves at the roped-in bulwarks of this pier, The terns and sea-gulls tremble at your death In these home waters. Sailor, can you hear The Pequod's sea wings, beating landward, fall Headlong and break on our Atlantic wall Off 'Sconset, where the yawing S-boats splash The bellbuoy, with ballooning spinnakers, As the entangled, screeching mainsheet clears The blocks: off Madaket, where lubbers lash The heavy surf and throw their long lead squids For blue-fish? Sea-gulls blink their heavy lids Seaward. The winds' wings beat upon the stones, Cousin, and scream for you and the claws rush At the sea's throat and wring it in the slush Of this old Quaker graveyard where the bones Cry out in the long night for the hurt beast Bobbing by Ahab's whaleboats in the East. III. All you recovered from Poseidon died With you, my cousin, and the harrowed brine Is fruitless on the blue beard of the god, Stretching beyond us to the castles in Spain, Nantucket's westward haven. To Cape Cod Guns, cradled on the tide, Blast the eelgrass about a waterclock Of bilge and backwash, roil the salt and sand Lashing earth's scaffold, rock Our warships in the hand Of the great God, where time's contrition blues Whatever it was these Quaker sailors lost In the mad scramble of their lives. They died When time was open-eyed, Wooden and childish; only bones abide There, in the nowhere, where their boats were tossed Sky-high, where mariners had fabled news Of IS, the whited monster. What it cost Them is their secret. In the sperm-whale's slick I see the Quakers drown and hear their cry: "If God himself had not been on our side, If God himself had not been on our side, When the Atlantic rose against us, why, Then it had swallowed us up quick." IV. This is the end of the whaleroad and the whale Who spewed Nantucket bones on the thrashed swell And stirred the troubled waters to whirlpools To send the Pequod packing off to hell: This is the end of them, three-quarters fools, Snatching at straws to sail Seaward and seaward on the turntail whale, Spouting out blood and water as it rolls, Sick as a dog to these Atlantic shoals: Clamavimus, 0 depths. Let the sea-gulls wail For water, for the deep where the high tide Mutters to its hurt self, mutters and ebbs. Waves wallow in their wash, go out and out, Leave only the death-rattle of the crabs, The beach increasing, its enormous snout Sucking the ocean's side. This is the end of running on the waves; We are poured out like water. Who will dance The mast-lashed master of Leviathans Up from this field of Quakers in their unstoned graves? V. When the whale's viscera go and the roll Of its corruption overruns this world Beyond tree-swept Nantucket and Woods Hole And Martha's Vineyard, Sailor, will your sword Whistle and fall and sink into the fat? In the great ash-pit of Jehoshaphat The bones cry for the blood of the white whale, The fat flukes arch and whack about its ears, The death-lance churns into the sanctuary, tears The gun-blue swingle, heaving like a flail, And hacks the coiling life out: it works and drags And rips the sperm-whale's midriff into rags, Gobbets of blubber spill to wind and weather, Sailor, and gulls go round the stoven timbers Where the morning stars sing out together And thunder shakes the white surf and dismembers The red flag hammered in the mast-head. Hide Our steel, Jonas Messias, in Thy side. VI. OUR LADY OF WALSINGHAM There once the penitents took off their shoes And then walked barefoot the remaining mile; And the small trees, a stream and hedgerows file Slowly along the munching English lane, Like cows to the old shrine, until you lose Track of your dragging pain. The stream flows down under the druid tree, Shiloah's whirlpools gurgle and make glad The castle of God. Sailor, you were glad And whistled Sion by that stream. But see: Our Lady, too small for her canopy, Sits near the altar. There's no comeliness At all or charm in that expressionless Face with its heavy eyelids. As before, This face, for centuries a memory, Non est species, neque decor, Expressionless, expresses God: it goes Past castled Sion. She knows what God knows, Not Calvary's Cross nor crib at Bethlehem Now, and the world shall come to Walsingham. VII. The empty winds are creaking and the oak Splatters and splatters on the cenotaph, The boughs are trembling and a gaff Bobs on the untimely stroke Of the greased wash exploding on a shoal-bell In the old mouth of the Atlantic. It's well; Atlantic, you are fouled with the blue sailors, Sea-monsters, upward angel, downward fish: Unmarried and corroding, spare of flesh Mart once of supercilious, wing'd clippers, Atlantic, where your bell-trap guts its spoil You could cut the brackish winds with a knife Here in Nantucket, and cast up the time When the Lord God formed man from the sea's slime And breathed into his face the breath of life, And blue-lung'd combers lumbered to the kill. The Lord survives the rainbow of His will. The First Sunday in Lent I. IN THE ATTIC The crooked family chestnut sighs, for March, Time's fool, is storming up and down the town; The gray snow squelches and the well-born stamp From sermons in a scolded, sober mob That wears away the Sabbath with a frown, A world below my window. What will clamp The weak-kneed roots together when the damp Aches like a conscience, and they grope to rob The hero under his triumphal arch? This is the fifth floor attic where I hid My stolen agates and the cannister Preserved from Bunker Hill-feathers and guns, Matchlock and flintlock and percussion-cap; Gettysburg etched upon the cylinder Of Father's Colt. A Lüger of a Hun, Once blue as Satan, breaks Napoleon, My china pitcher. Cartridge boxes trap A chipmunk on the saber where they slid. On Troy's last day, alas, the populous Shrines held carnival, and girls and boys Flung garlands to the wooden horse; so we Burrow into the lion's mouth to die. Lord, from the lust and dust thy will destroys Raise an unblemished Adam who will see The limbs of the tormented chestnut tree Tingle, and hear the March-winds lift and cry: "The Lord of Hosts will overshadow us." II. THE FERRIS WHEEL This world, this ferris wheel, is tired and strains Its townsman's humorous and bulging eye, As he ascends and lurches from his seat And dangles by a shoe-string overhead To tell the racing world that it must die. Who can remember what his father said? The little wheel is turning on the great In the white water of Christ's blood. The red Eagle of Ares swings along the lanes Of camp-stools where the many watch the sky: The townsman hangs, the eagle swings. It stoops And lifts the ferris wheel into the tent Pitched for the devil. But the man works loose, He drags and zigzags through the circus hoops, And lion-taming Satan bows and loops His cracking tail into a hangman's noose; He is the only happy man in Lent. He laughs into my face until I cry.


Excerpted from Collected Poems by Robert Lowell Copyright © 2003 by Harriet Lowell and Sheridan Lowell
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Table of Contents

Introduction: "You Didn't Write, You Rewrote"vii
A Note on the Textxvii
Lord Weary's Castle (1946)3
The Mills of the Kavanaughs (1951)71
Life Studies (1959)109
Imitations (1961)193
For the Union Dead (1964)317
Near the Ocean (1967)379
History (1973)419
For Lizzie and Harriet (1973)605
The Dolphin (1973)643
Day by Day (1977)709
Last Poems (1977)849
ILand of Unlikeness (1944)857
IIAkhmatova and Mandelstam895
IIIMagazine Versions925
IVTwo Sequences from Notebook939
VUncollected Poems951
VIPoems in Manuscript965
VII"After Enjoying Six or Seven Essays on Me"989
Afterword: "On 'Confessional' Poetry"995
Selected Bibliography1169
Index of Titles1173

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