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 Lowell, he converted to Roman Catholicism and married the writer Jean Stafford 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 Hardwick, 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 Bishop 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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