Thursday, March 02, 2006

Robert Lowell, Richard Wilbur

They both had birthdays yesterday; Lowell was born in 1917, and Wilbur in 1920.

Here's a Richard Wilbur poem, his most famous. People like Robert Bly thought he was an uptight, form-focused old fogey, but people like Robert Bly are partly responsible for the nineties mania for drum circles.

Love Calls Us To The Things Of This World

The eyes open to a cry of pulleys,
And spirited from sleep, the astounded
Hangs for a moment bodiless and
As false dawn.
Outside the open window
The morning air is all awash with

Some are in bed-sheets, some are
in blouses,
Some are in smocks: but truly there
they are.
Now they are rising together in calm
Of halcyon feeling, filling whatever they
With the deep joy of their impersonal

Now they are flying in place,
The terrible speed of their
omnipresence, moving
And staying like white water; and now
of a sudden
They swoon down in so rapt a quiet
That nobody seems to be there.
The soul shrinks

From all that it is about to remember,
From the punctual rape of every
blessed day,
And cries,
"Oh, let there be nothing on
earth but laundry,
Nothing but rosy hands in the rising
And clear dances done in the sight of

Yet, as the sun acknowledges
With a warm look the world's hunks
and colors,
The soul descends once more in bitter
To accept the waking body, saying now
In a changed voice as the man yawns
and rises,

"Bring them down from their ruddy
Let there be clean linen for the backs
of thieves;
Let lovers go fresh and sweet to be
And the heaviest nuns walk in a pure
Of dark habits,
keeping their difficult

A couple months ago I asked a former professor friend what else I should look into of Robert Lowell's besides Life Studies and The Union Dead--should I read Lord Weary's Castle, which won him a Pulitzer? "Lord, no. It's not even written in English!" he said, laughing. So I didn't. And that, my friends, partly explains why I'm not a Yale grad. Then he added, because my professor friend loves poems and loves stories, "But you might want to look up those poems he wrote about Caroline Blackwood and Elizabeth Hardwick." On it! I also recently learned that Flannery O'Connor fell hard for Lowell during a period in which he was aflame with Catholic feeling--courtesy of Paul Elie's The Life You Save May Be Your Own. The thought amused me--no-nonsense, bespectacled, plainspeaking O'Connor, the torrential raving of Lowell, weighted by his brain and breeding. What must that have been like?

Here's a poem from For the Union Dead, in honor of New York and slush.

Middle Age

Now the midwinter grind
is on me, New York
drills through my nerves,
as I walk
the chewed-up streets.

At forty-five,
what next, what next?
At every corner,
I meet my Father,
my age, still alive.

Father forgive me
my injuries,
as I forgive
those I
have injured!

You never climbed
Mount Sion, yet left
death-steps on the crust,
where I must walk.