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New York Sun


Life Studies and For the Union Dead by Robert Lowell

Reconsiderations: "Life Studies"

A review by Adam Kirsh

Even before Robert Lowell published Life Studies, his masterpiece, in 1959, he was widely regarded as the best American poet of his generation. But for most of the 1950s he was also completely blocked, managing to write, as he later recalled, just "five messy poems in five years." The problem was not that Lowell had failed to master his chosen style -- the symbol-studded, ambiguity-laden, highly artificial style of American modernism, as he had learned it from poets such as Allen Tate, his first literary mentor. On the contrary, Lowell had mastered that style so completely that he had exhausted its possibilities. In his debut volume, the Pulitzer Prize-winning Lord Weary's Castle (1946), his combination of relentless rhythmic force and apocalyptic moral vision had issued in poems worthy of comparison with Milton, such as "The Quaker Graveyard at Nantucket":

When the whale's viscera go and the rollLord Weary's Castle, Lowell found himself increasingly unsatisfied with...

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The Slaves' War: The Civil War in the Words of Former Slaves by Andrew Ward

"It was God's blessing to the black peoples to come out from bondage, to belong only to their selves and God, to read about what's going on in the world and write and figure for theirselves." So said Louis Meadows, a former slave from Georgia who is the last of many hundreds of African-Americans...

The Rest Is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century by Alex Ross

The poet Philip Larkin, who grew up in England loving the American jazz of the 1930s and 1940s, wrote a newspaper column about jazz for many years. Eventually, however, around the time Charlie Parker replaced Louis Armstrong as the presiding god of jazz, Larkin began to loathe the new records he...

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