I am so at home in Dublin, more than any other city, that I feel it has always been familiar to me. It took me years to see through its soft charm to its bitter prickly kernel - which I quite like too.

Home Uncategorized The Struggles of Old Zeus

The Struggles of Old Zeus

Gerald Dawe
The Dolphin Letters 1970-1979: Elizabeth Hardwick, Richard Lowell and Their Circle, Saskia Hamilton (ed), Faber and Faber, 504 pp, £35, ISBN: 978-0571357413 The Dolphin: Two Versions, 1972-1973, by Robert Lowell, edited by Saskia Hamilton, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 195 pp, $18, ISBN: 978-0374538279 Robert Lowell’s Collected Poems, published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux in hardback in 2003 and four years later in paperback, weighs in at a mighty – some might say, exorbitant – one thousand, one hundred and eight-six pages. That’s 1,186, including appendices, essays, several of Lowell’s self-reflections on his own work and on “confessional” poetry, plus notes, glossary, chronology, bibliography, acknowledgements and an index of titles. It is an amazing body of work, edited by Frank Bidart and David Gewanter, fronted by a meditative photographic portrait (by Alfred Eisenstaedt for Life magazine). The poet is in a sleeveless jumper, white shirt and woollen tie, neat, focused and watchful. He could well be a convinced church warden but for the somewhat knowing look and unforced (almost shy) smile of recognition: Here I Am. Lowell, who died at the relatively young age of sixty in 1977, had spent his entire adult life with poetry in mind. It was an obsession beyond any other in his world. The early volumes he produced, from Land of Unlikeness in 1944, Lord Weary’s Castle (1946) and The Mills of the Kavanaughs (1951) could hardly have prepared his American readership for what would come breaking through the Miltonic arsenal of sound and fury of these highly orchestrated collections. Life Studies (1959) changed his line of direction and propelled him in subsequent volumes such as For the Union Dead (1964) and Near the Ocean (1967) into a personal landscape which would reshape poetry in the English language in the second half of the twentieth century. Along the way, driven by bouts of mania and drugs and alcohol dependency, Lowell’s precarious mental health suffered and he experienced repeated hospitalisations. With the unceasing support of family and friends he managed to survive many of these episodes but the physical toll was ultimately too much and his life ended, after a massive stroke, in a New York taxi. He was on his way to reunite with his second wife, the wonderful writer Elizabeth Hardwick (his first wife, Jean Stafford, was also a writer), having borne the chaos of his relatively brief relationship with the Anglo-Irish writer Caroline Blackwood. He had two children – with Elizabeth, Harriet who was born on 1957 and with Caroline, Sheridan,…

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