Friday, April 18, 2008

Derek Walcott & Robert Lowell

A quick Friday lunchtime post - ran across two poems today in separate sources that came together nicely. The first is Robert Lowell's The Public Garden, a meticulous poem, with finely detailed descriptions. Right smack in the middle, the following leapt out:

"And now the moon, earth's friend, that cared so much
For us, and cared so little, comes again -
Always a stranger!"

Now I generally hate personification in a poem, anthropromophizing in a Disneyesque way, so as I hit the end of the first line (fyi - it's in the middle of the poem), I was unimpressed to the point of putting the book aside and, then, boom, line two somehow straightens it all out and here is a little Eastern-like gem of wisdom that makes me thing of Basho.

How's that for a turnaround?

Here's an audio clip of Lowell reading The Public Garden and here's the text of the poem.

And then, via a blog feed, I ran into Derek Walcott's In Italy, published in the recent New Yorker, that, if anything, is even more precise than Lowell's fine delineation of autumn in a city park. Although there is no Eastern feel, the imagery and beauty share a kinship with Lowell's fine poem. Also, I was reminded of James Wright's beautiful poems of his experience of Italy.

Just one of those synchronistic seques of the mind (in time) that was too good not to share.



Anonymous said...

Dear Don:

I appreciate the many interesting postings of late.

Thanks for the reference to one of my favorite poets, Robert Lowell. I'm not sure if he is read much these days. I remember reading about the Irish poet Seamus Heaney's great interest in Lowell, particularly in his younger days. I suspect Heaney is attracted to Lowell's rather weighted lines. The book I continually return to is "Lord Weary's Castle", which won the Pulitzer Prize when Lowell was I believe twenty-eight years of age. Incredible. I generally find Lowell's work uneven, however; the slightest of criticisms I can muster. His best work is incredibly moving, yet there seems to be a bit of rather pedestrian poetry, in my view. He had a prolific life of writing. "The Quaker Graveyard In Nantucket" is astounding, both to read and to listen to. "Mr. Edwards And The Spider", which you have referenced, is also from the early collection. Ian Hamilton's biography of Lowell is superb.

Very Best Regards,


Issa's Untidy Hut said...


Many thanks for the note and thoughts. It's been awhile since I've read any Lowell. I've grabbed Life Studies for a look see. If it works for me, I'll move on to Lord Weary's Castle.

I think your observations about Lowell's work applies to all poets, really. Beyond a well chosen selected poems, what single volumes of poetry can stand up, poem by poem, all the way through (oh, Father Walt)? It's my feeling that, for the average poet, if there are 3 or 4 poems in collection that a reader wishes to return to, is drawn back to the volume over the years, than that might be seen as a sign of greatness. Surely Lowell, with most of the better poets, has more of those types of poems per volume than the average.

That's what I hope to find.

Going back and reading both poems, I'm struck now by the difference between the Walcott and Lowell poems. There is Lowell's true mastery of free verse and Walcott's more measured, largely rhymed approach. I didn't notice the approach of either poet in my first readings: surely a mark of excellent poetry in both cases.

I'd love to hear from folks about single volumes of poetry that they feel are consistently great all the way through. Maybe I'll make it a subject of a post and see if any other folks are actually reading here.