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Best Famous Robert Lowell Poems

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Written by Robert Lowell | Create an image from this poem

Eye and Tooth

My whole eye was sunset red,
the old cut cornea throbbed,
I saw things darkly,
as through an unwashed goldfish globe.
I lay all day on my bed.
I chain-smoked through the night, learning to flinch at the flash of the matchlight.
Outside, the summer rain, a simmer of rot and renewal, fell in pinpricks.
Even new life is fuel.
My eyes throb.
Nothing can dislodge the house with my first tooth noosed in a knot to the doorknob.
Nothing can dislodge the triangular blotch of rot on the red roof, a cedar hedge, or the shade of a hedge.
No ease from the eye of the sharp-shinned hawk in the birdbook there, with reddish-brown buffalo hair on its shanks, one asectic talon clasping the abstract imperial sky.
It says: an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.
No ease for the boy at the keyhole, his telescope, when the women's white bodies flashed in the bathroom.
Young, my eyes began to fail.
Nothing! No oil for the eye, nothing to pour on those waters or flames.
I am tired.
Everyone's tired of my turmoil.
Written by Robert Lowell | Create an image from this poem

Waking in the Blue

 The night attendant, a B.
U.
sophomore, rouses from the mare's-nest of his drowsy head propped on The Meaning of Meaning.
He catwalks down our corridor.
Azure day makes my agonized blue window bleaker.
Crows maunder on the petrified fairway.
Absence! My hearts grows tense as though a harpoon were sparring for the kill.
(This is the house for the "mentally ill.
") What use is my sense of humour? I grin at Stanley, now sunk in his sixties, once a Harvard all-American fullback, (if such were possible!) still hoarding the build of a boy in his twenties, as he soaks, a ramrod with a muscle of a seal in his long tub, vaguely urinous from the Victorian plumbing.
A kingly granite profile in a crimson gold-cap, worn all day, all night, he thinks only of his figure, of slimming on sherbert and ginger ale-- more cut off from words than a seal.
This is the way day breaks in Bowditch Hall at McLean's; the hooded night lights bring out "Bobbie," Porcellian '29, a replica of Louis XVI without the wig-- redolent and roly-poly as a sperm whale, as he swashbuckles about in his birthday suit and horses at chairs.
These victorious figures of bravado ossified young.
In between the limits of day, hours and hours go by under the crew haircuts and slightly too little nonsensical bachelor twinkle of the Roman Catholic attendants.
(There are no Mayflower screwballs in the Catholic Church.
) After a hearty New England breakfast, I weigh two hundred pounds this morning.
Cock of the walk, I strut in my turtle-necked French sailor's jersey before the metal shaving mirrors, and see the shaky future grow familiar in the pinched, indigenous faces of these thoroughbred mental cases, twice my age and half my weight.
We are all old-timers, each of us holds a locked razor.
Written by Robert Lowell | Create an image from this poem

Homecoming

What was is.
.
.
since 1930; The boys in my old gang are senior partners.
They start up bald like baby birds to embrace retirement.
At the altar of surrender I met you in the hour of credulity.
How your misfortune came our clearly to us at twenty.
At the gingerbread casino how innocent the nights we made it.
on our Vesuvio martinis with no vermouth but vodka to sweeten the dry gin- the lash across my face that night we adored.
.
.
soon every night and all when your sweet amorous repetition changed.
Written by Robert Lowell | Create an image from this poem

Water

 It was a Maine lobster town—
each morning boatloads of hands
pushed off for granite
quarries on the islands,

and left dozens of bleak 
white frame houses stuck
like oyster shells
on a hill of rock,

and below us, the sea lapped
the raw little match-stick 
mazes of a weir,
where the fish for bait were trapped.
Remember? We sat on a slab of rock.
>From this distance in time it seems the color of iris, rotting and turning purpler, but it was only the usual gray rock turning the usual green when drenched by the sea.
The sea drenched the rock at our feet all day, and kept tearing away flake after flake.
One night you dreamed you were a mermaid clinging to a wharf-pile, and trying to pull off the barnacles with your hands.
We wished our two souls might return like gulls to the rock.
In the end, the water was too cold for us.
Written by Robert Lowell | Create an image from this poem

History

History has to live with what was here,
clutching and close to fumbling all we had--
it is so dull and gruesome how we die,
unlike writing, life never finishes.
Abel was finished; death is not remote, a flash-in-the-pan electrifies the skeptic, his cows crowding like skulls against high-voltage wire, his baby crying all night like a new machine.
As in our Bibles, white-faced, predatory, the beautiful, mist-drunken hunter's moon ascends-- a child could give it a face: two holes, two holes, my eyes, my mouth, between them a skull's no-nose-- O there's a terrifying innocence in my face drenched with the silver salvage of the mornfrost
Written by Robert Lowell | Create an image from this poem

Memories of West Street and Lepke

Only teaching on Tuesdays, book-worming
in pajamas fresh from the washer each morning,
I hog a whole house on Boston's 
"hardly passionate Marlborough Street,"
where even the man
scavenging filth in the back alley trash cans,
has two children, a beach wagon, a helpmate,
and is "a young Republican.
" I have a nine months' daughter, young enough to be my granddaughter.
Like the sun she rises in her flame-flamingo infants' wear.
These are the tranquilized Fifties, and I am forty.
Ought I to regret my seedtime? I was a fire-breathing Catholic C.
O.
, and made my manic statement, telling off the state and president, and then sat waiting sentence in the bull pen beside a negro boy with curlicues of marijuana in his hair.
Given a year, I walked on the roof of the West Street Jail, a short enclosure like my school soccer court, and saw the Hudson River once a day through sooty clothesline entanglements and bleaching khaki tenements.
Strolling, I yammered metaphysics with Abramowitz, a jaundice-yellow ("it's really tan") and fly-weight pacifist, so vegetarian, he wore rope shoes and preferred fallen fruit.
He tried to convert Bioff and Brown, the Hollywood pimps, to his diet.
Hairy, muscular, suburban, wearing chocolate double-breasted suits, they blew their tops and beat him black and blue.
I was so out of things, I'd never heard of the Jehovah's Witnesses.
"Are you a C.
O.
?" I asked a fellow jailbird.
"No," he answered, "I'm a J.
W.
" He taught me the "hospital tuck," and pointed out the T-shirted back of Murder Incorporated's Czar Lepke, there piling towels on a rack, or dawdling off to his little segregated cell full of things forbidden to the common man: a portable radio, a dresser, two toy American flags tied together with a ribbon of Easter palm.
Flabby, bald, lobotomized, he drifted in a sheepish calm, where no agonizing reappraisal jarred his concentration on the electric chair hanging like an oasis in his air of lost connections.
.
.
.
Written by Robert Lowell | Create an image from this poem

Dolphin

 My Dolphin, you only guide me by surprise,
a captive as Racine, the man of craft,
drawn through his maze of iron composition
by the incomparable wandering voice of Ph?dre.
When I was troubled in mind, you made for my body caught in its hangman's-knot of sinking lines, the glassy bowing and scraping of my will.
.
.
.
I have sat and listened to too many words of the collaborating muse, and plotted perhaps too freely with my life, not avoiding injury to others, not avoiding injury to myself-- to ask compassion .
.
.
this book, half fiction, an eelnet made by man for the eel fighting my eyes have seen what my hand did.
Written by Robert Lowell | Create an image from this poem

Man and Wife

Tamed by Miltown, we lie on Mother's bed;
the rising sun in war paint dyes us red;
in broad daylight her gilded bed-posts shine,
abandoned, almost Dionysian.
At last the trees are green on Marlborough Street, blossoms on our magnolia ignite the morning with their murderous five days' white.
All night I've held your hand, as if you had a fourth time faced the kingdom of the mad-- its hackneyed speech, its homicidal eye-- and dragged me home alive.
.
.
.
Oh my Petite, clearest of all God's creatures, still all air and nerve: you were in our twenties, and I, once hand on glass and heart in mouth, outdrank the Rahvs in the heat of Greenwich Village, fainting at your feet-- too boiled and shy and poker-faced to make a pass, while the shrill verve of your invective scorched the traditional South.
Now twelve years later, you turn your back.
Sleepless, you hold your pillow to your hollows like a child; your old-fashioned tirade-- loving, rapid, merciless-- breaks like the Atlantic Ocean on my head.
Written by Robert Lowell | Create an image from this poem

To Speak of Woe That Is in Marriage

It is the future generation that presses into being by means of these exuberant feelings and supersensible soap bubbles of ours.
Schopenhauer The hot night makes us keep our bedroom windows open.
Our magnolia blossoms.
Life begins to happen.
My hopped up husband drops his home disputes, and hits the streets to cruise for prostitutes, free-lancing out along the razor's edge.
This screwball might kill his wife, then take the pledge.
Oh the monotonous meanness of his lust.
.
.
It's the injustice.
.
.
he is so unjust- Whiskey-blind, swaggering home at five.
My only thought is how to keep alive.
What makes him trick? Each night now I tie ten dollars and his car key to my thigh.
.
.
Gored by the climacteric of his want, he stalls above me like an elephant.
Written by Robert Lowell | Create an image from this poem

The Withdrawal

 1
Only today and just for this minute,
when the sunslant finds its true angle,
you can see yellow and pinkish leaves spangle
our gentle, fluffy tree—
suddenly the green summer is momentary.
.
.
Autumn is my favorite season— why does it change clothes and withdraw? This week the house went on the market— suddenly I woke up among strangers; when I go into a room, it moves with embarrassment, and joins another room.
I don't need conversation, but you to laugh with— you and a room and a fire, cold starlight blowing through an open window— whither? 2 After sunfall, heaven is melodramatic, a temporary, puckering, burning green.
The patched-up oak and blacker, indelible pines have the indigestible meagerness of spines.
One wishes heaven had less solemnity: a sensual table with five half-filled bottles of red wine set round the hectic carved roast— Bohemia for ourselves and the familiars of a lifetime charmed to communion by resurrection— running together in the rain to mail a single letter, not the chafe and cling of this despondent chaff.
3 Yet for a moment, the children could play truant from their tuition.
4 When I look back, I see a collapsing accordion of my receding houses, and myself receding to a boy of twenty-five or thirty, too shopworn for less, too impressionable for more— blackmaned, illmade in a washed blue workshirt and coalblack trousers, moving from house to house, still seeking a boy's license to see the countryside without arrival.
Hell? Darling, terror in happiness may not cure the hungry future, the time when any illness is chronic, and the years of discretion are spent on complaint— until the wristwatch is taken from the wrist.
Written by Robert Lowell | Create an image from this poem

For the Union Dead

 "Relinquunt Omnia Servare Rem Publicam.
" The old South Boston Aquarium stands in a Sahara of snow now.
Its broken windows are boarded.
The bronze weathervane cod has lost half its scales.
The airy tanks are dry.
Once my nose crawled like a snail on the glass; my hand tingled to burst the bubbles drifting from the noses of the cowed, compliant fish.
My hand draws back.
I often sigh still for the dark downward and vegetating kingdom of the fish and reptile.
One morning last March, I pressed against the new barbed and galvanized fence on the Boston Common.
Behind their cage, yellow dinosaur steamshovels were grunting as they cropped up tons of mush and grass to gouge their underworld garage.
Parking spaces luxuriate like civic sandpiles in the heart of Boston.
A girdle of orange, Puritan-pumpkin colored girders braces the tingling Statehouse, shaking over the excavations, as it faces Colonel Shaw and his bell-cheeked Negro infantry on St.
Gaudens' shaking Civil War relief, propped by a plank splint against the garage's earthquake.
Two months after marching through Boston, half the regiment was dead; at the dedication, William James could almost hear the bronze Negroes breathe.
Their monument sticks like a fishbone in the city's throat.
Its Colonel is as lean as a compass-needle.
He has an angry wrenlike vigilance, a greyhound's gently tautness; he seems to wince at pleasure, and suffocate for privacy.
He is out of bounds now.
He rejoices in man's lovely, peculiar power to choose life and die-- when he leads his black soldiers to death, he cannot bend his back.
On a thousand small town New England greens, the old white churches hold their air of sparse, sincere rebellion; frayed flags quilt the graveyards of the Grand Army of the Republic.
The stone statues of the abstract Union Soldier grow slimmer and younger each year-- wasp-waisted, they doze over muskets and muse through their sideburns .
.
.
Shaw's father wanted no monument except the ditch, where his son's body was thrown and lost with his "niggers.
" The ditch is nearer.
There are no statues for the last war here; on Boylston Street, a commercial photograph shows Hiroshima boiling over a Mosler Safe, the "Rock of Ages" that survived the blast.
Space is nearer.
When I crouch to my television set, the drained faces of Negro school-children rise like balloons.
Colonel Shaw is riding on his bubble, he waits for the bless?d break.
The Aquarium is gone.
Everywhere, giant finned cars nose forward like fish; a savage servility slides by on grease.
Written by Robert Lowell | Create an image from this poem

The Quaker Graveyard in Nantucket

 (For Warren Winslow, Dead At Sea)
 Let man have dominion over the fishes of the sea and
 the fowls of the air and the beasts and the whole earth,
 and every creeping creature that moveth upon the earth.
I A brackish reach of shoal off Madaket-- The sea was still breaking violently and night Had steamed into our North Atlantic Fleet, When the drowned sailor clutched the drag-net.
Light Flashed from his matted head and marble feet, He grappled at the net With the coiled, hurdling muscles of his thighs: The corpse was bloodless, a botch of reds and whites, Its open, staring eyes Were lustreless dead-lights Or cabin-windows on a stranded hulk Heavy with sand.
We weight the body, close Its eyes and heave it seaward whence it came, Where the heel-headed dogfish barks it nose On Ahab's void and forehead; and the name Is blocked in yellow chalk.
Sailors, who pitch this portent at the sea Where dreadnaughts shall confess Its heel-bent deity, When you are powerless To sand-bag this Atlantic bulwark, faced By the earth-shaker, green, unwearied, chaste In his steel scales: ask for no Orphean lute To pluck life back.
The guns of the steeled fleet Recoil and then repeat The hoarse salute.
II Whenever winds are moving and their breath Heaves at the roped-in bulwarks of this pier, The terns and sea-gulls tremble at your death In these home waters.
Sailor, can you hear The Pequod's sea wings, beating landward, fall Headlong and break on our Atlantic wall Off 'Sconset, where the yawing S-boats splash The bellbuoy, with ballooning spinnakers, As the entangled, screeching mainsheet clears The blocks: off Madaket, where lubbers lash The heavy surf and throw their long lead squids For blue-fish? Sea-gulls blink their heavy lids Seaward.
The winds' wings beat upon the stones, Cousin, and scream for you and the claws rush At the sea's throat and wring it in the slush Of this old Quaker graveyard where the bones Cry out in the long night for the hurt beast Bobbing by Ahab's whaleboats in the East.
III All you recovered from Poseidon died With you, my cousin, and the harrowed brine Is fruitless on the blue beard of the god, Stretching beyond us to the castles in Spain, Nantucket's westward haven.
To Cape Cod Guns, cradled on the tide, Blast the eelgrass about a waterclock Of bilge and backwash, roil the salt and sand Lashing earth's scaffold, rock Our warships in the hand Of the great God, where time's contrition blues Whatever it was these Quaker sailors lost In the mad scramble of their lives.
They died When time was open-eyed, Wooden and childish; only bones abide There, in the nowhere, where their boats were tossed Sky-high, where mariners had fabled news Of IS, the whited monster.
What it cost Them is their secret.
In the sperm-whale's slick I see the Quakers drown and hear their cry: "If God himself had not been on our side, If God himself had not been on our side, When the Atlantic rose against us, why, Then it had swallowed us up quick.
" IV This is the end of the whaleroad and the whale Who spewed Nantucket bones on the thrashed swell And stirred the troubled waters to whirlpools To send the Pequod packing off to hell: This is the end of them, three-quarters fools, Snatching at straws to sail Seaward and seaward on the turntail whale, Spouting out blood and water as it rolls, Sick as a dog to these Atlantic shoals: Clamavimus, O depths.
Let the sea-gulls wail For water, for the deep where the high tide Mutters to its hurt self, mutters and ebbs.
Waves wallow in their wash, go out and out, Leave only the death-rattle of the crabs, The beach increasing, its enormous snout Sucking the ocean's side.
This is the end of running on the waves; We are poured out like water.
Who will dance The mast-lashed master of Leviathans Up from this field of Quakers in their unstoned graves? V When the whale's viscera go and the roll Of its corruption overruns this world Beyond tree-swept Nantucket and Wood's Hole And Martha's Vineyard, Sailor, will your sword Whistle and fall and sink into the fat? In the great ash-pit of Jehoshaphat The bones cry for the blood of the white whale, The fat flukes arch and whack about its ears, The death-lance churns into the sanctuary, tears The gun-blue swingle, heaving like a flail, And hacks the coiling life out: it works and drags And rips the sperm-whale's midriff into rags, Gobbets of blubber spill to wind and weather, Sailor, and gulls go round the stoven timbers Where the morning stars sing out together And thunder shakes the white surf and dismembers The red flag hammered in the mast-head.
Hide, Our steel, Jonas Messias, in Thy side.
VI OUR LADY OF WALSINGHAM There once the penitents took off their shoes And then walked barefoot the remaining mile; And the small trees, a stream and hedgerows file Slowly along the munching English lane, Like cows to the old shrine, until you lose Track of your dragging pain.
The stream flows down under the druid tree, Shiloah's whirlpools gurgle and make glad The castle of God.
Sailor, you were glad And whistled Sion by that stream.
But see: Our Lady, too small for her canopy, Sits near the altar.
There's no comeliness at all or charm in that expressionless Face with its heavy eyelids.
As before, This face, for centuries a memory, Non est species, neque decor, Expressionless, expresses God: it goes Past castled Sion.
She knows what God knows, Not Calvary's Cross nor crib at Bethlehem Now, and the world shall come to Walsingham.
VII The empty winds are creaking and the oak splatters and splatters on the cenotaph, The boughs are trembling and a gaff Bobs on the untimely stroke Of the greased wash exploding on a shoal-bell In the old mouth of the Atlantic.
It's well; Atlantic, you are fouled with the blue sailors, sea-monsters, upward angel, downward fish: Unmarried and corroding, spare of flesh Mart once of supercilious, wing'd clippers, Atlantic, where your bell-trap guts its spoil You could cut the brackish winds with a knife Here in Nantucket, and cast up the time When the Lord God formed man from the sea's slime And breathed into his face the breath of life, And blue-lung'd combers lumbered to the kill.
The Lord survives the rainbow of His will.
Written by Robert Lowell | Create an image from this poem

Skunk Hour

(for Elizabeth Bishop)

Nautilus Island's hermit
heiress still lives through winter in her Spartan cottage;
her sheep still graze above the sea.
Her son's a bishop.
Her farmer is first selectman in our village; she's in her dotage.
Thirsting for the hierarchic privacy of Queen Victoria's century she buys up all the eyesores facing her shore and lets them fall.
The season's ill-- we've lost our summer millionaire who seemed to leap from an L.
L.
Bean catalogue.
His nine-knot yawl was auctioned off to lobstermen.
A red fox stain covers Blue Hill.
And bow our fairy decorator brightens his shop for fall; his fishnet's filled with orange cork orange his cobbler's bench and awl; there is no money in his work he'd rather marry.
One dark night my Tutor Ford climbed the hill's skull; I watched for love-cars.
Lights turned down they lay together hull to hull where the graveyard shelves on the town.
.
.
.
My mind's not right.
A car radio bleats "Love, O careless Love.
.
.
.
" I hear my ill-spirit sob in each blood cell, as if my hand were at its throat.
.
.
.
I myself am hell; nobody's here-- only skunks, that search in the moonlight for a bite to eat.
They march on their soles up Main Street: white stripes, moonstruck eyes' red fire under the chalk-dry and spar spire of the Trinitarian Church.
I stand on top of our back steps and breathe the rich air-- a mother skunk with her column of kittens swills the garbage pail.
She jabs her wedge-head in a cup of sour cream, drops her ostrich tail, and will not scare.
Written by Robert Lowell | Create an image from this poem

The Drunken Fisherman

 Wallowing in this bloody sty,
I cast for fish that pleased my eye
(Truly Jehovah's bow suspends
No pots of gold to weight its ends);
Only the blood-mouthed rainbow trout
Rose to my bait.
They flopped about My canvas creel until the moth Corrupted its unstable cloth.
A calendar to tell the day; A handkerchief to wave away The gnats; a couch unstuffed with storm Pouching a bottle in one arm; A whiskey bottle full of worms; And bedroom slacks: are these fit terms To mete the worm whose molten rage Boils in the belly of old age? Once fishing was a rabbit's foot-- O wind blow cold, O wind blow hot, Let suns stay in or suns step out: Life danced a jig on the sperm-whale's spout-- The fisher's fluent and obscene Catches kept his conscience clean.
Children, the raging memory drools Over the glory of past pools.
Now the hot river, ebbing, hauls Its bloody waters into holes; A grain of sand inside my shoe Mimics the moon that might undo Man and Creation too; remorse, Stinking, has puddled up its source; Here tantrums thrash to a whale's rage.
This is the pot-hole of old age.
Is there no way to cast my hook Out of this dynamited brook? The Fisher's sons must cast about When shallow waters peter out.
I will catch Christ with a greased worm, And when the Prince of Darkness stalks My bloodstream to its Stygian term .
.
.
On water the Man-Fisher walks.
Written by Robert Lowell | Create an image from this poem

Epilogue

Those blessed structures plot and rhyme-
why are they no help to me now
i want to make
something imagined not recalled?
I hear the noise of my own voice:
The painter's vision is not a lens 
it trembles to caress the light.
But sometimes everything i write With the threadbare art of my eye seems a snapshot lurid rapid garish grouped heightened from life yet paralyzed by fact.
All's misalliance.
Yet why not say what happened? Pray for the grace of accuracy Vermeer gave to the sun's illumination stealing like the tide across a map to his girl solid with yearning.
We are poor passing facts.
warned by that to give each figure in the photograph his living name.