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Best Famous Robert Lowell Poems

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by Elizabeth Bishop | |

The Armadillo

for Robert Lowell


This is the time of year
when almost every night
the frail, illegal fire balloons appear.
Climbing the mountain height, rising toward a saint still honored in these parts, the paper chambers flush and fill with light that comes and goes, like hearts.
Once up against the sky it's hard to tell them from the stars-- planets, that is--the tinted ones: Venus going down, or Mars, or the pale green one.
With a wind, they flare and falter, wobble and toss; but if it's still they steer between the kite sticks of the Southern Cross, receding, dwindling, solemnly and steadily forsaking us, or, in the downdraft from a peak, suddenly turning dangerous.
Last night another big one fell.
It splattered like an egg of fire against the cliff behind the house.
The flame ran down.
We saw the pair of owls who nest there flying up and up, their whirling black-and-white stained bright pink underneath, until they shrieked up out of sight.
The ancient owls' nest must have burned.
Hastily, all alone, a glistening armadillo left the scene, rose-flecked, head down, tail down, and then a baby rabbit jumped out, short-eared, to our surprise.
So soft!--a handful of intangible ash with fixed, ignited eyes.
Too pretty, dreamlike mimicry! O falling fire and piercing cry and panic, and a weak mailed fist clenched ignorant against the sky!


by Elizabeth Bishop | |

North Haven

(In Memoriam: Robert Lowell)


I can make out the rigging of a schooner
a mile off; I can count
the new cones on the spruce.
It is so still the pale bay wears a milky skin; the sky no clouds except for one long, carded horse1s tail.
The islands haven't shifted since last summer, even if I like to pretend they have --drifting, in a dreamy sort of way, a little north, a little south, or sidewise, and that they're free within the blue frontiers of bay.
This month, our favorite one is full of flowers: Buttercups, Red Clover, Purple Vetch, Hackweed still burning, Daisies pied, Eyebright, the Fragrant Bedstraw's incandescent stars, and more, returned, to paint the meadows with delight.
The Goldfinches are back, or others like them, and the White-throated Sparrow's five-note song, pleading and pleading, brings tears to the eyes.
Nature repeats herself, or almost does: repeat, repeat, repeat; revise, revise, revise.
Years ago, you told me it was here (in 1932?) you first "discovered girls" and learned to sail, and learned to kiss.
You had "such fun," you said, that classic summer.
("Fun"--it always seemed to leave you at a loss.
.
.
) You left North Haven, anchored in its rock, afloat in mystic blue.
.
.
And now--you've left for good.
You can't derange, or re-arrange, your poems again.
(But the Sparrows can their song.
) The words won't change again.
Sad friend, you cannot change.


by Robert Lowell | |

Colloquy in Black Rock

Here the jack-hammer jabs into the ocean;
My heart, you race and stagger and demand
More blood-gangs for your nigger-brass percussions,
Till I, the stunned machine of your devotion,
Clanging upon this cymbal of a hand,
Am rattled screw and footloose.
All discussions End in the mud-flat detritus of death.
My heart, beat faster, faster.
In Black Mud Hungarian workmen give their blood For the martyrs Stephen who was stoned to death.
Black Myd, a name to conjure with: O mud For watermelons gutted to the crust, Mud for the mole-tide harbor, mud for mouse, Mud for teh armored Diesel fishing tubs that thud A year and a day to wind and tide; the dust Is on this skipping heart that shakes my house, House of our Savior who was hanged till death.
My heart, beat faster, faster.
In Black Mud Stephen the martyre was broken down to blood: Our ransom is the rubble of his death.
Christ walks on the black water.
In Black Mud Darts the kingfisher.
On Corpus Christi, heart, Over the drum-beat of St.
Stephen's choir I hear him, Stupor Mundi, and the mud Flies from his hunching wings and beak--my heart, he blue kingfisher dives on you in fire.


More great poems below...

by Robert Lowell | |

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.


by Robert Lowell | |

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.


by Robert Lowell | |

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.


by Robert Lowell | |

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.


by Robert Lowell | |

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


by Robert Lowell | |

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.


by Robert Lowell | |

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.


by Robert Lowell | |

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 tick? 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.
"


by Robert Lowell | |

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.


by Robert Lowell | |

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.


by Robert Lowell | |

The Ruins Of Time

 (Quevedo, Mire los muros de la partia mia and
Buscas en Roma a Roma, (!)O peregrino!)

I

I saw the musty shingles of my house,
raw wood and fixed once, now a wash of moss
eroded by the ruin of age
furning all fair and green things into waste.
I climbed the pasture.
I saw the dim sun drink the ice just thawing from the boldered fallow, woods crowd the foothills, sieze last summer's field, and higher up, the sickly cattle bellow.
I went into my house.
I saw how dust and ravel had devoured its furnishing; even my cane was withered and more bent, even my sword was coffined up in rust— there was no hilt left for the hand to try.
Everything ached, and told me I must die.
II You search in Rome for Rome? O Traveller! in Rome itself, there is no room for Rome, the Aventine is its own mound and tomb, only a corpse recieves the worshipper.
And where the Capitol once crowned the forum, are medals ruined by the hands of time; they show how more was lost by chance and time the Hannibal or Ceasar could consume.
The Tiber flows still, but its waste laments a city that has fallen in its grave— each wave's a woman beating at her breast.
O Rome! Form all you palms, dominion, bronze and beauty, what was firm has fled.
What once was fugitive maintains its permenance.


by Robert Lowell | |

Home After Three Months Away

 Gone now the baby's nurse,
a lioness who ruled the roost
and made the Mother cry.
She used to tie gobbets of porkrind to bowknots of gauze— three months they hung like soggy toast on our eight foot magnolia tree, and helped the English sparrows weather a Boston winter.
Three months, three months! Is Richard now himself again? Dimpled with exaltation, my daughter holds her levee in the tub.
Our noses rub, each of us pats a stringy lock of hair— they tell me nothing's gone.
Though I am forty-one, not fourty now, the time I put away was child's play.
After thirteen weeks my child still dabs her cheeks to start me shaving.
When we dress her in her sky-blue corduroy, she changes to a boy, and floats my shaving brush and washcloth in the flush.
.
.
Dearest I cannot loiter here in lather like a polar bear.
Recuperating, I neither spin nor toil.
Three stories down below, a choreman tends our coffin length of soil, and seven horizontal tulips blow.
Just twelve months ago, these flowers were pedigreed imported Dutchmen, now no one need distunguish them from weed.
Bushed by the late spring snow, they cannot meet another year's snowballing enervation.
I keep no rank nor station.
Cured, I am frizzled, stale and small.
"


by Robert Lowell | |

Identification In Belfast

 (I.
R.
A.
Bombing) The British Army now carries two rifles, one with rubber rabbit-pellets for children, the other's of course for the Provisionals.
.
.
.
'When they first showed me the boy, I thought oh good, it's not him because he's blonde— I imagine his hair was singed dark by the bomb.
He had nothing on him to identify him, except this box of joke trick matches; he liked to have them on him, even at mass.
The police were unhurried and wonderful, they let me go on trying to strike a match.
.
.
I just wouldn't stop—you cling to anything— I couldn't believe I couldn't light one match— only joke matches.
.
.
Then I knew he was Richard.
'


by Robert Lowell | |

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.


by Robert Lowell | |

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.


by Robert Lowell | |

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.