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Best Famous Robert Lowell Poems

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Written 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!


Written 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.


Written by David Lehman | |

Sestina

 for Jim Cummins 

In Iowa, Jim dreamed that Della Street was Anne Sexton's
twin.
Dave drew a comic strip called the "Adventures of Whitman," about a bearded beer-guzzler in Superman uniform.
Donna dressed like Wallace Stevens in a seersucker summer suit.
To town came Ted Berrigan, saying, "My idea of a bad poet is Marvin Bell.
" But no one has won as many prizes as Philip Levine.
At the restaurant, people were talking about Philip Levine's latest: the Pulitzer.
A toast was proposed by Anne Sexton.
No one saw the stranger, who said his name was Marvin Bell, pour something into Donna's drink.
"In the Walt Whitman Shopping Center, there you feel free," said Ted Berrigan, pulling on a Chesterfield.
Everyone laughed, except T.
S.
Eliot.
I asked for directions.
"You turn right on Gertrude Stein, then bear left.
Three streetlights down you hang a Phil Levine and you're there," Jim said.
When I arrived I saw Ted Berrigan with cigarette ash in his beard.
Graffiti about Anne Sexton decorated the men's room walls.
Beth had bought a quart of Walt Whitman.
Donna looked blank.
"Walt who?" The name didn't ring a Marvin Bell.
You laugh, yet there is nothing inherently funny about Marvin Bell.
You cry, yet there is nothing inherently scary about Robert Lowell.
You drink a bottle of Samuel Smith's Nut Brown Ale, as thirsty as Walt Whitman.
You bring in your car for an oil change, thinking, this place has the aura of Philip Levine.
Then you go home and write: "He kissed her Anne Sexton, and she returned the favor, caressing his Ted Berrigan.
" Donna was candid.
"When the spirit of Ted Berrigan comes over me, I can't resist," she told Marvin Bell, while he stood dejected at the xerox machine.
Anne Sexton came by to circulate the rumor that Robert Duncan had flung his drink on a student who had called him Philip Levine.
The cop read him the riot act.
"I don't care," he said, "if you're Walt Whitman.
" Donna told Beth about her affair with Walt Whitman.
"He was indefatigable, but he wasn't Ted Berrigan.
" The Dow Jones industrials finished higher, led by Philip Levine, up a point and a half on strong earnings.
Marvin Bell ended the day unchanged.
Analyst Richard Howard recommended buying May Swenson and selling Anne Sexton.
In the old days, you liked either Walt Whitman or Anne Sexton, not both.
Ted Berrigan changed that just by going to a ballgame with Marianne Moore.
And one day Philip Levine looked in the mirror and saw Marvin Bell.


More great poems below...

Written 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.


Written by Robert Lowell | |

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 | |

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 | |

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 | |

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 | |

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 | |

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 | |

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 | |

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.


Written 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.
"


Written 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.


Written 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.