December 5, 2008

Amy Lowell

Amy Lowell [USA]
1874-1925

Born into the noted Boston family, Amy grew up on the Sevenels estate of her family in Brookline. She was educated at home by governesses and, later, at private schools. At the usual age of 17, she debuted into Boston social life, attending numerous dinners in her honor. Although she considered a career in the theater, her weight delimited her possibilities.


Lowell continued to live the life of an upper-class Bostonian until 1910, when the Atlantic Monthly accepted four of her sonnets. Two years later, she published her first collection, A Dome of Many-Colored Glass. That year also she met Ada Swyer Russell, an actress who gave up her career to live with Lowell at Sevenels.


The same year, Poetry magazine was founded in Chicago, and Lowell, transformed by the literary changes around her, particularly by the poems of H.D. [Hilda Doolittle] and Ezra Pound’s attachment of H.D.’s work to “Imagism.” Lowell traveled to London to introduce herself to Pound, H.D. and F. S. Flint. Lowell returned to the U.S. a convert to the new “movement,” and published poems over the next year in Poetry, the Egoist, and Pound’s Des Imagistes. She also published a new book, Sword Blades and Poppy Seed.


Upon her return to London in 1914, however, Pound had become dissatisfied with the direction Imagism had taken, particularly because of Lowell’s involvement in it. Rejecting Imagism as “Amygism,” Pound argued for a new movement of energy, “Vorticism,” which stood apart from Lowell’s perception of Imagism as a more quiet perfection of expression. Accordingly, Lowell took over the editing of further Imagist volumes, and Pound refused to participate in their production.


Over the next several years, through lectures, anthologies, and her own collections—which included a wide variety of literary styles—Lowell popularized Modernism and, in particular, vers libre or free verse, attracting a wide range of readers that Pound and others might never have reached.


By the time of her death in 1925 of a cerebral hemorrhage, Lowell had become a major figure of American poetry, and her volume What’s O’Clock was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1926 posthumously.

BOOKS OF POETRY

A Dome of Many-Coloured Glass (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1912); Sword Blades and Poppy Seed (New York: Macmillan, 1914); Men, Women and Ghosts (New York: Macmillan, 1916); Con Grande’s Castle (New York: Macmillan, 1918); Pictures of a Floating World (New York: Macmillan, 1919); Fir-Flower Tablets: Poems from the Chinese (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1921); What’s O’Clock (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1925); East Wind (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1926); Ballads for Sale (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1927); Fool o’ the Moon (Austin, Texas: John S. Mayfield, 1927); Selected Poems of Amy Lowell, ed. by John Livingston Lowes (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1928); The Complete Poetical Works (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1955); A Shard of Silence: Selected Poems, ed. by G. R. Ruihley (New York: Twayne, 1957); Selected Poems of Amy Lowell, ed. by Melissa Bradshaw and Adrienne Munich (New Brunswick, New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 2002); Selected Poems, ed. by Honor Moore (New York: Library of America, 2004)


The Cyclists


Spread on the roadway,
With open-blown jackets,
Like black, soaring pinions,
They swoop down the hillside,
The Cyclists.
Seeming dark-plumaged
Birds, after carrion,
Careening and circling,
Over the dying
Of England.
She lies with her bosom
Beneath them, no longer
The Dominant Mother,
The Virile -- but rotting
Before time.
The smell of her, tainted,
Has bitten their nostrils.
Exultant they hover,
And shadow the sun with
Foreboding

(from Sword Blades and Poppy Seeds, 1914)


Patterns




I walk down the garden paths,
And all the daffodils
Are blowing, and the bright blue squills.
I walk down the patterned garden-paths
In my stiff, brocaded gown.
With my powdered hair and jewelled fan,
I too am a rare
Pattern. As I wander down
The garden paths.

My dress is richly figured,
And the train
Makes a pink and silver stain
On the gravel, and the thrift
Of the borders.
Just a plate of current fashion,
Tripping by in high-heeled, ribboned shoes.
Not a softness anywhere about me,
Only whalebone and brocade.
And I sink on a seat in the shade
Of a lime tree. For my passion
Wars against the stiff brocade.
The daffodils and squills
Flutter in the breeze
As they please.
And I weep;
For the lime-tree is in blossom
And one small flower has dropped upon my bosom.

And the plashing of waterdrops
In the marble fountain
Comes down the garden-paths.
The dripping never stops.
Underneath my stiffened gown
Is the softness of a woman bathing in a marble basin,
A basin in the midst of hedges grown
So thick, she cannot see her lover hiding,
But she guesses he is near,
And the sliding of the water
Seems the stroking of a dear
Hand upon her.
What is Summer in a fine brocaded gown!
I should like to see it lying in a heap upon the ground.
All the pink and silver crumpled up on the ground.

I would be the pink and silver as I ran along the paths,
And he would stumble after,
Bewildered by my laughter.
I should see the sun flashing from his sword-hilt and the buckles on his shoes.
I would choose
To lead him in a maze along the patterned paths,
A bright and laughing maze for my heavy-booted lover,
Till he caught me in the shade,
And the buttons of his waistcoat bruised my body as he clasped me,
Aching, melting, unafraid.
With the shadows of the leaves and the sundrops,
And the plopping of the waterdrops,
All about us in the open afternoon --
I am very like to swoon
With the weight of this brocade,
For the sun sifts through the shade.

Underneath the fallen blossom
In my bosom,
Is a letter I have hid.
It was brought to me this morning by a rider from the Duke.
"Madam, we regret to inform you that Lord Hartwell
Died in action Thursday se'nnight."
As I read it in the white, morning sunlight,
The letters squirmed like snakes.
"Any answer, Madam," said my footman.
"No," I told him.
"See that the messenger takes some refreshment.
No, no answer."
And I walked into the garden,
Up and down the patterned paths,
In my stiff, correct brocade.
The blue and yellow flowers stood up proudly in the sun,
Each one.
I stood upright too,
Held rigid to the pattern
By the stiffness of my gown.
Up and down I walked,
Up and down.

In a month he would have been my husband.
In a month, here, underneath this lime,
We would have broke the pattern;
He for me, and I for him,
He as Colonel, I as Lady,
On this shady seat.
He had a whim
That sunlight carried blessing.
And I answered, "It shall be as you have said."
Now he is dead.

In Summer and in Winter I shall walk
Up and down
The patterned garden-paths
In my stiff, brocaded gown.
The squills and daffodils
Will give place to pillared roses, and to asters, and to snow.
I shall go
Up and down,
In my gown.
Gorgeously arrayed,
Boned and stayed.
And the softness of my body will be guarded from embrace
By each button, hook, and lace.
For the man who should loose me is dead,
Fighting with the Duke in Flanders,
In a pattern called a war.
Christ! What are patterns for?

(from Men, Women and Ghosts, 1916)

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