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The Study of Robert Lowell's Psychological Poetry - Analysis.

BY: p.suresh kumar R.panneerselvam | Category: Others | Submitted: 2013-02-17 05:12:29
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Article Summary: "Abstract: This paper draws upon a recent biography of the American poet Robert Lowell and suggests a common theme linking his family, his mental illness and the content and structure of his poems..."


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Robert Lowell presents a particular fascination to the psychoanalytically trained observer. When his book "For The Union Dead" was published in 1964, the poet Stanley Kunitz, writing in the New YorkTimes said that Lowell was "without doubt the mostcelebrated poet in English of his generation". TheHerald Tribune's Bookweek described him as "by something like a critical consensus, the greatest
American poet of the mid-century, probably the greatest poet writing in English". This at a time when
W.H. Auden and T.S. Eliot were still living. It had also been known for many years that this poet of genius sufferred from a recurrent mental illness, a bipolar affective disorder, and this knowledge came not from gossip but from Lowell's own poetry, which could be painfully explicit in its self-exposure. He was indeed one of the leading writers of that period for whom the term "confessional poetry" was coined.
Robert Trail1 Spence Lowell IV was born on 1 March 1917 in Boston when, as he later said in an
autobiographical note, "America was entering the First World War and was about to play her part in thedownfall of five empires". He was an only child. The Lowells are an aristocratic Boston family and Lowell's mother came from the equally patrician Winslow clan.In Ian Hamilton's Robert Lowell: A Biography [1],which is the principal source of biographical information in this paper

By 19 he was at Harvard and there he began his first, rather awkward relationship with a woman. She was six years his senior. When the rumour reached his father that the young lady had been in Lowell's room unchaperoned, Lowell Snr wrote a letter of protest to her father. Lowell reacted by driving his girlfriend to his family home, leaving her outside in the car then storming into the house to punch his father to the floor before driving off again. Many years later he wrote in a sonnet:
" 1 hit my father. My apology
scratched the surface of his
invisible coronary . . . never to be effaced.
"Mother and Father I"
from "History" 121"

Charlotte Lowell was convinced her son had finally gone mad. She was herself seeing a psychiatrist at the time and tried to get him to have Lowell committed. He intervened by suggesting to Lowell that he
apologise to his father which Lowell, deeply remorseful, was eager to do. And at this point it is worth
digressing to say something about the psychiatrist. His name was Merrill Moore and he had himself
achieved some minor fame as a poet. He is certainly remarkable as the most prolific writer of sonnets in the
history of English literature. He produced his fourteenliners in such a torrent that it was said he could compose a sonnet into a Dictaphone on the front seat of his car, or scribble it on a writing pad, while waiting for the traffic lights to change, He had to build a shed at the back of his house to store them all. He called it, naturally, his "Sonnetorium". He once published a book entitled simply "M". It was his initial, and also the Roman symbol for one thousand, and there were one thousand sonnets in the volume. Not all the poems were of exactly fourteen lines and he was free and easy with his rhyme schemes, sometimes dispensing with them altogether. What is surprising, with all that fecundity, is that so many of Moore's poems are well crafted and enjoyable to read. He frequently drew upon his clinical material:

I asked if I might see her but she said No,
She was much too busy being the Vag*na
Ear for her husband.
Being the Vag*nal What?
I asked her, then she explained it all to me:
She told me she had married a creative artist
And that at times he was extremely possessive
Not sexually but just to have her around
As an audience so he could talk to her
s And tell her what he was doing and what he thought
And to read everything he ever wrote to her
And that was practically a full-time job
For her so she called it "being the Vag*nal Ear". [3]
The poems usually show more wit than profundity and one has the uneasy sense that Moore might have
charmingly skimmed the surface with his patients also. But his influence upon Lowell's life and work is
greater, I believe, than has been so far acknowledged.In this time of the Lowell family crisis, he arranged forthe young poet to meet the writer Ford Madox Ford,presently visiting Harvard, and with his help to travel to Tennessee to meet the celebrated poet Allen Tate, afriend of Moore's. Lowell, indeed, came to live at Tate's house. Or rather, when Tate politely pointed out how crowded it was, he pitched a tent on the lawn and lived there for several months. Through Tate he met another leading poet, John Crowe Ransom, whom he followed to Kenyon College, Ohio, to complete his degree.
Discussion

This brief account of Lowell's life and his illness, that there are three distinct clinical phases. And even allowing for the widely accepted constitutional factors in manic-depressive psychosis, some psychodynamic speculations might be fruitful.
My transitional object analytic theorizing has to do with the human striving toward an experience of
wholeness of the self. To this end others are sought whose empathic responsiveness soothes and affirms
the self. Kohut referred to this as a "selfobject" function [4], that is, the object is experienced as a part of
the self or as serving to maintain the cohesion of the self. The child needs the parents to affirm his uniqueness and value, a "mirroring" function. He also needs them to serve as reliable sources of strength and calm with which he may merge, to be, in Kohut's words, the "idealized parent imago". There is also a need for a sense of likeness, of sameness, so that empathic contact is possible. Ernest Wolf has suggested that the child originally requires the parental self object to affirm the value and reality of the self, but once that reality begins to be established the child needs to oppose the self object to consolidate the boundaries of
the self [ 5].
References
1. Hamilton I. Robert Lowell: A Biography. London: Faber and Faber Limited, 1982.
2. Lowell R. History. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux. 1973.
3. Moore, M. Cross Currents (selected by Denis Glover).
4. Kohut H. The Analysis Of the Self. New York: International universities press,1971
5. Wolf E. On the Developmental Line of Selfobject Relations. In: A. Goldberg (ed) Advances in Self Psychology. NewYork: International Univ

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