This Day In Literary History
On October 13th, 1943, the famous American poet Robert Lowell was sentenced to a year in prison for evading the draft. A conscientious objector, he refused to be drafted.
He opposed saturation bombings and other tactics used by the Allies that targeted civilians in enemy countries, which he saw as crimes against humanity. He served his time at New York's West Street jail.
Robert Lowell was born into a prominent Boston family whose ancestors included William Samuel Johnson, (a signer of the United States Constitution) Calvinist theologian Anne Hutchinson, the second governor of Massachusetts, and two passengers on the Mayflower.
Lowell sought to separate himself from his family's history and rejected their Episcopalian religious tradition, converting to Catholicism.
Although his new faith would influence the writing of his first two books, Lowell left the Catholic Church not long after his second book was published in 1946.
Lord Weary's Castle (1946), a poetry collection, won Robert Lowell a Pulitzer Prize at the age of 30. It featured one of his classic poems, The Quaker Graveyard In Nantucket.
Like the other poems in the book, it featured Lowell's trademarks: rigorous formality, violent imagery, and powerful use of meter and rhyme. A good example can be found in these lines:
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.
Lowell returned to Boston in 1954 after living abroad for several years. He became involved with the Beat Generation of writers and artists, watching other Beat poets such as Allen Ginsberg perform readings.
He incorporated their open, confessional narrative voices into his own more formal style of poetry. In his 1959 poetry collection Life Studies, Lowell wrote of his breakdown, his struggle with mental illness, and the breakup of his marriages.
In the 1960s, Lowell became a champion of the civil rights movement and a vocal opponent of the Vietnam War. He was among a group of writers who led a march to the Pentagon in 1967.
Robert Lowell published many books and divided his time between Boston and London. He died of a heart attack in 1977 at the age of 60.
Quote Of The Day
"If youth is a defect, it is one we outgrow too soon." - Robert Lowell
Today's video features a recording of Robert Lowell reading his poem, Old Flame. Enjoy!