To Ezra Pound
A-12 Wigglesworth Hall
May 2, 
Dear Mr. Pound:
I have been wanting to write you for several months, but haven't quite had the courage to until now. You will probably think that I am very impudent and presumptuous, but I want to come to Italy and work under you and forge my way into reality. I have no right [to] ask this of you, yet let me try to describe myself and explain my desire.
I am 19, a freshman at Harvard, and some relation, I don't know what, to Amy Lowell. All my life I have been eccentric according to normal standards. I had violent passions for various pursuits usually taking the form of collecting: tools; names of birds; marbles; catching butterflies, snakes, turtles etc; buying books on Napoleon. None of this led anywhere, I was more interested in collecting large numbers than in developing them. I caught over thirty turtles and put them in a well where they died of insufficient feeding. I won more agates and marbles than anyone in school, and gradually amassed hundreds of soldiers; finally leaving them to clutter up unreachable shelves. I could identify scores of birds, at first on charts, later it led me into nature. Sometime overcome by the collecting mania I would steal things I wanted. At 14 I went to St. Mark's and never mixed well or really lived in the usual realities. At one point I became very strong but never got very far in athletics because I didn't think in terms of the necessary technique. I was proud, somewhat sullen and violent.
The summer before last I was a counsellor at a charity camp, hit the swing of it, and felt for the first time that I was driving ahead and breathing thru all my pores. I determined to keep it rolling tried very hard at football, didn't make the team but did well and gained a tremendous amount from the experience, then drifted along till winter. At that time I began reading Homer thru the dish-water of Bryant's 19th century translation. I mulled over the ideas for some time, and somehow they gradually became very real. The tremendous growth of Achilles and above all Zeus the universal symbol which has [begin strikethrough]begun[end strikethrough] become almost a religion with me. I had always chafed against what I thought was Christianity, the immortality of the soul, the idealistic unreal morality and the insipid blackness of the Episcopalian church. Homer's world contained a God higher than anything I had ever known, and yet his world blinked at no realities. The whoring of Zeus and the savagery of the heroes. I know that the beauty and richness of Homer are what impress you most. I found this later in Chaucer, but a poor translation is an ugly photograph.
Last spring I began reading English poetry and writing myself. All my life I had thought of poets as the most contemptible moth so you can see how violently I was molded and bent. I was encouraged by Richard Eberhart, whom you have perhaps heard of. I spent the summer alone with a friend reading and writing. Since then I have been sucking in atmosphere, reading; and [begin strikethrough]writing[end strikethrough] dreaming. Writing and trying to help one or two friends have been the only real things in life for me. At college I have yearned after iron and have been choked with cobwebs. I have had a good chance to read, I have gained a lot of inevitable experience; but no one here is really fighting. The courses are catalogues rather than windows.
I am enclosing a few poems as samples, you will probably think they are not enough to prove me. I pray you to take me! I can bring sufficient money to support myself, in a few year[s] I'll have to make my own living and am glad of it. I am ignorant of languages, but want to do nothing more than to learn. Your Cantos have re-created what I have imagined to be the blood of Homer. Again I ask you to have me. You shan't be sorry, I will bring the steel and fire, I am not theatric, and my life is sober not sensational.
Very sincerely yours,
R. T.S. Lowell
To Peter Taylor
Louisiana State University
Baton Rouge, Louisiana
The problem of Proust's memory fascinates me. Jean is writing a Proustian novel and you have turned to remembrance. I'll dash off a few definitions and aversions, not to Proust who is one of the world's few tremendous writers but to his method and its implications.
Memory is not an end but an invaluable means for selecting and accumulating, for holding an experience as in a pair of tongs so that the intellect may intuit from many angles, distort, refine, invent and develop etc. Memory is only a power for summoning images and consequently subintellectual and a fortiori sub-mystical. As an idol, as "something terribly important" (precious?), it leads to illusions. 1) The nostalgia of recapturing mentally what can never be recaptured in life, i.e. the past as passed, there mysterious, pathetic. 2) A perilous severance from substantial objects, a subjective state to be distinguished from Plato's realism viz. the Ideals are external, more in opposition to Aristotle by terminology than intention. 3) A solipsism: What I think, what I reconstruct, what I feel is reality. This results in hideous violence to nature and tendencies to pamper one's faculties of introspection and self-criticism. Proust has five or six marvelous stratagems for escaping such pit-falls.
If you must use religious vocabulary, don't use it with such luxuriant abandon. Many people we know will undoubtedly go to Hell. But what insolence and arrogance to say so-and-so is a lost-soul. Actions and operations not people are "lost." Who are the damned? Unless you have some criteria other than talent and sensibility your language is mere, ornery, perverse, insipid name-calling.
There! I have made my retreat and would give my left arm to have had you with me. At least you are not military. I am exempted on account of my eyes.
To George Santayana
Library of Congress
Washington, D. C.
Feb. 2, 
My Dear Friend--
(For so it is after your letter) In the last few hours I have been contemplating what you have written me, and it moves tears of joy.
So well have you understood all that I hoped my two poems would become! Down to the versification, even! Yes, the Trojans and Italians are meant to have the barbarous dignity of Red-Skins--of the Germans, for the devil must have justice.
I think Browning had all the right ideas about what the poetry of his time should take in--people and time. But (this is presumptuous) how he muffed it all! The ingenious, terrific metrics, shaking the heart out of what he was saying; the invented language; the short-cuts; the hurry; and (one must say it) the horrible self-indulgence--the attitudes, the cheapness! I write strongly, for he should, with patience, have been one of the great poets of the world. Anyway, he was on the side of the angels a lot of the time.
You're very right about me too; I marvel that you could have intuited so much from my crude summary.
I suppose it's the will of adolescence to be self-centered, Calvinist and blind. We believe that unless things come hard, they are somehow phony. It's only in the last two or three years that I have begun to know and treasure patience and pity and "the sacredness of [begin strikethrough]nature[end strikethrough] things." I was talking to a lady last night, and we agreed that only age brought these things. Those poor blind years--and perhaps it's always that way, but less so.
I was a Catholic, when I went to jail, and my confessors said what you said they would, only they allowed that in the end a man must do what he believes, even if it's heresy and madness. So they did well enough by me.
I love my country, because it's mine, and all I know. And [I] think our culture can stand comparison with others of the last 150 years--it's better than most, probably. And, of course, we have Roman virtues--energy, and even clarity of a kind. But there are times ... Oh yes, when one trembles, and wonders if a people have ever been so dehumanized, when "the man in the street" lacked so much--had so little chance for grace and ability. But one must accept this too; and life is good after all.
I don't regret my Latin--some of the writers are marvelous: Propertius, Vergil, Horace, Catullus, Tacitus, Petronius, and some of Juvenal. And it connects with us historically through the church. And how can one understand what English words mean without it? And yet to read Homer fluently, what a happiness that would be!
This is such a pretentious letter I'm writing. I'm mailing it though because I imagine it will tell you more about me than if I'd written in a more fitting style. I can't very well express my awe at being so understood by you. I "take it right kind" that you have written.
P.S. Looking forward to your new dialogues. I'll mail you my new poem later this month--not the long one, now about 550 lines, that will be another year yet.
To Flannery O'Connor
2901 Clifton Ave.
Wednesday, March 24th, 
I'd better give you my news. Elizabeth and I have separated. The event has been brewing for years, and we are both better off and still good friends. I am not sure you won't want me to dilate on this subject, I am not, however, rejoining the flock. I'm sure I do more good outside, at least for myself. Henry Adams called himself a conservative, Catholic anarchist; I would take this for myself, only adding agnostic. I don't think my prayers would cut much ice for you, so I omit them.
However, you have my good wishes. I have been hearing many fine things said about you. Jim Powers who was staying with me a month ago is wild about your novel and stories. I said, "Wise Blood is even better than Taylor's Woman of Means." A real compliment: you know how highly I think of Peter Taylor, a much wiser and bigger writer potentially than you or I, my Dear. And he's getting better all the time. Caroline, according to Robert, says you have the best ear since James, or was it Homer she meant? One thistle, however, to throw among your bouquets--Bowden Broadwater says, "I still can't read Flannel Mouth." He went to work during Christmas vacation at Macy's packing cartons (after Mary had supported him for ten years). Each night coming home weary and worthy, he had a nervous breakdown.
What the hell do I care about your damned poultry? Even if they are all geese, even if one is named Claire Booth Luce Goose. I don't think she should breed even god-children. Allen, by the way, says she is a "remarkable woman." She's also pretty, which your goose isn't. She's also a goose, which your goose is. I sound like Charles Lamb.
Flannery, I love you very much (this isn't a proposal; I have other eggs to fry) and think you can write English, as Omar Pound would say. Sometime let me tell you about Pound's menage at Rapallo. His Doctor, a very good and conventional one (Ezra's, not Omar's) was my Mother's.
To William Carlos Williams
Wednesday, February 19, 1958
Thanks for your card. I am afraid I won't be able to see you and Flossie just yet. I am still resting off my attack and am actually staying at McLean's hospital in Waverly. It's all rather free and comfortable--not unlike Yaddo without race courses, night life and literati. I have a sunny private room, read, listen to good music on my radio, and am writing poems, revising my autobiography, etc.
I hope you will send me Paterson V. In a month or so I'll mail you another little group of my own stuff, God willing. I now have four or five things you haven't seen. I wouldn't like ever to completely give up meter; it's wonderful opposition to wrench against and revise with. Yet now that I've joined you in unscanned verse, I am struck by how often the classics get boxed up in their machinery, the sonority of the iambic pentameter line, the apparatus of logic and conceit and even set subjects. Still, the muscle is there in the classics, we reread them with joy, and in a sense wherever a man has really worked his stuff outbraves time and novel methods. We would always rather read a good old sonneteer, such as Raleigh or Sidney, than some merely competent fellow who is on the right track. The excellent speak to the excellent.
You're very famous now, but I have been thinking a lot about how boneheaded most of the popular and even good critics have been about you most of your lifetime. It must be fearful to have done something with deadly originality and lucidity and beauty, and then be ignored, scolded, patronized!
Love to Flossie, it will be good to talk to you again.
To Allen Ginsberg
239 Marlborough Street
Boston 16, Massachusetts
April 10, 1959
I think letters ought to be written the way you think poetry ought be. So let this be breezy, brief, incomplete, but spontaneous and not dishonestly holding back.
Creeley and Levertov are careful, disciplined poets. If I were writing to them, I could truthfully say a good deal for their [begin strikethrough]honest[end strikethrough] sensitive care. But in the rough and tumble of what is alive today? Creeley is [the] tamest imitation of Williams' tricks, tone, mannerisms, rhythms. I guess poetry as a technique means much less to me than to you. I can hear Creeley's polite, dim halting voice behind the barrage of Williams--I can just hear it, and not to much purpose, while Williams' manner drones at me in Creeley. Levertov with more observation and less skill also seems to come from Williams. Also I find everywhere a bit intangibly the humor and quirks of Pound--the hardest of masters, if you yourself are a quiet little person and so unlike him.
Well, I enjoy Kaddish much more. It's really melodious, nostalgic, moving, liturgical. Maybe it ought to be shorter--the manner sometimes almost writes itself--probably there's too much Whitman. And I do find it a bit too conventional, eloquent and liturgical. Well, it's well done, felt and a good poem.
Your letter says a good deal I sympathize with, and of course reams more that I don't. Yet I rather wonder if I didn't say most of my objections the other night. It's not a matter of argument, but of experience--what one's mind, heart, soul and stamina have gone through. I couldn't make you agree with me in a million years. We can, however, tolerate each other, at least I can tolerate you, and hope you'll put up with my rather splenetic joshing.
P.S. A reason for the rough brusqueness of my letter is this. I see a great deal that fascinates me in your wave of writers. Yet as a whole? There's so much that is timid, conservative, intolerant of other kinds of writing. The times are bad? But not as bad as you think. 10,000 noodles to one competent writer; 10,000 competent writers to one interesting writer; 10,000 interesting, honest writers to one inspired writer; 100 inspired writers to one of great moment. But why drown out what there is? Just to name Americans in this century: James, Frost, Robinson, Wharton, Drieser, Ring Lardner, Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Nathaniel West, Salinger, Saul Bellow, Mary McCarthy, Flannery O'Connor, J. F. Powers, K. A. Porter, Pound, Williams, Ransom, Tate, Warren, Jarrell, Crane, Kunitz, Roethke, Eliz. Bishop, Faulkner, Winters, Blackmur, James Baldwin, Santayana, Eliot? I've given these people in no particular order. They differ enormously in interest. There [are] others just as good I've intentionally or absentmindedly passed over. But all these are first rate, nor should they be taken for granted in the welter of commercial writing, movies etc that we live in. Your wave of people may add a name or two to this list--or more than a name or two; who can foretell the future--you can't drown out what is already there.
To Anne Sexton
15 West 67th St.
New York 23, N. Y.
December 1, 1961
Let me pour out my scattered general impressions first. If they are inconsistent, that won't matter. The best things about your book is its unstoppered fullness. I get an impression of increasing supply and weight; indeed your first book, especially the best poems, spills into the second and somehow adds to it. Perhaps, you shouldn't be too critical, and should have no fears, except the fear of losing your material and screaming off into vagueness. This you haven't done. My favorite still is the Hudson one on your Father, print perhaps helps, but I feel a passion and concentration here. You have any number of poems that roll along in something I'd call your version of my Life Studies style; the method, and often the emotions, (this comes from similar experience not imitation--I often think, I've felt this too, but never written about it) are familiar to me, and now that I've lost the supply I envy you. I'm glad you've tried new things, the religious poems and character sketches. They are variously successful, I guess, but give the book a professional air of not just confessing, but of liking to write poems. Your final "Letter" is a good idea, and reads like one of your own letters. I doubt if it's your best poem. Maybe I'll find myself imitating it too.
Faults? I don't think they matter. Or perhaps they are unavoidable human limitations--yours! There are loose edges, a certain monotony of tone, a way of writing that sometimes seems to let everything in too easily, bald spots, uninspired moments that roll off disguised by the same certainty of voice, poems that all one can say about them is they are Sexton and therefore precious. I sometimes feel that you are one of the few people who could write a whole book, like the Spoon River Anthology, where the little moments would prop the big moments and there'd be little waste. To an extent, you have done this, and have made your life your treasury. This sounds very gnomic! After all these years Spoon River doesn't really do this, and survives in a large handful of its best moments. Still it was a grand stab at writing a whole book of short poems!
I have been struck lately by the fact that we can do this and that, but we are always the same. Most people, however, don't begin to get out what's in them. When some one does that as you have and gotten out more than even you probably imagined was there, it seems absurd to carp at little faults. You have many, but they really don't matter, and the book gives the impression generally of laborious revision, I mean of having already made the essential reworkings. I tend to think that further effort should now go into your third book.
I'll be in Boston from the 7th through the 9th staying at Bill Alfred's. I'm afraid I'll be in a terrible rush of engagements, but we might work in something, say Saturday or Sunday, otherwise it would be better to talk on the phone or for you to come here for a day. I doubt though if a poem by poem discussion would be worth your time. You are riding the tide and really are on your own. I'd love to see you though.[...]
Thanks for your letter and book.
To John Berryman
15 West 67 St.
New York 23, N.Y.
March 18, 
I meant to write immediately and thank you for your sympathetic and inspired piece on me and "Skunk Hour." During the first reading, I started out saying, "Why it doesn't mean that at all. Nothing's let out about the author." But you've made an amazing guess, more or less a bull's-eye thrust into what was going on when the poem was written--all very dazzling and disturbing.
I'll limit myself here mostly to a few impersonal notes. The "sob in each blood-cell" is meant to have a haggard, romantic profilish exaggerated quality--true, but in the rhetoric of destitution, here the more matter of fact descriptive style gives out, won't do, and there's only the stagey for the despair. Then one leaves it for the skunk vision. Most people take the skunks as cheerful, one of my cousins said in disgust they were the only happy note--however, they are horrible blind energy, at the same time as in Herbert's "I wish I were a tree" there's both a wish and a fear of annihilation, i.e. dropping to a simpler form of life, and a hopeful wish for that simpler energy. My feelings about Christianity are confused, and I'll have to say something in my printed comment. My Ovid stanza looks better I'm afraid in your essay than in the original poem, though I think I'll put it back. It somehow won't stand by itself, or quite fit the poem.
I hear, mostly I guess from the Tates, that you have a charming wife, and are flourishing. Congratulations! It's almost ten years since I've seen you. Remember that night at the opera in Giroux's tails? When you said Lizzie wouldn't know me? I've felt very near you through that time, and fed on the various contradictory rumors that came--mostly that you had just given a dazzling lecture somewhere.
I've been through a wearying mid-winter, tonsillitis, flu, bronchitis, one little fever giving ailment after another, so that for a month I've gone to bed every other night with a temperature. In two days we are all going to Puerto Rico. In about a month we are coming to Minnesota to read and lecture, and stay with the Tates. I hope we can get off together at length. This summer, we are going to Brazil. This started as a visit to E. Bishop but now it's a sort of Cultural Congress tour with readings and lectures in several countries for us both.
I've written a long play out of Hawthorne and Melville: "Endecott and the Red Cross," "Major Molineux," and "Benito Cereno"--three plays that make one and are called The Old Glory. They are rather Brechtian and different in tone and meaning from their sources, and are pretty strong, but need technical changes to act--which I've done with one, but keep putting off for the others. As I put them off, I write poems, and now have a third of a book, small clear half anguished things that I want to show you.
All winter I've had an uncomfortable feeling of dying into rebirth. Not at all the sick, dizzy allegorized thing such words suggest and which I've felt going off my rocker. But the flat prose of coming to the end of one way of life--whittled down and whittled down, and picking up nothing new though always about to. I had a dream the other night about Philip Rahv, who has just married a society lady and bought a house on Beacon Street. He was picking up everything I had carefully thrown away all my life--golden keys of social ease, till at the end, I think his two sons had just entered Groton. I said to myself, "What['s] the point of throwing away so much?" Well, that isn't what I want to pick up, but I feel the time has come for some kind of Yeatsian somersault.
What you said about the other poets of our generation is something I've brooded much on. What queer lives we've had even for poets! There seems something generic about it, and determined beyond anything we could do. You and I have had so many of the same tumbles and leaps. We must have a green old age. We both have drunk the downward drag as deeply as is perhaps bearable. I feel we have better work and better lives ahead.
What a Longfellow-note after your searching essay! Forgive me, I am trying to break the ice and start talking where we left off ten years ago. In our insides we never stopped. Still one has to grunt and sweat a bit to get the talk going. I feel we are very close and see things with the same mixture of cheerfulness and sourness that make life livable.
I have an incredible little daughter. Also Lizzie, who sends her love and whom you'll soon see.
To the Editors, Partisan Review
[n.d., Fall 1966]
1. Yes, nothing could matter more than who is in the White House. It's not like the arts. Two very foolish novelists with opposed beliefs or temperaments would write equally foolish novels, but two equally foolish presidents would have widely differing effects on our lives, the difference between life and death. Yet a great president somehow honors his country, even if what he effects is debatable. I suppose Lincoln was our most noble and likeable president. The country is somehow finer for having had him, yet much that he accomplished was terrifying and might have been avoided by the run-of-the-mill Douglas. I wish Stevenson had been elected. Maybe he would have done nothing (I don't believe this) but at least he would have registered what he was doing. I can't imagine him not losing a night's sleep over Hiroshima, even if he did drop the bomb. I think he might not have.
2. Inflation is over my head, but I think we can never again forget poverty. Man throughout time has been very lighthearted about poverty in a way that we can never, with decency, be again.
3. I don't know what the split between the President and the intellectuals means. Something very horrifying about our country has been brought home to us. I don't know how profound this is, or how much it is a passing twinge of remorse, how much is due to Johnson and how much was almost inevitable with almost any president. We've swallowed worse things than Vietnam, yet it's hopeful that we are now appalled. We may be going through a deep change of heart as to what can be allowed to nation-states, or maybe our present mood is only a sort of temporary, superficial and hangover "profundity."
4. As far as honor goes, I think white America is committed to granting equality to the negro. How much equality actually will be granted is another darker and unanswerable question.
5. I think our foreign policies are quite likely leading us to the third and worst world war, not right away probably, but over a stretch of time, within twenty or thirty years. When we have said the worst we can about our American foreign policy, and I think as citizens we must say this, still it must be admitted that the future depends on other countries besides ourselves. Who can be happy, when he looks at the great contenders?
6. I have mostly answered this question, I have a gloomy premonition though that we will soon look back on this troubled moment as a golden time of freedom and license to act and speculate. One feels the steely sinews of the tiger, an ascetic, "moral" and authoritarian reign of piety and iron.
7. Doom or promise must be found in youth. I think perhaps the young hope for things that neither we nor any previous generation dared hope for. But how much like us, and what a slender reed, they often seem!
To Mrs. John F. Kennedy
15 West 67 St.
June 10, 1968
I have been thinking of writing you a long letter, a letter of mourning, but also of apology, because I think I might have done something for Bobby that might have helped, a word of caution. Many times I tried, not by conscious intention but by instinct. Still he knew well enough how the cards were stacked for him, and chose--a life glorious though brief. And perhaps this was best. I hope you won't hold my business in McCarthy's campaign against me. I could do nothing else, and wouldn't have. I think I was perhaps one of the few people in either party who ardently wanted either your Brother-in-law or McCarthy.
Because I cannot in this tired moment write a long letter, please take this short poem (it's part of a long series, 120, in this form, called Notebook of a Year) as a tribute.
Here in my study, in its listlessness
of Vacancy, some old Victorian house,
air-tight and sheeted for old summers,
far from the hornet yatter of the bond--
is loneliness, a thin smoke threat of vital
air. What can I catch from you now?
Doom was woven in your nerves, your shirt,
woven in the great clan; they too were loyal,
you too were more than loyal to them ...
For them, like a prince, you daily left
to walk through dirt in your best cloth.
alone, in my Plutarchan bubble, I miss
you sorely, you out of Plutarch, made
forever approaching our maturity.
I can't say more. I share your sorrow.
As ever affectionately,
To Jean Stafford
Bearsted, Maidstone, Kent, Eng.
October 30, 1974
I must clear up one thing--I didn't drink on top of antabuse knowingly. I may have taken an orange juice with vodka or something. It's impossible to tell. It's hard at a big party to be sure what one is handed. Or the fainting may have been something else entirely. I am Ok, lungs and heart, as far as tests can tell. I am alarmed about your drinking, but it might be more dangerous to stop. For all your varied physical troubles, your life must be a triumph of defying doctors and going your own way. Sometimes they seem to forget our poor lives, the lives we must actually get through and try to enjoy. All this is lost in their solutions of craft.
The last two days here have been cold and bright for England, almost like New England. We keep from freezing by coal, electric heaters, and an inaudible oil furnace. I am reminded of Damariscotta Mills: two cook-stove-oil-burners, two airtights, one plug-in radiator, electric heaters, something with coal. How did I keep it all going--I was even more inert and unhandy then.
Well I pray for your novel, and even more for you, the book a part of you. Do you realize all of us are the older, not yet senile, generation, the long-on-view whose shadow falls on all who are younger? What can we do about it? I write about being 57. This morning I. A. Richards told me he had written three poems on Allen Tate--"curious poems, not on him particularly, but age." I said, "The grand subject." But started to add, I'm writing on it too, when I realized I could not say this to a man of 82.
[begin strikethrough]May we have that far to go.[end strikethrough]
Caroline sends her love--is that peculiar from [someone] you've never met?
Did you notice I live in Bearsted?
To Caroline Blackwood
May 3, 1977
I'm writing about three or four hours after your call--in great confusion, not knowing how or what to say. I am afraid of your visit, because I am afraid nothing will be done except causing pain. How many lovely moments, weeks, months, we had. Sunday I sat by the Charles River watching the strollers, the joggers, the sunners--and the river. And I seemed to follow it back through our seven years, the great multitude of restaurants, the moment when everyone was in the bathroom when I bathed, the long summer of your swelling pregnancy, the rush to London, the little red man's appearance--or earlier trapped in All Souls, and a thousand things more. But the last two years have been terrifying for us both--and neither of us have made it any better for the other. It hasn't been a quarrel, but two eruptions, two earthquakes crashing.
Well, we should talk ... always. I really can't do anything till June in New York or the end of May here, or I could visit Ireland mid- or later summer. I feel you ended things during my Irish visit, ended them wisely and we can't go back. I have had so much dread--the worst in my life--that I would do something, by my mere presence I would do something to hurt you, to drive you to despair. Who knows cause ...
Excerpted from The Letters of Robert Lowell by Robert Lowell, edited by Saskia Hamilton, to be published in June by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC. Copyright [c] 2005 by Harriet Lowell and Sheridan Lowell. All rights reserved.