Harry Ransom CenterThe University of Texas at Austin

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Summer 2001 Newsletter

Robert Lowell and Elizabeth Hardwick, undated.

It isn't often a poet appears on the cover of Time magazine. Robert Lowell (1917-1977), did just that in the summer of 1967, as the foremost American poet of the middle decades of the twentieth century. Two recent major acquisitions by the Ransom Center offer fascinating new insights into the poet's private thoughts and working habits.

Lowell began writing and publishing his poetry as a young man. By thirty, he had won the Pulitzer Prize for the collection Lord Weary's Castle (1947), which was influenced by the prose of Hawthorne and Melville. A decade later, his work had become more autobiographical. Lowell received the 1960 National Book Award for his collection Life Studies (1959), which dealt directly with everything from his father's death to his own sense of isolation and anxiety. By the 1960s, Lowell had evolved yet again, focusing on the theme of American history. Perhaps his most famous poem, “For the Union Dead,” was published as part of an eponymous collection in 1964.

Lowell had been jailed as a conscientious objector during World War II, so his stance in firm opposition to the Vietnam War was hardly surprising. His political views dovetailed with those of a college-educated, younger generation that discovered his poetry in the late 1960s.

During the last years of his life, Lowell wrote many biographical poems about his family, as well as historical figures such as Ché Guevera and Martin Luther King. His final collections merged private concerns with the greater tide of world history.

Of all Lowell's work, that of the 1970s has received the least amount of critical attention. For this reason, the Ransom Center is especially pleased to add to its Lowell collection dozens of pages of hand-corrected typescripts from this period, including material first published in History (1973) and The Dolphin (1973). This acquisition strengthens the Center's current Lowell holdings, which are among the largest and most comprehensive in the world.

A true highlight of the Center's Lowell acquisitions is a remarkable new gift from Joanna Clark, widow of Blair Clark, a friend and correspondent of Lowell's for nearly fifty years. The Clark/Lowell letters span the years 1938-1976. Clark also corresponded with Lowell's first two wives, Jean Stafford and Elizabeth Hardwick, giving potential Lowell scholars tremendous insight into his life at home. Included in the Clark gift are a typescript for Lowell's National Book Award acceptance speech from 1960, holographs to two poems from 1953, as well as numerous reviews, photographs, and biographical notes on Lowell taken by Clark himself.

The Ransom Center's acquisition of this fascinating new material will be welcome news to those studying the life and work of Robert Lowell, one of the greatest American poets of the twentieth century.

- Stephen Smith

An Excerpt From Robert Lowell

The Just-Forties

Somewhere on the West Side with its too many
cleared lots ill-occupied with rusting cars,
I meet this innumerable acquaintance
masked in faces, though forward and familiar,
equipped for encounter like cops or Caesar's legions;
all seem to enjoy at least six men at once,
amateurs building up clienteles of love,
always one on the doorbell, another fleeing—
the Just-Forties, girls (Why is no man just forty?)
born too late for enriching memories:
President Harding, Prohibition, the boom market—
too experienced to be surprised,
and too young to know satiety,
the difficulty of giving up everything.

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