Books June 1987
Warming up for poetry
On Robert Lowell’s Collected Prose.
“Were we uncomfortable epigoni of Frost, Pound, Eliot, Marianne Moore, etc?” Robert Lowell muses in his memoir of John Berry-man. Reading Lowell’s Collected Prose, I marveled at the way each generation feels overshadowed by the generation that preceded it. A decade after his death, Lowell seems even larger now than he did when he was a living presence on the scene, our greatest poet. His work resonates with undiminished force; it appears out of another world. I was struck by how old-fashioned, how rare and archaic his erudition must sound to a contemporary reader. Page after page of effortless discourse on such matters as the merits of various English translations of Ovid from the Renaissance to our own day; the problems of translating Phèdre; the character of the “woman-shy man” in French literature, in Racine, Constant, Stendhal: there’s no impulse to show off in...
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