It is time to pay homage to the father of confessionalist poetry. From Massachusetts, Lowell taught a class at Boston University, which brought together some of the greatest confessional writers ever, and frequently mentioned in this blog, Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton.
Surprisingly, I didn’t really read him until I took an Intro to Poetry course in college. We read all of Life Studies and For the Union Dead. These two collections left me wanting to devour much more of his work. So, I hope that you enjoy the below poems and that they inspire you to seek out more of his work. You will not be disappointed.
Man and Wife
Tamed by Miltown, we lie on Mother’s bed;
the rising sun in war paint dyes us red;
in broad daylight her gilded bed-posts shine,
abandoned, almost Dionysian.
At last the trees are green on Marlborough Street,
blossoms on our magnolia ignite
the morning with their murderous five days’ white.
All night I’ve held your hand,
as if you had
a fourth time faced the kingdom of the mad-
its hackneyed speech, its homicidal eye-
and dragged me home alive… Oh my Petite,
clearest of all God’s creatures, still all air and nerve:
you were in your twenties and I,
once hand on glass
and heart in mouth,
outdrank the Rahvs in the head
of Greenwich Village, fainting at your feet-
too boiled and shy
and poker-faced to make a pass,
while the shrill verve
of your invective scorched the traditional South.
Now twelve years later, you turn your back.
Sleepless, you hold
your pillow to your hollows like a child;
your old-fashioned tirade-
loving, rapid, merciless-
breaks like the Atlantic Ocean on my head.
From: Life Studies
The Old Flame
My old flame, my wife!
Remember our lists of birds?
One morning last summer, I drove
by our house in Maine. It was still
on top of its hill-
Now a red ear of Indian maize
was splashed on the door.
Old Glory with thirteen stars
hung on a pole. The clapboard
was old-red schoolhouse red.
Inside, a new landlord,
a new wife, a new broom!
Atlantic seaboard antique shop
pewter and plunder
shone in each room.
A new frontier!
No running next door
now to phone the sheriff
for his taxi to Bath
and the State Liquor Store!
No one saw your ghostly
stare through the window,
the scarf at his throat.
Health to the new people,
health to their flag, to their old
restored house on the hill!
Everything had been swept bare,
furnished, garnished and aired.
Everything’s changed for the best-
how quivering and fierce we were,
there snowbound together,
simmering like wasps
in our tent of books!
Poor ghost, old love, speak
with your old voice
of flaming insight
that kept us awake all night.
In one bed and apart,
we heard the plow
groaning up hill-
a red light, then a blue,
as it tossed off the snow
to the side of the road.
From: For the Union Dead
The Public Garden in his own voice: