Robert Lowell: A Biography - review by Grey Gowrie

Grey Gowrie

Poor Passing Facts

Robert Lowell: A Biography

Faber & Faber 527pp £12.50 order from our bookshop

Asked to name the greatest American poet, Robert Lowell once replied ‘Milton’. The joke had a point to it. Contemporary English poets in the mainstream admire poets like Marvell or Robert Graves who set themselves limits and succeed within them. Ambition and scale are the American dream, the American hang-up. Added to the intensity of all good poetry, they take their toll in the lives of the makers. Ian Hamilton’s biography is best at considering the cost of Lowell’s achievement and a life, as the poet himself put it,

not avoiding injury to others,

not avoiding injury to myself –

especially the wear and tear of Lowell’s second and longest marriage to the writer Elizabeth Hardwick. It is less good as an account of the poetic achievement itself (the point of the joke about America and Milton). Art’s attempt to colonise all experience and offer the justifications that philosophy has

Sign Up to our newsletter

Receive free articles, highlights from the archive, news, details of prizes, and much more.

Follow Literary Review on Twitter