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Various about Amy Lowell - Input Junkie
June 9th, 2012
11:03 am


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Various about Amy Lowell
When I read this about Amy Lowell, a poet I hadn't heard of-- but she wrote
Spring Day [first section]

“The day is fresh-washed and fair, and there is
a smell of tulips and narcissus
in the air.
The sunshine pours in at the bath-room window and
bores through the water
in the bath-tub in lathes and planes of greenish-white. It
cleaves the water
into flaws like a jewel, and cracks it to bright light.
Little spots of sunshine lie on the surface of
the water and dance, dance,
and their reflections wobble deliciously over the ceiling; a stir
of my finger
sets them whirring, reeling. I move a foot, and the planes
of light
in the water jar. I lie back and laugh, and let the green-white
the sun-flawed beryl water, flow over me. The day is
too bright to bear, the green water covers me from the too bright
I will lie here awhile and play with the water and the sun spots.
The sky is blue and high. A crow flaps
by the window, and there is
a whiff of tulips and narcissus in the air.”

at her first public reading, the audience cracked up-- because she was fat.

And while she built quite a reputation as a poet (even getting on the cover of Time magazine), the fact that she was fat has been a considerable on her critical reception.

I've read a good bit of fat acceptance material-- some of it stories of extreme abuse-- but for some reason Amy Lowell's story makes me remarkably angry. Angry at the hating the human race level. What is wrong with people?

I try to keep a grip by remembering that Lowell had a good life. I guess those goddam critics are just pretending they care about poetry. Or at least they can only care when they aren't under the horrible stress of the possibility of taking a fat poet seriously.

(I feel much the same way about soccer fans who yell racist insults at black soccer players. Aside from decency and justice, why don't the fans care more about soccer?)

Anyway, then I read this, which includes

I walk down the garden paths,
And all the daffodils
Are blowing, and the bright blue squills.
I walk down the patterned garden-paths
In my stiff, brocaded gown.
With my powdered hair and jewelled fan,
I too am a rare
Pattern. As I wander down
The garden paths.

My dress is richly figured,
And the train
Makes a pink and silver stain
On the gravel, and the thrift
Of the borders.
Just a plate of current fashion,
Tripping by in high-heeled, ribboned shoes.
Not a softness anywhere about me,
Only whalebone and brocade.
And I sink on a seat in the shade
Of a lime tree. For my passion
Wars against the stiff brocade.
The daffodils and squills
Flutter in the breeze
As they please.
And I weep;
For the lime-tree is in blossom
And one small flower has dropped upon my bosom.

And the plashing of waterdrops
In the marble fountain
Comes down the garden-paths.
The dripping never stops.
Underneath my stiffened gown
Is the softness of a woman bathing in a marble basin,
A basin in the midst of hedges grown
So thick, she cannot see her lover hiding,
But she guesses he is near,
And the sliding of the water
Seems the stroking of a dear
Hand upon her.
What is Summer in a fine brocaded gown!
I should like to see it lying in a heap upon the ground.
All the pink and silver crumpled up on the ground.

I would be the pink and silver as I ran along the paths,
And he would stumble after,
Bewildered by my laughter.
I should see the sun flashing from his sword-hilt and the buckles
on his shoes.
I would choose
To lead him in a maze along the patterned paths,
A bright and laughing maze for my heavy-booted lover,
Till he caught me in the shade,
And the buttons of his waistcoat bruised my body as he clasped me,
Aching, melting, unafraid.
With the shadows of the leaves and the sundrops,
And the plopping of the waterdrops,
All about us in the open afternoon --
I am very like to swoon
With the weight of this brocade,
For the sun sifts through the shade.

Underneath the fallen blossom
In my bosom,
Is a letter I have hid.
It was brought to me this morning by a rider from the Duke.
"Madam, we regret to inform you that Lord Hartwell
Died in action Thursday se'nnight."
As I read it in the white, morning sunlight,
The letters squirmed like snakes.
"Any answer, Madam," said my footman.
"No," I told him.
"See that the messenger takes some refreshment.
No, no answer."
And I walked into the garden,
Up and down the patterned paths,
In my stiff, correct brocade.
The blue and yellow flowers stood up proudly in the sun,
Each one.
I stood upright too,
Held rigid to the pattern
By the stiffness of my gown.
Up and down I walked,
Up and down.

In a month he would have been my husband.
In a month, here, underneath this lime,
We would have broke the pattern;
He for me, and I for him,
He as Colonel, I as Lady,
On this shady seat.
He had a whim
That sunlight carried blessing.
And I answered, "It shall be as you have said."
Now he is dead.

In Summer and in Winter I shall walk
Up and down
The patterned garden-paths
In my stiff, brocaded gown.
The squills and daffodils
Will give place to pillared roses, and to asters, and to snow.
I shall go
Up and down,
In my gown.
Gorgeously arrayed,
Boned and stayed.
And the softness of my body will be guarded from embrace
By each button, hook, and lace.
For the man who should loose me is dead,
Fighting with the Duke in Flanders,
In a pattern called a war.
Christ! What are patterns for?

And while I'm reading it, I'm involved in the poem, and thinking "It's a shame romance writers aren't that good"... and also, even though the subject matter is very different, it reminds me of Robert E. Howard. Was he influenced (perhaps indirectly) by Imagist poets?

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(8 comments | Leave a comment)

[User Picture]
Date:June 9th, 2012 03:46 pm (UTC)
Wow. Lovely stuff.
[User Picture]
Date:June 9th, 2012 04:22 pm (UTC)
I'll wager you have heard of Amy's brother, Percival.

Canals on Mars drawn by Percival Lowell
[User Picture]
Date:June 9th, 2012 05:34 pm (UTC)
That's just what I was going to mention. . . . One might actually wonder whether Amy or Percival will turn out to have the greater literary influence in the long run.
[User Picture]
Date:June 9th, 2012 05:37 pm (UTC)
I learned of Amy Lowell in the 1960s, through Louis Undermeyer's anthology Modern American Poetry. I'm afraid she was never my favorite of the Imagists; I got more out of Ezra Pound and H.D. But Untermeyer made her historical significance clear. I don't know if anyone is doing comparable anthologies now; Untermeyer covered the whole spectrum of modern British and American verse, and gave a fair sample of the poets he included.
[User Picture]
Date:June 10th, 2012 11:06 am (UTC)
I preferred Conrad Aiken's little floppy cover Modern American Poetry. Lovely stuff.
[User Picture]
Date:June 10th, 2012 03:32 am (UTC)
I have never met a Lowell I didn't like. Though a lot of the technique passes over my head.
[User Picture]
Date:June 12th, 2012 11:03 am (UTC)
I just looked, and Patterns was published in 1915. That and the mention of Flanders make me think it's a WWI poem. But what a thing - that rough forceful diction at the end fits with what other poets in the war were doing. But it was shocking from them - gently-bred young men writing about killing and mud, blood, gas, trenches and "that old lie, dulce et decorum est pro patria mori". I can't even imagine what impact Lowells language would have, from the mouth of someone in ladelike brocades and stays. Wow.

(ETA: edited to fix typos)

Edited at 2012-06-12 11:03 am (UTC)
[User Picture]
Date:June 12th, 2012 07:09 pm (UTC)
In haste....

What the contrast of that last line recalls to me, come to think of it, is

O Western wind, when wilt thou blow
That the small rain down can rain?
Christ, that my love were in my arms
And I in my bed again!

I had thought that was really from a period of brocades and at least long feathers, and the speaker was an English gentleman off in an English war.

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