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This article is taken from PN Review 267, Volume 49 Number 1, September - October 2022.

A Wary Friendship: Alfred Kazin and Robert Lowell Tony Roberts
Over the course of thirty years Kazin, (1915–98) and Lowell (1917–77) learned to appreciate each other’s considerable talent, despite their personal and political differences. After early setbacks, Kazin proved frequently effusive in his praise of Lowell – in public and in private – as we see from his books and his Journals (2011). After the poet’s death he would concede certain weaknesses in the work and particularly in the man. For Lowell, on the other hand, Kazin provided an interesting, discriminating reader and a friendly audience.

Kazin, the radical critic, and Lowell, the conservative poet (‘I have never been a Liberal tho I have a liberal vein’) shared an absorption in American history, which they romanticized in their different ways. The son of impoverished Jewish immigrants, Kazin saw America as rich with promise, though a promise perilously close at times to being broken. His greats were the isolated literary radicals of the nineteenth century – Emerson, Thoreau, Whitman and Melville – outsiders like himself. ‘The past, the past was great: anything American, old, glazed, touched with dusk at the end of the nineteenth century, still smoldering with the fires lit by the industrial revolution, immediately set my mind dancing’ (A Walker in the City). Lowell, a patrician New Englander, was also a patriot, but one who in his early work seemed to relish castigating America as a fallen world, rich in sin and violence, and in need of redemption:
Our fathers wrung their bread from stocks and stones
And fenced their gardens with the Redman’s bones;
Embarking from ...


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