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This article is taken from PN Review 162, Volume 31 Number 4, March - April 2005.

Scholar Poets and History John Lucas

There seems recently to have developed a custom of calling certain poets 'scholar poets' as a way of praising them for their use of other, earlier poets, especially those who brooded about political matters, above all, perhaps the question of nationhood. Geoffrey Hill is perhaps not surprisingly identified as one such poet. Robert Lowell is another. In an essay called 'Robert Lowell and Marvell: Poetry and Patriotism', which appeared in the journal, English, Anthony Moore writes at length about Lowell's 1967 collection, Near the Ocean, which he considers, so he says, to be an important 'meditation on politics, the republic and the American imperium' by one he calls a 'scholar poet', and whom he praises for his 'historical range' and 'deep knowledge of older literature'. Moore then finds echoes of Eliot's Four Quartets (in the collection's title poem) and, far more significantly, of Marvell's Horatian Ode, one of the greatest of all political poems, in Lowell's 'Waking Early Sunday Morning'. Moore quotes Barbara Everett's praise for Marvell's Ode, a poem she regards as standing 'like a landmark at the centre of the age: grave, weighty and unshakeably judicious'. There is, so Moore claims, 'a similar heft in Lowell's work'. The adequacy of this claim is a matter I shall return to later. Before I do so, however, I need to say something about the history of the term 'scholar poet'.

As far as I know, it was first used by Edward Young, in ...

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