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This article is taken from PN Review 9, Volume 6 Number 1, September - October 1979.

Robert Lowell's Last Poems Robert A. Ferguson

TWELVE years ago the poet Robert Bly announced that For The Union Dead was a counterfeit book of poetry and that Robert Lowell, surrounded by flatterers, was being ruined by false publicity and an uncritical audience. Now Donald Hall (PNR 8) renews the claim over Lowell's last book of poems Day By Day. Hall tells us that the great poet died thirteen years or seven books ago. He dismisses Day By Day as a "slack" and "meretricious" offering-one whose self-indulgence and "trashiness" can be traced in part to Lowell's apparent acceptance of the exaggerated reverence and encomiums of the critics. The image involved here-one can hardly call it an argument-has a certain appeal. Indeed, an impression of the famous bard turned from his high purpose by the sloganeering pharisees of journalism and the academy would seem especially compelling to contemporary poets working, as they must, under Lowell's large and public shadow. Moreover, there is just a touch of historical truth to support the possibility. Many of America's greatest poets-Poe, Whitman, Dickinson, for example-went unappreciated in their lifetimes, while the poets of the age-Bryant, Longfellow, Whittier, James Russell Lowell-accepted ephemeral standards and conventional applause and are now forgotten.

Did Robert Lowell succumb in this manner? Donald Hall produces little evidence to support the case beyond his own disparaging comments. It is hard to find a contemporary poet who has been less complacent or more innovative in his use of language than Robert Lowell. "It's such a miracle," he ...

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