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 Robert Lowell

Robert Lowell

Original Name Robert Traill Spence Jr.
Birth
Boston, Suffolk County, Massachusetts, USA
Death 12 Sep 1977 (aged 60)
New York, New York County (Manhattan), New York, USA
Burial Dunbarton Center, Merrimack County, New Hampshire, USA
Memorial ID 5855 · View Source
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Poet, Pulitzer Prize Winner. He won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1947 and again in 1974. Born Robert Traill Spence Lowell IV in Boston, Massachusetts, his father was a commander in the US Navy and he came from a family that included poets Amy Lowell and James Russell Lowell. His mother was a descendant of William Samuel Johnson, a signer of the US Constitution and Calvinist theologian Jonathan Edwards, as well as Mayflower passengers James Chilton and his daughter, Mary Chilton. As a youth, he had a penchant for violence and bullying other children and as a teenager, his peers gave him the nickname "Cal" after both the Shakespeare character 'Caliban' and the tyrannical Roman emperor Caligula, and the nickname stuck with him throughout his life. He received his high school education at St. Mark's School, a prominent preparatory school in Southborough, Massachusetts, where he met and was influenced by the poet Richard Eberhart, who taught at the school and as a high school student, he decided that he wanted to become a poet. After completing high school he attended Harvard College in Cambridge, Massachusetts and after two years he took a leave of absence to get away from his parents and to study with his psychiatrist Merrill Moore's friend, the poet-professor Allen Tate who was then living in Nashville, Tennessee and teaching at Vanderbilt University. He lived in a tent on Tate's lawn for two months, after which he relocated to Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio and resumed his studies, graduating in 1940 with a Bachelor's Degree in Classics. He then worked on a Masters degree in English literature at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, Louisiana and taught introductory courses in English for one year before the US entered World War II in December 1941. During World War II he was a conscientious objector and served several months at the federal prison in Danbury, Connecticut. In 1944 he published his first book of poems, "Land of Unlikeness" that received favorable reviews. In 1946 he received wide acclaim for his next book, "Lord Weary's Castle," which included five poems slightly revised from "Land of Unlikeness" and thirty new poems. Among the better-known poems in the volume are "Mr. Edwards and the Spider" and "The Quaker Graveyard in Nantucket" and he was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1947. That same year, he was appointed the sixth Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress, serving until 1948. In 1951 he published "The Mills of the Kavanaughs," which centered on its epic title poem and failed to receive the high praise that his previous book had received. Following "The Mills of the Kavanaughs" he hit a creative roadblock and took a long break from publishing. However, by the end of the decade, he started writing again and changed stylistic direction and in 1959 he published his next book of poems "Life Studies," which won the National Book Award for poetry in 1960 and became the most influential book that he would ever write. From 1950 to 1953 he taught in the well-reputed Iowa Writers' Workshop at the University of Iowa in Iowa City, Iowa and later he obtained a job teaching at Boston University in Boston, Massachusetts, where his students included the poets Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton. Over the years he taught at a number of other universities including the University of Cincinnati in Cincinnati, Ohio, Yale University at New Haven, Connecticut, Harvard University, and the New School for Social Research at New York City, New York. In 1961 he published "Imitations," a volume of loose translations of poems by classical and modern European poets, including Rilke, Montale, Baudelaire, Pasternak, and Rimbaud, for which he received the 1962 Bollingen Poetry Translation Prize. Also in 1961 he published his English translation of the French verse play "Phedre" by 17th century playwright Jean Racine. He changed the spelling of the title of the play to "Phaedra" and it was his first attempt at translating a play, and the piece received a generally positive review from The New York Times. His next book of poems, "For the Union Dead," was published in 1964 and was widely praised, particularly for its title poem. He followed this with three one-act plays that were meant to be performed together as a trilogy, titled "The Old Glory" and it won five Obie Awards in 1965, including an award for Best American Play. Throughout the 1960s he was the most public, well-known American poet. In June 1967 he appeared on the cover of Time magazine as part of a cover story in which he was praised as "the best American poet of his generation." In 1973 he published three books of sonnets, "History," "For Lizzie and Harriet," and "The Dolphin," which won him the 1974 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry. In 1977 he published his last volume of poetry, "Day by Day," the year of his death. In May of that year he won the $10,000 National Medal for Literature awarded by the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, and "Day by Day" was awarded that year's National Book Critics Circle Award for poetry. During his life, he suffered from manic depression and was hospitalized many times for this mental illness. On numerous occasions he was admitted to the famous psychiatric hospital, McLean Hospital, in Belmont, Massachusetts, and one of his poems, "Waking in the Blue" references his stay there. He died in New York City, New York at the age of 60 after suffering a heart attack in a cab. He was married three times, first to novelist and short-story writer Jean Stafford (1940, divorced in 1948), then to writer Elizabeth Hardwick (1949, divorced in 1972), and finally to Caroline Blackwood (1972 until his death).

Bio by: William Bjornstad


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  • Maintained by: Find A Grave
  • Added: 11 Jul 1999
  • Find A Grave Memorial 5855
  • Find A Grave, database and images (https://www.findagrave.com : accessed ), memorial page for Robert Lowell (1 Mar 1917–12 Sep 1977), Find A Grave Memorial no. 5855, citing Stark Cemetery, Dunbarton Center, Merrimack County, New Hampshire, USA ; Maintained by Find A Grave .