Robert Lowell

All my favorite Robert Lowell poems in one place, just in case I need them. Which I often do.


My sidestepping and obliquities, unable
to take the obvious truth on any subject—
why do I do what I do not want to say,
able to understand and not to hear?
Your rapier voice—I have had so much—
hundred words a minute, piercing and trilling…
the invincible lifedrive of everything alive,
ringing down silver dollars with each word….
Love wasn’t what went wrong, we kept our daughter;
What a good father is is no man’s boast—
to be still friends when we’re no longer children….
Why am I talking from the top of my mouth?
I am talking to you transatlantic,
we’re almost talking in each other’s arms.


“In the last three days Sheridan learned to walk,
and left the quadruped behind—for some reason
small pets avoid him….” Who shakes hands with a dead friend?
I see a huge, old rattling brown paper bag,
a picture, no fact; when I try to unwrap it,
it slips in my hands. It is our old car
resurrected from the must of negligence,
warning like Hector’s Ghost from the underground—
the car graveyard…
I do not drive in England, yet in my thought,
Our past years, especially the summers, are places
I could drive back to if I drove a car,
our old Burgundy Ford station-wagon summer-car,
our fourth, and first not prone to accident.


After London, the wind, the eye, my thoughts
race through New York with gaping coarse-comb teeth,
the simple-minded streets are one-way straight
no queues for buses and every angle right,
a bunchy London with twenty times the soaring;
it is fish-shaped, it is modern, it is metal,
austerity assuaged with melodrama,
an irritable reaching after face and reason,
a love of features fame puts up for sale—
love is all here, and the house desolate.
What shall I do with my stormy life blown towards evening?
No fervor helps without the favor of heaven,
no permissive law of nature picks up the bill—
survival is talking on the phone.


My lifelong taste for reworking the same water—
a day is day here, America all landscape
ocean monolithic past weathering;
the lakes are oceans, nature tends to gulp;
Change I earth or sky I am the same;
aging retreats to habit, puzzles repeated
and remembered, games repeated and remembered,
the runner trimming on his mud-smooth path,
the gamefish fattening in its narrow channel,
deaf to the lure of personality.
May the entertainment of uncertainty
help me from seeing through anyone I love….
Overtrained for England, I find America…
under unmoved heaven changing sky.


“London Chinese gray or oyster gray,
every appalling shade of pitch-pitch gray—
no need to cook up far-fetched imagery
to establish a climate for my mood….
If I have had hysterical drunken seizures,
it’s from loving you too much. It makes me wild,
I fear…. We’ve made the dining-room his bedroom—
I feel unsafe, uncertain you’ll get back.
I know I am happier with you than before.
Safer…” The go-sign blazes and my plane’s
great white umbilical ingress bangs in place.
The flight is certain… Surely it’s a strange joy
blaming ourselves and willing what we will.
Everything is real until it’s published.

and a favorite snippet from “Central Park”…

Scurrying from the mouth of night,

a single, fluttery, paper kite

grazed Cleopatra’s Needle, and sailed

where the light of the sun had failed.

Then night, the night—the jungle hour,

the rich in his slit-windowed tower …

Old Pharaohs starving in their foxholes,

with painted banquets on the walls,

fists knotted in their captives’ hair,

ty-rants with little food to spare—

all your embalming left you mortal,

glazed, black, and hideously eternal,

all your plunder and gold leaf

only served to draw the thief.