Robert Lowell

On this date in 1917, poet Robert Lowell, the great-grand nephew of James Russell Lowell, was born in Boston. At an early age, he knew he wanted to be a poet. He attended Harvard for two years, and eventually graduated from Kenyon in 1940. He converted to Roman Catholicism when he married novelist Jean Stafford, his first wife. During World War II, he volunteered, but was rejected due to poor vision. However, in 1943, he was conscripted. Horrified by this time at the Allied bombing of civilians in Germany, Lowell became a conscientious objector, for which he was jailed as part of his sentence. At this time he completed his first book, Land of Unlikeness, which was published as Lord Weary's Castle (1946), and received the 1947 Pulitzer Prize for poetry. After divorcing (despite his conversion), Lowell married Elizabeth Hardwick, another writer, in 1949. The Mills of the Kavanaughs, Lowell's next book, came out in 1951 to less acclaim. He suffered from manic depression in the 1950s, living much of the time in Europe. His career rebounded with Life Studies (1959), containing what one critic dubbed as "confessional" poetry. Lowell became a Democratic activist in the 1960s, campaigning for Sen. Eugene McCarthy, and against nuclear proliferation and the Vietnam War. His second marriage broke up and he married Caroline Blackwood in 1972. The Dolphin won the Pulitzer Prize in 1974. According to David Tribe in 100 Years of Freethought, Lowell became a freethinker. He translated the humanistic Prometheus Bound in 1969 (see quote below). D. 1977.

“[Prometheus to the chorus]: I have little faith now, but I still look for truth, some momentary crumbling foothold.”

—Robert Lowell, translation of Aeschylus' Prometheus Bound (1969)

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

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