‘Not Avoiding Injury’: Robert Lowell

  • John A. Ward


At first it seems odd to describe the process of poetry as negatively as Robert Lowell does in the final poem of the volume named The Dolphin; the last eight lines of the poem titled ‘Dolphin’ read:

I have sat and listened to too many words of the collaborating muse and plotted perhaps too freely with my life, not avoiding injury to others not avoiding injury to myself—to ask compassion … this book, half fiction, an eelnet made by man for the eel fighting—my eyes have seen what my hand did.

(TD, 78)1

Injury to others and injury to oneself are peculiarly the product and problem for the autobiographical poet. But Lowell is proud of the accomplished poetic artifact; the only disadvantage is that he cannot ask ‘compassion’ and expect to get it.


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  1. 2.
    Steven Gould Axelrod, Robert Lowell: Life and Art (Princeton University Press, 1978) p. 214–5.Google Scholar
  2. 3.
    Vereen M. Bell, Robert Lowell: Nihilist as Hero (Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1983). p. 195.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. 4.
    Cited in Ian Hamilton, Robert Lowell. A Biography (London: Faber & Faber, 1982) p. 432.Google Scholar
  4. 6.
    Boris Pasternak, Dr. Zhivago (New York: Pantheon Books, 1958) p. 453.Google Scholar
  5. 12.
    Frank Brady, James Boswell. The Later Years,1769–1795 (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1984) p. 148.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Ann Massa 1990

Authors and Affiliations

  • John A. Ward

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