"In the midst of our worst century so far we have produced a great poet." Those words by Elizabeth Bishop, a friend of Robert Lowell and a great poet in her own right, ring ever truer almost two decades after Lowell's death. Lowell had a meteoric career, exploding into the world of literature in 1959 with Life Studies. His poetry radically altered the American literary landscape, combining as it did family drama and an apocalyptic view of the history of our times. A very public voice which went forth in For the Union Dead, another much-honored work, Lowell decried the decay of urban life and the sorry lack of progress in civil rights. Nothing seemed to escape Lowell's gaze, nothing daunted him as food for literature - the Depression, World War II, the Cold War, Dallas, Selma, Vietnam, Watergate, Richard Nixon's bunker mentality. Another great thread running through Lowell's tapestry is the American individual. He is one of our great elegists, of the black Massachusetts 54th, of friends such as Frost, Williams, Eliot, Pound, Roethke, Jarrell, Schwartz, Plath, and Berryman. Married three times, always to writers, a grand playwright (The Old Glory) and translator (Aeschylus, Racine), Lowell won three Pulitzer Prizes and two National Book Awards for poetry. Lowell also had, tragically, his dark side, suffering from crippling bouts of manic depression and alcoholism. It is this side of him - the lost marriages, the bitter political feuds, the dark moments - that has been much publicized. Paul Mariani's brilliant reconstruction of Lowell's life restores the balance, reclaiming Lowell's legacy as the rightful heir to his forebear Jonathan Edwards, and to a place in literary history besideHawthorne, Henry James, Henry Adams, Williams, Frost, and Eliot. Using hundreds of Lowell's unpublished manuscripts and letters, and dozens of interviews, Mariani has given us a balanced, passionate, and readable life, capturing not only the man but also his age, the Age of Lowell.
[Mariani's] vigorous narrative style sparkles with rich details. . . . These pages bring out the sheer interestingness of Lowell's mind as it is encountered in letters, prose reflections, and in a lifetimes of poems.--William Pritchard