From the publication of his first major volume in 1946, Lord Weary's Castle, to a few years before his death in 1977, Robert Lowell held sway as the premier English-language poet of his time. Lord Weary's Castle seemed to push poetic language and cultural critique in exciting new directions, yet they were directions sanctioned by the New Criticism of his time. In 1959, Lowell's Life Studies dramatically broke the very traditions he had previously revitalized. During the 1960s, his works elaborated his new poetic mode and engaged with personal, political, and historical issues. But with the 1973 publication of his poetic trilogy, History, For Lizzie and Harriet, and The Dolphin, his reputation suffered. Though his final work, the autobiographical Day by Day-published shortly before his death in 1977-was favorably received, critics continued to attack him in the decades that followed. Thus Lowell's reputation, as this volume makes clear, has fluctuated, and at the close of the twentieth century, there is still no critical consensus about any aspect of his work.
This book provides a representative sample of the critical discourse concerning Lowell's poetry, drama, and prose, and shows that discourse at its most varied and vital. An introductory essay surveys the response to Lowell's writings. The first three sections then track Lowell's volumes chronologically. Most of his books receive one or two reviews followed by several scholarly essays, arranged in the order of their publication. Along with the reprinted articles are two essays written specifically for this volume. The fourth section presents several broad overviews of Lowell and his works, and an extensive bibliography of primary and secondary sources concludes the book. The volume also contains an essay by Lowell himself, in which he reflects on his career.