Thursday, April 12, 2012

National Poetry Month—Amy Lowell A Little Song

Amy Lowell was a member of the brilliant and accomplished extended Lowell Family.  She was born on February 9, 1874 in Brookline, Massachusetts and raised in a refined and sophisticated home which treasured literature.  She had every exception of a full education, but those hopes were cut short when at the age of 17 she had to leave private school to care for her elderly parents.  From then on, she was the steward of her own education.  

In 1902 thunder struck Lowell’s sheltered life in the person of famed actress Eleanora Duce.  Completely stricken by love and admiration, she wrote her first poem to the actress.  Although they met a couple of times, Amy’s love was destined to be unrequited. 

More poems followed and her career as a writer was launched.  In 1909 another actress, Ada Russell, became the love of her life.  They remained happily together until Amy’s death.  She wrote many poems to or about Ada, including Madonna of the Evening Flowers.  At first she cloaked her romantic feelings, but as time went on, the poems became more openly erotic, most famously her celebration of their first ten years together A Decade. 

After the death of her parents, she purchased their estate and established it as a center for poetry, reigning contentedly there with Ada and her beloved English sheepdogs.  She acted as a patron to many struggling poets, translated the works of others and wrote literary biographies like her two-volume work on John Keats.

Lowell became best known for her sponsorship of the Imagist movement in the United States.  She noted similarities between her own work the English poet Hilda Doolittle (H.D.)  She traveled to Britain and became immersed in the Imagist movement there, returning to the United States to spread the gospel. 

The eccentric American exile Ezra Pound was the self-proclaimed leader of the movement and bitterly resented Amy’s role in its spread.  Typically, he devoted enormous energy to denouncing her and tagging her American Imagist movement as Amygisme.  The attendant controversy only raised Lowell’s prestige among American poets. 

She was more bothered by criticism of her lesbianism, mannish attire, and even her obesity.  She was especially stung by denunciations the priggish banned-in-Boston crowd, her own Brahman class of Unitarians.  She almost severed relations with her faith tradition over the slights, but instead defiantly endowed a window in her home church upon her death.  She also deeply resented being considered a dilettante because she was a woman and an heiress.  She never lived to see complete acceptance as a poet.  In 1926, a year after her death, she was posthumously awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry for her book What’s O’Clock.

A Little Song

When you, my Dear, are away, away,
How wearily goes the creeping day.
A year drags after morning, and night
Starts another year of candle light.
O Pausing Sun and Lingering Moon!
Grant me, I beg of you, this boon.

Whirl round the earth as never sun
Has his diurnal journey run.
And, Moon, slip past the ladders of air
In a single flash, while your streaming hair
Catches the stars and pulls them down
To shine on some slumbering Chinese town.
O Kindly Sun! Understanding Moon!
Bring evening to crowd the footsteps of noon.

But when that long awaited day
Hangs ripe in the heavens, your voyaging stay.
Be morning, O Sun! with the lark in song,
Be afternoon for ages long.
And, Moon, let you and your lesser lights
Watch over a century of nights.
—Amy Lowell

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