Books: A Self-Examined Life

Robert Lowell: 1917-1977

"Ah the swift vanishing of my older/ generation," Robert Lowell lamented in a sonnet not long ago, "the deaths, suicide, madness/ of Roethke, Berryman, Jarrell and Lowell." There was a justifiable pride in this facetious reference to himself, for while his contemporaries died early, Lowell seemed to thrive on middle age. He too had been humbled by madness—an experience he documented in Life Studies (1959)—but had survived to become America's most distinguished contemporary poet. When Lowell died last week of a heart attack in a New York City taxi at...

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