Books: Damned Gifts

When Charlotte Lowell's husband left home, she turned to her son. "Oh, Bobby," she told him, "it's such a comfort to have a man in the house." The eleven-year-old sharply reminded her, "I am not a man; I am a boy."

So he was, and so he remained. He was not alone. Robert Lowell's closest friends and fellow poets, Randall Jarrell, John Berryman and Theodore Roethke, were also emotionally retarded. The poets, observes Jeffrey Meyers, "felt they should seek suffering rather than happiness . . . All four poets obsessively pursued their private myths, and persuaded each other and the public...