Perhaps despite her huge output—eleven poetic collections alone in about twenty years—Lowell managed to make a significant splash in the literary milieu of her era. Among these reams, much may be found that is both trivial and forgettable. Yet much retains its freshness and vibrant sensuality, accessible to intellectual and casual readers alike. Although Lowell’s Romantic or derivative pieces often rely on classical conventions of image, metaphor, and reference, her best poems might be qualified as “homey” or comfortable. Despite her upper-class background, Lowell wrote convincingly in voices/personae from all social strata. She captured nuances of speech, particularly when adopting a colloquial, New England dialect, as in the grotesque “Off the Turnpike.” These dialects and personae tend to the vulgar, rustic variety, evidencing Lowell’s Romantic streak. She shared this narrative style with contemporaries Edgar Lee Masters and Robert Frost, whom she knew and admired as “modern poets . . . less concerned with dogma and more with truth.” Though Frost’s work has had a lasting influence comparable in degree, if not in kind, to T. S. Eliot’s, Masters’ poems have been devalued as overly folksy, even maudlin, as has much of Lowell’s work.
Lowell might have had more acclaim as a narrative poet had she not often insisted on grotesque, violent, or melodramatic scenarios. For example, “The Rosebud Wall-paper” describes in thick dialect a tawdry hamlet scandal. In “Sea-Blue and Blood-Red,” Lowell tells the gory tale of Admiral Nelson,...
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