The Complete Poetical Works Analysis

Amy Lowell

Form and Content

(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

The Complete Poetical Works collects eleven of Amy Lowell’s books published between 1912 and 1927 and six uncollected poems, thus superseding an earlier, posthumous anthology edited by John Livingston Lowes, Selected Poems of Amy Lowell (1928). The Complete Poetical Works is presented in chronological publication order. Lowell’s not-inconsiderable prose texts are omitted, such as the post-World War I study Tendencies in Modern American Poetry (1921), in which Lowell attempted to articulate a literary movement, and the exhaustive two-volume work John Keats (1925). Apart from her own contemporaneously successful writings, Lowell is historically notable for her forcefully entrepreneurial, “unfeminine” promotions of modernist poetry and poets, especially the minor Imagist movement.

As Louis Untermeyer suggests in his introduction, the styles of Lowell’s poems range from the conventional lyrics and sonnets of A Dome of Many-Coloured Glass (1912) to the narrative “stories” of Men, Women, and Ghosts (1916), from the translations in her collaboration with Florence Ayscough, Fir-Flower Tablets (1921), to love lyrics for Ada Dwyer Russell in Pictures of the Floating World (1919). Lowell strove to perfect Imagist techniques, painting vivid scenes with words, but her narratives were sometimes better received. She had a deserved reputation as a ranconteuse and public speaker.

Lowell’s earliest works bespeak her apprenticeship in poetic craft. Her first poem, “Eleanora Duse,” was written in 1902; some sonnets were published in 1910, followed shortly by her first book in 1912. Lowell met Russell that year, and this...

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The Complete Poetical Works Context

(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

Louis Untermeyer, a noted critic of the 1950’s, provided the introduction to The Complete Poetical Works, entitled “A Memoir.” His comments display ambivalence toward Lowell, concluding that “Her final place in the history of American literature has not yet been determined. . . . [But] the importance of her influence remains unquestioned. . . . she was a dynamic force . . . an awakener.” Untermeyer presciently describes Lowell’s continuing legacy—brilliant poems poised against hackneyed ones. Perhaps provincialism doomed her reputation, as it undermined Edgar Guest and James Whitcomb Riley. Yet the very range of Amy Lowell’s corpus confirms her broad involvement in early twentieth century literature, suggesting her impact. The strands of her Imagism wind throughout modern poetry, a potent counterinfluence to the sterile academicism of Eliot.

Lowell herself was an outspoken, economically powerful public force in American literary circles. When Ezra Pound broke from Imagism to found “Vorticism,” instigating a feud, Lowell stubbornly persisted with her own vision. Pound gained preeminence; when Lowell died in 1925, at the age of fifty-one, her influence was curtailed. Her Steinian nature made her an object of both respect and derision; her literary enemies outlived her, and her legacy therefore suffered. Because Lowell’s literary prominence had been founded on the extraordinary force of her personality, as speaker,...

(The entire section is 494 words.)

The Complete Poetical Works Bibliography

(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

Benstock, Shari. Women of the Left Bank: Paris, 1900-1940. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1986. Lowell is not a prime Benstock subject, although she is frequently mentioned. This literary history constructs a panoramic view of Lowell’s period, elaborating on several writers with whom she was associated, especially H. D., and on lesbianism in that era.

Benvenuto, Richard. Amy Lowell. Boston: Twayne, 1985. This readable text provides a definitive, comprehensive discussion of Lowell’s life and work, including analyses of her stylistic development.

Faderman, Lillian. Surpassing the Love of Men: Romantic Friendship and Love Between Women from the Renaissance to the Present. New York: William Morrow, 1981. Faderman’s definitive history of lesbians in English-language literature includes a substantial passage about Lowell and her work, particularly relating to the personal poems concerning her lover, Ada Dwyer Russell.

Gilbert, Sandra M., and Susan Gubar. Sexchanges. Vol. 2 in No Man’s Land: The Place of the Woman Writer in the Twentieth Century. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1989. One of three volumes in this series by two significant feminist scholars, Sexchanges describes in fascinating detail the literary, social, and historical contexts pertinent to Lowell’s writing.

Lowell, Amy. Tendencies in Modern American Poetry. 1921. Reprint. New York: Haskell House, 1970. First published in 1921, Lowell’s discussions of Edwin Arlington Robinson, Robert Frost, Edgar Lee Masters, Carl Sandburg, H. D., and John Gould Fletcher lend valuable historical perspectives on important Modernists, exemplifying Lowell’s critical powers and promotional expertise.