My Last Afternoon with Uncle Devereux Winslow Summary

Robert Lowell


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

“My Last Afternoon with Uncle Devereux Winslow” does not begin like an elegy, focusing instead on Lowell’s childhood affection for his grandfather Winslow and his distance from his own parents. It begins, “’I won’t go with you. I want to stay with Grandpa!’” Grandfather Winslow’s world was one of adventure and freedom. “the decor/ was manly, comfortable,/ overbearing, disproportioned.” At his farm are photographs of silver mines and “pitchers of ice-tea,/ oranges, lemons, mints, and peppermints,/ and the jug of shandygaff.” Most significant is the fact that “[n]o one had died there in my lifetime.” The boy (young Lowell) is busy playing with a “pile of black earth” and one of “lime,” an image of play and death that runs through the poem.

The pastoral innocence of the first part of the poem is swiftly challenged. The boy is now inappropriately dressed and is described as a “stuffed toucan/ with a bibulous, multicolored beak.” There is a recognition of failure; Great Aunt Sara had once slaved away at perfecting her ability on the piano, only to fail to appear at the recital. She now plays on a “dummy” and “noiseless” piano. Uncle Devereux, however, is still as young as the posters and photographs that fill the cottage he is closing “for the winter.” Suddenly, reality intrudes upon the stasis of old photographs: “My Uncle was dying at twenty-nine.” Devereux resists the fact of death by sailing with...

(The entire section is 480 words.)