In his first major collection, Lord Weary’s Castle, Robert Lowell contextualizes his Catholicism, his aversion to World War II, and his antagonism to mercantile Boston with an Irish ballad about the little man’s exploitation by an immoral, all-powerful country. With demanding, intricate metrical forms and artificially charged language, the poems display Lowell’s characteristic themes of personal, national, and historical self-destruction in the face of eternal suffering. The poems unfold a “vision of destruction.” A sense of despair flows into such apocalyptic conclusions as, “The Lord survives the rainbow of His will.” In such poems as “Mr. Edwards and the Spider” and “A Quaker Graveyard in Nantucket,” however, this despair provides the defiant, life-giving force for the believer’s self-reliant intellect, which is unafraid to face its own paradoxes.
In Life Studies, Lowell’s style becomes less “distant, symbol-ridden, and willfully difficult,” and his subjects become more personal (family history, mental breakdowns, and marital difficulties). The poet feeds on his own psychology and history. “Beyond the Alps” recalls Lowell’s sad departure from Catholicism; “Memories of West Street and Lepke” narrates Lowell’s prison experience during World War II. Life Studies primarily records, in psychological portraits of his childhood, his parents, and his wives, his changed attitude toward Boston....
(The entire section is 443 words.)