What is the meaning of the poem "July in Washington" by Robert Lowell?  

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Michael Ugulini eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The meaning of the poem "July in Washington" by American poet Robert Lowell is that the natural beauty of the area is in sharp contrast to what really sometimes goes on in Washington as pertains to politics. Washington is here likened to a wheel whose spokes reach out to “the sore spots of the earth.” In essence, policies in Washington set down by political parties and their respective politicians, affect and influence what goes on in other parts of the world. This is concerning U.S. foreign policy.

The attractiveness of Washington in July is the actions of otters and raccoons as they go about their daily business. The physical environment of Washington is beautiful. In addition, there is majestic beauty in the green statues on the circles; these "ride like South American liberators above the breeding vegetation..."

However, the tone of the poem changes when Lowell talks about politicians. He notes they arrive in Washington as newbies, fresh and idealistic so-to-speak. They have good intentions to be catalysts of positive change to serve their jurisdictions well. In the end, though, Lowell says that they "die disheveled and soft.”

In other words, through corruption, or through not pursuing their ideals vigorously, or through grid-lock, or party-politics, they cannot do what they originally intended to do and they become defeated politicians with no significant accomplishments. They have not served their country as a whole well, nor their constituents.

Lowell states, in effect, that there are too many of these politicians to name, they are numerous, “like rings on a tree." He states that people wish there was another purer and true Washington on another shore of the Potomac. He states that it wouldn’t take much urging for people to go to that Washington.  So, fundamentally, this is a political poem about the malaise in Washington.

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