Article abstract: A leading poet of her day and leader of the Imagist movement, Amy Lowell also worked enthusiastically to popularize poetry and the other arts. She supported the work of other writers by editing collections of their works and by giving popular lectures on literature.
Amy Lowell was a member of the Lowell family which arrived in America in 1639, twenty years after the arrival of the Mayflower, and rose to become one of the leading New England families. (It was the Cabots who spoke only to the Lowells, and the Lowells who spoke only to God.) Amy’s older brother Lawrence was president of Harvard University from 1909 to 1933. Amy was the last of seven children, five of whom survived infancy. Amy’s mother remained a semi-invalid for all of Amy’s life (she suffered from Bright’s disease), and Amy was raised mainly by her nurse-governess at Sevenels, the Lowells’ home in Brookline, Massachusetts.
Amy did not have the companionship of other children and was often lonely, and as a result she took up the interests that her father and older brothers had. She preferred outdoor games and activities and was considered a tomboy by the age of eight.
Stimulated by the distinguished adults in her family and those who visited the Lowells, Amy was precocious. She became a good conversationalist and could amuse her parents’ guests with puns. She liked to write, and at age ten she started a mimeographed magazine called The Monthly Story-Teller. Her mother encouraged her to put together a book for sale at a charity bazaar: Dream Drops.
She was sent to private schools, but after attending some lectures at Radcliffe College, which she found boring, she left school at the age of seventeen. She educated herself by reading, both at home and at the Boston Athenaeum, a private library founded in 1807. She developed a special fondness for the English poet John Keats and later began a collection devoted to him. Her two older brothers had both published books (Percy on the Orient and astronomy and Lawrence on government), and Amy decided that she too would pursue a writing career. She experimented for several years with various literary forms, including plays, novels, and short stories.
After her mother died in 1895 and her father died in 1899, Amy bought the ten-acre family Brookline estate from her siblings. She created a large library and designed a music room. She had the house electrified, and she bought a summer home in New Hampshire. She joined various civic boards and shocked the local gentry by speaking up in meetings (which was unusual for women in those days).
Amy was plump and had always felt self-conscious about her weight, and in 1897 she may have been jilted by a suitor. She gave up thoughts of marriage and contented herself with friends. In 1912, she met the actress Ada Dwyer, and their friendship grew to such an extent that Ada quit the stage in 1914 to become Amy’s full-time secretary-companion until Amy’s death.
Amy had made many contacts in the social and political world by meeting and becoming friends with the many guests her family had entertained at Sevenels as she grew up. After the death of her parents, Amy was helped in her endeavors not only by Ada but also by her many friends; for example, Carl Engel, a composer and music publisher. With his encouragement, she put on and acted in plays at Sevenels and organized monthly concerts. At her salons, she introduced her audiences to new music, including that of Béla Bartok, Claude Debussy, and Erik Satie.
Amy’s position in a wealthy and influential family (whose wealth came mainly from the cotton mills that its members owned), combined with the support of her parents and older siblings, allowed her to have a larger role in determining the course of her life than many young women of her day had. The death of her parents by the time she was twenty-five relieved her of any need to secure their approval for her plans, and the wealth she inherited permitted her to live as she wished, writing, being a patron of the arts and salon hostess, or traveling wherever she wished. Thus, she was in a position to be much more independent than most other women of her era.
In 1902, when she was twenty-eight, Amy Lowell was inspired by a performance of the European actress Eleonora Duse to write a poem, and she decided to focus on poetry. Amy’s first published poem appeared in Atlantic Monthly in August of 1910. She organized her first book of poems and persuaded Houghton Mifflin to publish it. A Dome of Many-Colored Glass came out in October of 1912 to tepid reviews. The poems were not seen as very exciting. Amy came across an article by Ezra Pound on a group of poets to which he belonged: the Imagists. She traveled to London to meet the poets in the...
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