My Last Afternoon with Uncle Devereux Winslow Themes

Robert Lowell

Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

This afternoon in 1922 was an important moment for the poet. With him, the reader looks back on such moments and realizes that much of one’s personal histories can be compressed into such spots of time. The passing of time is certainly a major theme of the poem.

The stakes do not seem very high in the opening scenes. A petulant child prefers the solid “Norman” (as in architecture) stodginess of his grandfather to the longings of his martini-drinking parents, who wish to escape to yet another family mansion. For a time he delays in letting readers know that the family is coming apart; he takes them safely back to great-aunt Sarah’s escapades, for example. No one can see what is coming. The reader is cushioned from it within the pastoral setting. By the time Lowell actually claims that he was terrified and “all-seeing” (as was Agrippina), however, some readers may realize how many hints he has given. Through the untimely death of his uncle, which is something of a portent, this larger family is seen to be standing at the end of the times they have known. The family force is spent; grandfather Winslow and his generation have run their course. An era has passed, and there is a strong suggestion that Lowell’s parents, aunts, and uncles are not empowered to bring about the new era. Most telling are the young Devereux’s Edwardian trappings. He may have rushed to join the European campaign by volunteering through Canada, but Devereux is a...

(The entire section is 525 words.)