Robert Lowell

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What are the symbols and themes in Robert Lowell's "Skunk Hour"?

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This poem, in which the narrator is most likely the author, according to his biography (Salem on Literature on Enotes), addresses the human race as "aliens" in the own world.  It also deals with how our own personal histories blend with the historical context of our world.  This poem is a confessional one in many ways, as Lowell seems to be looking for a moment of grace and redemption. 

Lowell's use of different scenarios in the first few stanzas represents EVERY human being.  These people could be any of us and yet they are ALL of us.  There is no separation when it comes to human nature and the fact that we are all just visitors on Earth.  We, in that way, then, are aliens on our own planet.  Lowell seems to be questioning his place here.  Salem on Literature on Enotes states:

In this personal wasteland, Lowell laments that the social order has failed him, that he has failed himself. His own narrowed circumstances have been placed in history, set against the backdrop of the town and against the living memory of the dark night that occasioned the poet’s malaise. ("Skunk Hour")

Another symbol is the skunk.  It represents hope for Lowell, however:

The present hell is only understood through the past—the “dark night” that allowed the poet, and therefore the reader, to find a source of hope in the skunk’s active presence in the night. ("Skunk Hour")

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