Robert Lowell

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

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It is true that the poem conveys the sharp contrast between the natural beauty of the land on which the nation's capital, Washington DC, sits and the political life of the city. However, it also conveys the sense that nature goes on, undaunted and persistent, while the elected officials come "bright as dimes / and die dishevelled and soft." These politicians are so numerous, so alike, and so unimportant, the narrator implies, that they are not remembered; on the land, however, animals continue to live their lives, oblivious to the life of the city and anything that goes on there. The "breeding vegetation" continues to grow, verdant and lush, and it is clear that the flora and fauna here "will inherit the globe" after all the politicians and lobbyists have gone home.

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Robert Lowell's poem "July in Washington" begins as almost an ode to the natural environment of Washington. He observes that the Potomac in July is full of "power launches," and various wildlife can be seen, including otters and raccoons who go about their business by the creek. There is "breeding vegetation." This creates a serene image of Washington as something of an idyll. However, politics raises its ugly head, even among these descriptions, in the form of the "South American/liberator" to which Lowell compares the "green statues." It is as if even while observing the natural beauty of Washington, outside of the city, the political associations of the area cannot quite be forgotten. This, really, is the meaning of the poem.

Lowell goes on to refer more specifically to the political connections of Washington. He notes that the number of politicians who come to Washington is so huge, they become "like rings on a tree": they demarcate the passage of time to a certain extent, but they are essentially indistinguishable from each other. They are "bright as dimes" when they arrive, but by the time they die, they have been pulverized by the political machine and are "dishevelled and soft." Words like "repugnance" underline Lowell's feelings about this political machine. There something repulsive about Washington, which now cannot be considered without politics invading the mind. The political associations of Washington have, to a considerable extent, overtaken the whole area.

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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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