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The Old Flame

Robert Lowell 1917 (Boston) – 1977 (New York City)



My old flame, my wife!
Remember our lists of birds?
One morning last summer, I drove
by our house in Maine. It was still
on top of its hill,

Now a red ear of Indian maize
was splashed on the door.
Old Glory with thirteen stripes
hung on a pole. The clapboard
was old-red schoolhouse red.

Inside, a new landlord,
a new wife, a new broom!
Atlantic seaboard antique shop
pewter and plunder
shone in each room.

A new frontier!
No running next door
now to phone the sheriff
for his taxi to Bath
and the State Liquor Store!

No one saw your ghostly
imaginary lover
stare through the window
and tighten
the scarf at his throat.

Health to the new people,
health to their flag, to their old
restored house on the hill!
Everything had been swept bare,
furnished, garnished and aired.

Everything's changed for the best,
how quivering and fierce we were,
there snowbound together,
simmering like wasps
in our tent of books!

Poor ghost, old love, speak
with your old voice
of flaming insight
that kept us awake all night.
In one bed and apart,

we heard the plow
groaning up hill,
a red light, then a blue,
as it tossed off the snow
to the side of the road.
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Submitted on August 03, 2020

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Robert Lowell

Robert Traill Spence "Cal" Lowell IV was an American poet. He was born into a Boston Brahmin family that could trace its origins back to the Mayflower. His family, past and present, were important subjects in his poetry. Growing up in Boston also informed his poems, which were frequently set in Boston and the New England region. Lowell stated, "The poets who most directly influenced me ... were Allen Tate, Elizabeth Bishop, and William Carlos Williams. An unlikely combination!..... but you can see that Bishop is a sort of bridge between Tate's formalism and Williams's informal art." Lowell was capable of writing both formal, metered verse as well as free verse; some of his verse, in some poems from Life Studies and Notebook, fell somewhere in between metered and free verse. After the publication of his 1959 book Life Studies, which won the 1960 National Book Award and "featured a new emphasis on intense, uninhibited discussion of personal, family, and psychological struggles," he was considered an important part of the confessional poetry movement. more…

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