Writing Wednesday: Amy Lowell

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Amy Lowell was born on February 9,  1874, at her family's a ten-acre family estate of Sevenels in Brookline, Massachusetts. The youngest of five children, Her family was considered in the upper echelons of Boston society. Initially tutored at home, Amy went on to attend Boston private schools and traveled to Europe with her family. At the age of seventeen, she couped herself in Sevenels' immense library and studied literature. 

With her mother and sister, she wrote Dream Drops or Stories From Fairy Land by a Dreamer in 1887 printed privately. Her poem “Fixed Idea” was published in 1910 by the Atlantic Monthly and several other poems were published in journals. In October of 1912 Houghton Mifflin published her first collection, A Dome of Many-Coloured Glass.

Lowell was outspoken and controversial, building a career as a poet, publicity agent, collector, critic, and lecturer, joining the imagist movement and working to promote its principles. 

 

Imagism

A reaction in part to romantisicm and Victorian poetry, Imagism was a movement in America and England that utilised specificity of language to evoke clear images for the reader.  Haiku and tanka poetry were often influential for imagist poets as they too sought to freeze a moment in time. Adjectives are employed conservatively, selected to enhance the emotions and images evoked in the poem.

Ezra Pound is credited with being the founder of the movement however, its ideals were first developed by T.E. Hulme by 1908. Hulme spoke of the words of a poem being more than merely decorative but comprising the poem's essence.   

Writing in the March 1913 issue of Poetry, F. S. Flint, quoting Pound, defined imagist poetry as:

  • Direct treatment of the “thing," whether subjective or objective.
  • To use absolutely no word that does not contribute to the presentation.
  • As regarding rhythm: to compose in sequence of the musical phrase, not in sequence of the metronome. -  published “A Few Don’ts by an Imagiste.”

By Spring of 1914 disputes arose within the movement and Pound distanced himself. Amy Lowell became the leader of the movement between 1915 and 1917 publishing three anthologies of poetry all under the name of Some Imagist Poets. Eventually, Amy Lowell also distanced herself from the Imagists and the poetry movement became part of the larger modernist movement. Lowell died on May 12, 1925, at Sevenels.

 

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A Fixed Idea

- Amy Lowell

What torture lurks within a single thought
When grown too constant; and however kind,
However welcome still, the weary mind
Aches with its presence. Dull remembrance taught
Remembers on unceasingly; unsought
The old delight is with us but to find
That all recurring joy is pain refined,
Become a habit, and we struggle, caught.
You lie upon my heart as on a nest,
Folded in peace, for you can never know
How crushed I am with having you at rest
Heavy upon my life. I love you so
You bind my freedom from its rightful quest.
In mercy lift your drooping wings and go.

 

 

 

 

Sonnet

A sonnet is a 14 line poem with a variable rhyme scheme and traditionally in iambic pentameter. Here, Lowell uses the Petrarchan rhyme scheme ABBA ABBA CDCDCD. With such confinements, a sonnet is likened to a box and the aim is to transcend such confinements. The Petrarchan sonnet has a feeling of balance to it, being almost equally weighted into halves through its rhyme scheme.  You will notice that Lowell isn't bound to the iambic pentameter rhythm. More contemporary poets have experimented with ways to push and bend the sonnet form to varying degrees. How might this form of meter convey the meaning of the poem?

 

Your Turn...

What occurs when a classic form is used to explore less typical subject matter?

Choose aspects of the sonnet form that you will use. Pick a specific emotion or moment in time and write your own sonnet using precision in your language. How can you make the rhythm of your poem like a musical phrase?

for other examples and more contemporary takes on the sonnet, see “Voiced Stops” by Forrest Gander and “Incandescent War Poem Sonnet” by Bernadette Mayers.

 

 

References and Further Reading

Poets.org: Amy Lowell

Poets.org: A Brief Guide to Imagism

Poetry Foundation: Learning the Sonnet

 

 

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