ANALYZING THE HIGH MODERNIST POEM

analyzing the high modernist peomOverview

High Modernism was a phase of writing influenced by T.S. Eliot and The New Criticism, and aimed at complex meaning and cultural association compressed into impersonal and tightly-written forms. One of its best-known exponents was Robert Lowell, {1} and the poem analyzed here {2} {3} helped to make his reputation.

The Quaker Graveyard in Nantucket

In Thomas Jeffers's words, The Quaker Graveyard at Nantucket is a composite of Hopkins's gnarled phrasing in The Wreck of The Deutschland, Milton's Lycidas, the first chapter of Thoreau's Cape Cod, and Melville's Moby-Dick. "Lowell depicts the Quaker leviathan-chasers going to work with a grisly efficiency, while the butchered white whale becomes, like Jonah in Christian typology, a figure of Jesus the messiah. In his review of the book. . . Jarrell noted this poem's 'extraordinary rhetorical machine . . . which first traps and then wrings to pieces the helpless reader — who rather enjoys it," adding that the lines' "detailed factuality is particularly effective because it sets off, or is set off by, the elevation and rhetorical sweep characteristic of much earlier English poetry.'" {4}

Stanza I opens with a death at sea, which is developed in Stanza II, where we learn the identity of the drowned man: Lowell's cousin. Stanza III, with its whited monster is given below. In Stanza IV we have more on the Quaker whalers and return to their graveyard at Nantucket. Stanza V is packed with detail of the whaler's trade, and draws heavily on Moby Dick. Stanza VI brings change, to a quieter but not lyrical description of the penitents journey to Our Lady of Walsingham. Violence returns in Stanza VII, with man's birth from the primaeval slime and vulnerability to the forces of nature.

Verse Structure

Each of the seven stanzas is 17 to 27 lines long, and tightly rhymed. {5} Technically, Stanza III is the most demanding, with its interlacing of long and short lines, and its opening rhyme used no less than seven times:

The Quaker Graveyard in Nantucket

1. All you recovered from Poseidon died 5a
2. With you, my cousin, and the harrowed brine 5b
3. Is fruitless on the blue beard of the god, 5c
4. Stretching beyond us to the castles in Spain, 5b
5. Nantucket's westward haven. To Cape Cod 5c
6. Guns, cradled on the tide, 3a
7. Blast the eelgrass about a waterclock 5d
8. Of bilge and backwash, roil the salt and sand 5e
9. Lashing earth's scaffold, rock 3d
10. Our warships in the hand 3e
11. Of the great God, where time's contrition blues 5f
12. Whatever it was these Quaker sailors lost 5g
13. In the mad scramble of their lives. They died 5a
14. When time was open-eyed, 3a
15. Wooden and childish; only bones abide 5a
16. There, in the nowhere, where their boats were tossed 5g
17. Sky-high, where mariners had fabled news 5f
18. Of IS, the whited monster. What it cost 5g
19. Them is their secret. In the sperm-whale's slick 5h
20. I see the Quakers drown and hear their cry: 5i
21. "If God himself had not been on our side, 5a
22. If God himself had not been on our side, 5a
23. When the Atlantic rose against us, why, 5i
24. Then it had swallowed us up quick." 4h

Stanza III: The Quaker Graveyard in Nantucket by Robert Lowell. Lord Weary's Castle: 1946

The writing is extraordinarily accomplished, the lines running on but always ending strongly:

                        They died
When time was open-eyed,

Also striking is the physicality of the words (however much borrowed),

Blast the eelgrass about a waterclock
Of bilge and backwash, roil the salt and sand

and their collisions:

There, in the nowhere, where their boats were tossed

Line breaks are handled masterfully:

Our warships in the hand
Of the great God,

and expert use is made of assonance, alliteration and effective phrasing:

All you recovered from Poseidon | died
With you | my cousin || and the harrowed brine |
Is fruitless on the blue beard | of the god

Even this line, which seems flat, and doesn't rhyme well, has its purpose, that of slowing the tempo:

Stretching beyond us to the castles in Spain,

and then quietly ending the thought.

Nantucket's westward haven.

Irony is not frequently employed in this stanza, excepting the dark puns of blue beard and harrowed brine, and more obviously:

I see the Quakers drown and hear their cry:
"If God himself had not been on our side,
If God himself had not been on our side,
When the Atlantic rose against us, why,
Then it had swallowed us up quick."

where Lowell is presenting man's faith as larger than the facts warrant, a theme underlined in the last line of the poem:

The Lord survives the rainbow of His will

Survives? It is a very doubting and ambiguous statement, applauded by some critics but also undermining the ostensible meaning. {6} Were these lives well spent? Lowell doesn't quite say, and perhaps should do, having by then converted to a Catholicism where faith would take precedence over the mythology and symbolism that can be read into the poem. {7}

The striving for magnificence sometimes passes into the grandiloquent. {17} {18} The opening line of the poem is a stunning example of the verse writer's art — A brackish reach of shoal off Madaket — until we wonder quite what it means: shoal, rise, reach of rise, brackish water out to sea? And ask why whited in Of Is, the whited monster? Or with Guns, cradled on the tide, Blast the eelgrass about a waterclock, how can heavy guns be cradled on the tide if the vessels are sunk, and how can submerged guns blast anything?

Lowell remembered his summers with Warren Winslow, but his cousin was killed in a training accident and not drowned at sea. And what exactly does that last line say? That the Lord will survive beyond any (even biblical) interpretation we make of his purposes? Why then the menace of:

When the Lord God formed man from the sea's slime
And breathed into his face the breath of life,
And blue-lung'd combers lumbered to the kill.
The Lord survives the rainbow of His will.

We don't know, and the poem doesn't address man's mortality and salvation. The quiet Our Lady of Walsingham stanza may be a counterweight to the brutal rhetoric elsewhere, {8} but it is more by the examples of men's lives that such questions as these can be met:


Sailors, who pitch this portent at the sea
Where dreadnaughts shall confess
Its heel-bent deity,
When you are powerless
To sand-bag this Atlantic bulwark, faced
By the earth-shaker, green, unwearied, chaste
In his steel scales: ask for no Orphean lute
To pluck life back. The guns of the steeled fleet
Recoil and then repeat
The hoarse salute.

Or

                                 Who will dance
The mast-lashed master of Leviathans
Up from this field of Quakers in their unstoned graves?

But there is little individual or divine presence in the poem, and Lowell only says wryly:

"If God himself had not been on our side,
When the Atlantic rose against us, why,
Then it had swallowed us up quick."

Lowell did not continue in Catholicism (or High Modernism) for long, being driven on by the psychic conflicts that erupted in failed marriages and public opposition to American bombing policies in WWII and Vietnam. And by thickening rather than developing a theme over a long poem he faced the daunting task of extracting one all-enclosing line from its tangled mass. What he did produce was stunning, but the ambiguity gives us pause.

Writing our Own

Let's avoid the last difficulty by writing on a more compelling theme: the horrors of war — both wars in the conventional sense and wars against unwelcome notions. We start by looking at Lowell's stanzas, which run:

Stanza One: 5a 5b 5c 5b 5c 3a 5d 5e 3d 3e 5f 5g 5h 5g 5h 3f 5i 3j 3i 3j 5k 5k 5l 5c 3c 2l
Stanza Two: 5a 5b 5a 5b 5c 5c 5d 5e 5e 5d 5f 5f 5g 5h 5h 5g 5i 5i
Stanza Three: 5a 5b 5c 5b 3a 3a 5d 5e 3d 3e 5f 5g 5a 3a 5a 5g 5f 5g 5h 5i 5a 5a 5i 4h
Stanza Four: 5a 5b 5c 5b 5c 3a 5a 5d 5d 5a 5e 5f 5g 5f 5g 3e 5h 5h 5i 5h
Stanza Five: 5a 5b 5a 5c 5d 5d 5e 5f 5f 5e 5g 5g 5h 5i 5h 5i 5j 5j
Stanza Six: 5a 5b 5b 5c 5a 3c 5d 5e 5e 5d 5d 5e 5e 5f 5d 5f 5g 5g 5h 5h
Stanza Seven: 5a 5b 5b 3a 5c 5c 5d 5e 5e 5f 5g 5h 5i 5i 5h 5j 5j

Overwhelmingly the rhyme are masculine, with a few approximate but picking up assonance in nearby lines. Generally blunt, hard words that hammer the sense home. We adopt some of that physicality, and use, at least for a first draft, the rhyme scheme of the third stanza reproduced above. A first stab at a stanza:

The bells fall orderly through long, cobbled streets 5a
To beer cellars and shunting yards — through places 5b
Nondescript, not fully woken in this 5c
Fraying northeast wind that blenches faces 5b
Bites through tunics, beats 3a
Slow-flurried retreats 3a
Around these scraps of the barely living. The guards, 5d
Bored, cold, stamp around and stare 5e
Across hard rails to yards 3d
10. Bright cleansed in the air 3e
To a land of blood but disinfected 5f
As the Fuhrer said and they could see 5g
Or did do in the roads and sporting feats, 5a
In the banked receipts 3a
Of businesses with shining balance sheets, 5a
With pride in country and in industry 5g
Obvious to any if not misdirected 5f
As they with hope will never have to be: 5a
No acquiescing to the second rate, 5h
20. Or what a worker makes the rich man steals, 5i
Shabby contrivances of the old elites 5a
That led to unemployment and old defeats. 5a
A better world, they are thinking, as on muffled wheels 5i
24. The train shunts in not a second late. 4h

That seven-times repeated rhyme is limiting. We therefore modify the scheme in lines 13 to 15, and make a few improvements elsewhere:

The bells fall orderly through long, cobbled streets 5a
To beer cellars and shunting yards — through places 5b
Nondescript, not fully woken in this 5c
Fraying northeast wind that blenches faces 5b
Bites through tunics, beats 3a
Long shuddering retreats 3a
Into the huddled waiting. Bored, as guards 5d
We tighten armbands, stamp out distances and stare 5e
Across the frost-bright yards 3d
10. To the electric air 3e
In which breath rises and must be disinfected. 5f
One tries to run. We have him back, see 5g
What they are made of. He shouts and goes to. . . Crack 5h
And the snow is black- 3h
Splattered for a moment, broadens to a red track 5h
Of blood that runs and pools into lidless hostility, 5g
A change from that which, otherwards directed, 5f
We could respect. But it subsides and quietly. 5g
When on the surface there settles a weight 5i
20. Of things being different, with no more deals 5j
And rake-offs from the rentiers, the furred elites 5a
Who manufactured the Fatherland's defeats 5a
And humiliations. . . On hard-packed wheels 5j
24. The train shunts in not a second late. 4i

Passable, though somewhat prosaic. But we now extend the holocaust theme to gulags, the Vietnam war, middle east conflicts and the current 'war on terror'. Still a rough draft:

1.

5a. Quietly the bells fall through cobbled streets
5b. To shunting yards and hard-drinking places
5c. Still bleary-eyed and not yet woken to this
5b. Fraying northeast wind that blenches faces
3a. Bites through tunics, beats
3a. Long shuddering retreats
5d. Into the huddled waiting. Bored, as guards
5e. We tighten armbands, stamp out distances and stare
3d. Across the rails to yards
3e. Clean-frosted in the air
5f. But packed as ours are with their Schwissen rabble.
5g. One tries it on. We have him back, see
5h. What stuff the fool is made of. He goes to. . . Crack
3h. And the snow is black-
5h. Splattered for a moment, broadens to a red track
5g. Of blood that runs and pools into lidless hostility,
5f. Blatant at them and dishonorable.
5g. Fear wells up, and then subsides and quietly.
5i. But on the surface there settles a felt weight
5j. Of things now different, with no more deals
5a. And rake-offs from the rentiers, the furred elites
5a. Who dined too long on labour lines, defeats,
5j. Humiliations . . . The train on dripping wheels
4i. Shunts in not a second late.

2.

5a. Dawn aches in the distance as groups of men
5b. Flounder at the rock-face and the puffing smoke
5c. Issues from a crusher with a chortling growl.
5b. Then whistles, shouts, and the searchlights stroke
3a. Out in wide swathes when,
3a. Across the white birch fen
5d. The blood comes out spattered like a wounded bird,
5e. The syllables dropping, but in the moccasin
3d. Of darkness no cry is heard
3e. As soft bayonets go in.
5f. Nothing but the shifting and wind-packed snow
5g. Settling us deeper in the underground,
5h. Away from the hung-there northern lights
3h. Shifting with shadowy rites
5h. Over the conifers, watchtowers, long rifle sights.
5g. A crisp world of whiteness but a reflecting round
5f. Of days continually the same, which a world ago
5g. Had friends, names, children that without a sound
5i. Passed into papers that no one understands
5j. Or perhaps even cares to as searchlights flare
5a. Into an optic of pain, a halogen
5a. Intensity of cut-outs that once again
5j. Retract into darkness though the families there
4i. Leap up and beg with their frenzied hands.

3.

5a. The whole frame judders and the rotors thwack
5b. And thwack bodily as we drop each crew.
5c. Water sluices out, and suddenly
5b. It is the warm, soft sunshine we are lifting through.
3a. High into blue and back,
3a. Low to the attack
5d. On the smoke-clad position and we come in close,
5e. The machine guns rattling though out of range
3d. At figures running, clothes
3e. In flames, and a strange
5f. Nauseous smell amongst us as the updraught flails
5g. At our tunics and the upsides grow
5h. Large with fighters studding the metalled skies.
3h. We will in no wise
5h. Allow those who have not served to demonize
5g. Us or our actions, who can only know
5f. The half of our mastery, how we hold the scales
5g. By which the living and the dead go.
5i. Our bombers take off and the thousands fall
5j. Certain of our vengeance if they strike us back:
5a. We will not have fractions: it is white or black.
5a. Whatever the violence we will gouge the track
5j. Deeper with agent and napalm as each attack
4i. Awaits apocalypse at our call.

4.

5a. Walled in by the nations we have learnt to hate
5b. Must we sit by Ramallah and not Jericho?
5c. A blast, a searing, and then a littering flash.
5b. The senses scattered and a vertigo
3a. Lifting to a state
3a. Of fear and dilate
5d. Into pain, pain in nerve-ends and in the head
5e. Bursting with a nausea and an emptiness.
3d. And for the limbs instead
3e. An opening and stickiness.
5f. No more in the summers will children come again.
5g. Or the cool of the evening sit on the rested skin.
5a. We have impacted the dark pain with day
3a. Rising, locked on prey,
5a. Our missiles hang in fury and arch away
5g. To fall on the just or unjust as we within
5f. The very same peoples had our lion's den.
5g. Give us your walkways over vast pits of sin,
5i. Give us the faith we may not falter in
5j. From skies thick with sunlight of our silvered wings,
5a. With things your reason may not amputate,
5a. With things from the past that may not mitigate,
5j . What we have done we shall do: as dawn blood sings
4i. The shark-headed silent go out to win.

5.

5a. Continually the wind harries but it leaves no trace:
5b. The blackness of "Do not proceed beyond this point"
5c. Is lost on us tourists of the rusted wires,
5b. Searchlight and towers: a world out of joint
3a. Is what we replace
3a. As daylong from grace
5d. We turn to each other as the news crowds in.
5e. We follow our legions under unfriendly skies
3d. And far more than sin.
3e. Are the home-spun lies
5f. We make up for safety, for facsimiles
5g. Of a world as it should be but is denied
5x. Even to most witless who would understand
3x. It is not underhand
5x. But as it were a sky routinely scanned
5g. That is our mortality, a vast, sad tide
5f. Impregnated with intentions as on the autumn trees.
5g. Unclothed bodies cut the hard canals, died
5i. Out in their thousands past all believing, past
5j. All our imagining, our jovial tales.
5a. Each one turning at last from his state of grace
5a. Looks out in anguish on his selfsame place
5j. To a continuum of sanctity as earth stales
4i. To a truth falling silent, home at last.

Now we have to think carefully about the short lines. Some are formal and end-stopped:

Large with fighters studding the metalled skies.
We will in no wise
Allow those who have not served to demonize

And in others the sense runs through without check:

What stuff the fool is made of. He goes to. . . Crack
And the snow is black-
Splattered for a moment, broadens to a red track

Why have them in the first place, when they seem so artificial and contrived? Because Lowell does. And where did Lowell get them from, but Milton's Lycidas, where the preponderate pentameters are interrupted by six syllable lines:

Hence with denial vain and coy excuse!
So may some gentle muse
With lucky words favour my destin'd urn,
And as he passes turn
And bid fair peace be to my sable shroud!

Lycidas

Mark Womack argues that Lycidas, though "openly artificial and brazenly arbitrary in its digressions and in its formal irregularity", is given coherence not through one pattern, but through several overlapping patterns in stanza division, rhyme scheme and meter. {12} The short lines may then be an experiment, away from what was possible in the Spenserian model of the Nativity Ode, {13} towards the extended magnificence of Paradise Lost. Milton is drawing attention to the architectonic packing of meaning and reference by not making the lines run-on. The rhythms are not so irregular, moreover, as operating within self-contained units:

And with forc'd fingers rude
Shatter your leaves before the mellowing year.
Bitter constraint and sad occasion dear

The glowing violet,
The musk-rose, and the well attir'd woodbine,
With cowslips wan that hang the pensive head,
And every flower that sad embroidery wears;
Bid amaranthus all his beauty shed,
And daffadillies fill their cups with tears,
To strew the laureate hearse where Lycid lies.

Now, Lycidas, the shepherds weep no more:
Henceforth thou art the Genius of the shore,
In thy large recompense, and shalt be good
To all that wander in that perilous flood.

By these means, and with an ad hoc rhyme scheme, Milton could craft his effects line by line, rhythm by rhythm, without having to submerge those lines and rhythms into an overall structure. Other devices necessarily play a large part, though they do not prevent Lycidas seeming episodic and artificial, packed with beautiful and memorable lines, but these not running into and taking fire from each other.

Lowell worked from celebrated prose passages, but also with an eye on Lycidas, a work {9} {10} {11} that is often regarded as "one of the most widely and highly valued poems ever written. Critics have called it "the high-water mark of English Poesy and of [John] Milton's own production,"(1) considered it "probably the most perfect piece of pure literature in existence,"(2) held "it to be the greatest short poem of any author in English, the very criterion and touchstone of poetical taste,"(3) and declared it "the most perfect poem of its length in the English language."(4)" {12}

Now clearly — though perhaps I should forestall misunderstandings by saying so here — there would be no sense in attempting to go head to head with Milton, or even Lowell. But that doesn't mean we can't use some of their devices to create what would we poorer without them, even if we come to realize just what we're up against. Since Lowell's is a fairly standard iambic, which we have used elsewhere on the site, let's use a contemporary line run-on (enjambment) but move closer to Milton's variation in rhythm from line to line.

Us At Last

1.

5a. The cathedral bells fall silently down streets
5b. Of workshops, shunting yards, old loading bays,
5c. Through which the northeast wind now bangs at shutters,
5b. Shrieks at the blue-stung faces with their turned-in gaze,
3a. Knifes through tunics and beats
3a. Long shuddering retreats
5d. Into the huddled waiting. Stiffly, as guards,
5e. We tighten armbands, stamp out distances and stare
3d. Across the rails to yards
3e. Where, sulphurous in the air,
5f. Fresh crowds are shuffling in, their heads still bent.
5g. One makes a run. We have him back and see
5x. With what a wild-eyed gesture he makes when . . . crack
3x. And the snow is black-
5x. Splattered for a moment, broadens to a red track
5g. Of blood that runs and bristles into hostility
5f. Hard baying at us, saying what we meant
5g. It to, from which it subsides, quietly.
5i. Our law is on them, and they feel the weight
5j. Of things being different, with no more deals
5a. And rake-offs from the rentiers, the furred elites
5a. Who made good money out of our defeats,
5j. And humiliations . . . The train on sleek, oiled wheels
4i. Clanks in, not a second late.

2.

5a. Dawn aches in the distance as groups of men
5b. Flounder at the rock-face and the puffing smoke
5c. Carries from the crusher with a soft, chortling sound.
5b. Then there are shouts; a whistle. Searchlights poke
3a. Out their long flares, when
3a. For a second in the fen,
5d. Smoulderingly lit, a figure runs zig zags
5e. Into the moccasin
3d. Of darkness where it sags
3e. Sharply as shots go in.
5f. Afterwards nothing but the wind-thick snow
5g. Sealing us in deeper, to the underground
5h. Asphyxiation of numbers where the northern lights
3h. In conical shadowy rites
5h. Hang over watchtowers, the wire and the rifle sights:
5g. An unreal but continual white wall round
5f. Of constellations that a world ago
5g. Held children and laughter but now confound
5i. Us with reports and quotas. We improvise
5j. Once more with the figures. The arc-lights flare
5a. To an hallucination of halogen
5a. Brightness, then infrangible darkness, when again
5j. There settles but the silence, though the figures there
4i. Peer at us with frost-sharp eyes.

3.

5a. The whole frame judders, and the rotors thwack
5b. And thwack above us as each three-man crew
5c. Is ferried out. We pull on over: when
5b. It's warm, soft sunshine we are lifting through.
3a. High to the light, back
3a. Round to the attack
5d. On the smoke-hung trees. We come in close,
5e. The turrets now rattling though still out of range
3d. At heaps with their clothes
3e. Smoldering, and a strange
5f. Acrid smoke that blows up into us as we roar
5g. On over. The sound diminishes and one
5x. By one we see the bombers hung up there
3x. Fastened to the bare
5x. Blue sky with their fierce, wing-stretched stare
5g. Absorbed in calculations till the odds run
5f. Quietly in our favour and the bombs pour
5g. Out in long threads: hundreds of them, ton
5i. Upon ton onto who or whatever. The ground
5j. Is steady but there comes a tree-trawling
5a. Apocalypse of crimson, a deep red to black
5a. Opening of the canopy, but at the back
5j. Of our minds only, not part of us, and falling
4i. Signally far off, without sound.

4.

5a. Ours is the dominion we have learnt to hate
5b. In the hard lands of borders where their rockets go.
5c. A blast, a searing, and then a littering flash,
5b. The senses scattered and a vertigo
3a. Emptying to a state
3a. Of shocked gasp and dilate
5d. A brute pain unimaginable, the head
5e. Battered into nausea, and an emptiness,
3d. Nothing at all instead
3e. Of limbs but stickiness
5f. Sealing the clothes and then spurting again:
5g. The body undressed from what was breathing skin.
5x. Afterwards the deluge, both night and day
3a. As rising, locked on prey,
5a. Our missiles hang in fury and lift away
5g. To fall on the just and unjust as we within
5f. A god-fearing people walked the lion's den.
5g. Where was the new life we would begin?
5i. Where in that answer flamed the Seraphim?
5j. From the sky-ravelled sunlight of our silvered wings
5a. Not for a moment shall we amputate
5a. That record from history, but reciprocate
5j. A terror for terror as our high God sings
41. Dreamily of our paths to him.

5.

5a. Endlessly the wind harries but leaves no trace.
5b. The baleful "Do not proceed beyond this point"
5c. Flutters out of context on the tangled wires,
5b. From a world that was different, was out of joint.
3a. Each now must face
3a. His more fearful case
5d. As we turn to each other and the news crowds in,
5e. Of legions at large under unfriendly skies.
3d. Governing to win
3e. Out of faith and lies,
5f. Selfless they serve in the hot lands of prayer
5g. A target of sainthood for the simply-led.
5x. So here we say "finish!", place our mark in the sand:
3x. Please now to understand
5x. Sufficient to be taken and chained at hand,
5g. Hung up and beaten if the violence spread:
5f. Let the autumn blood burst in the tyrant's lair,
5g. We shall not hear the leaves falling of the thousands dead.
5i. The vast generations of the undressed past
5j. Hurtle to the old world in our twice-told tales.
5a. God knows that we stand in our own state of grace
5a. Before Him and His mercy in this onetime place
5j. We have all around us as the vast earth stales
4i. Into what must be only us at last.

Comments

This poem — completed here — is less accomplished than Lowell's, and lacks its redeeming beauty. Nothing is easier to deploy than a brutal vocabulary, and the poem only approaches the high Modernist density of meaning where it will be detestable to many readers, in the last two stanzas, which excoriates the current 'war on terror'.

El Qaida threw down the gauntlet to America, and Israeli policies are a response to continual Arab attacks. Yes, don't email me with 'the facts': I have worked long enough in Muslim and Christian countries to know the arguments. The piece is about the barbarity of war, and the protective cloak of righteousness that we — everyone, all parties to the conflict — draw about ourselves to avoid facing the consequences of actions taken on our behalf. It is not a political poem, nor an anti-war poem, but a plea for understanding and basic humanity.

Technically, the combination of tight rhyming scheme, enjambment and varying metre creates a powerful rhetoric, but does not overcome difficulties with the subject matter, that innocent lives are maimed or destroyed by such conflicts. Politics makes us harden our minds to the nuances that poetry typically explores, and its literature often leaves an unpleasant taste in the mouth, even when effective: Milton's pamphlets, Pope's later poetry. War is celebrated through heroism, patriotism and sacrifice, not because such matters fully characterize conflict — though they most certainly exist — but because these aspects appeal to our larger and better natures. Contra some Modernist argument, subject matter is crucial to a poem, and in Lycidas we may be more disposed To sport with Amaryllis in the shade than dwell on Blind mouthes! and other thunderings about a corrupt clergy.

 

References and Resources

1. Anthony Perkins, A History of Modern Poetry: Modernism and After (Belknap Press, 1987), 404-10.
2. Michael Milburn, Robert Lowell's Poems and Other People's Prose ( New England Review 17, no. 4. 1995): 83. Q
3. Robert Lowell: Biographical Note. Michael Thurston. http://www.english.uiuc.edu/maps/poets/g_l/lowell/bio.htm.
4. Thomas L. Jeffers, What Remains of Robert Lowell? (Commentary, October 2003). Q (Nos.) refer to authorities quoted.
5. The Quaker Graveyard in Nantucket. Robert Lowell. http://www.poemhunter.com.
American and British Studies at New Bulgarian University: Sofia. 2005.
6. The Return of Robert Lowell, Marjorie Perloff. http://epc.buffalo.edu/authors/perloff/articles/lowell_parnassus.pdf. Review of Robert Lowell. Collected Poems. Edited by Frank Bidart and David Gewanter. Farrar Straus Giroux 2003.
7. Report — The Quaker Graveyard in Nantucket. http://www.eng.fju.edu.tw/iacd_2003F/g_am_poetry/lowell/Report.htm. Unattributed: short list of useful links.
8. R. K. Meiners, Everything to Be Endured: An Essay on Robert Lowell and Modern Poetry (Univ. Missouri Press, 1970), 68. Q
9. John Milton (1608-1674). Lycidas. http://www.poemhunter.com.
10. Lycidas: Introduction: Background and Text. http://www.dartmouth.edu/~milton/reading_room/lycidas/notes.shtml. Brief notes and explication.
11. Contrasts and Unity in Lycidas. J V Ward Jun. 2003. http://www.english-literature-essays.com/milton.htm
12. Mark Womack, On the value of 'Lycidas', Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900, Vol. 37, 1997. Q
13. John Milton (1608-1674). On the Morning of Christ's Nativity. http://www.poemhunter.com.
14. David Quint, Recent Studies in the English Renaissance, Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900 38, no. 1 (1998)Reference to Stella P. Revard's Milton and the Tangles of Neaera's Hair: The Making of the 1645 Poems. Q
15. David W. Daiches, ed., Milton (Hutchinson Univ. Library, 1957), 48. Q
16. C. A. Patrides, ed., Milton's "Lycidas": The Tradition and the Poem (Univ. of Missouri Press, 1983), 158-9. Quoted by Mark Womack.
17. Probably not quite fair. Steven Ripley explains that 'whited' has specific meaning in Melville and Lowell's work. From his email to me of June 30th 2012: Wanted to mention that the use of "whited" refers to Christ's description of the Pharisees as "whited sepulchers," meaning they were beautiful on the outside and "full of bones" underneath, but also to some of Melville's more philosophical musings on the whiteness of Moby Dick in "The Whiteness of the Whale." He goes into depth about surfaces and "what lies beneath" particularly in reference to Moby Dick's color. Hope that will move that phrase out of the "grandiloquence" section, as it is really quite clever and comprehensible with the right sources, as is all good poetry. And from July 1st 2012: "Whited sepulcher" is Christ's term in the New Testament.. . All of this was Melville's explanation as to why the color white is so terrifying to human beings, and to their inherent knowledge that it represented some ominous, terrible thing hidden beneath the surfaces of our perceptions. Lowell connects the two by referring to Moby Dick as the "whited" monster, meaning that underneath whatever he is, there exists some metaphysical absence that is innately terrifying, and symbolized by the color white. Further compounded by Lowell's reference to Moby Dick as "IS," which is one of the names of God in the Old Testament.'
18. Jeffrey Downard. The Color of the Sublime is White. Contemporary Aesthetics. 2006.

 

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