Collected Poems

Robert Lowell; Edited by Frank Bidart and David Gewanter; Introduction by Frank Bidart

Farrar, Straus and Giroux



Trade Paperback

1216 Pages



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A Los Angeles Times Best Book
A San Francisco Chronicle Best Book

Edmund Wilson once wrote that Robert Lowell was "the only recent American poet—if you don't count Eliot—who writes successfully in the language and cadence and rhyme of the resounding English tradition." And Randall Jarrell observed of him: "You feel before reading any new poem of his the uneasy expectation of perhaps encountering a masterpiece." He was the English-speaking world's preeminent postwar poet—a legend of modern letters.

In this long-anticipated, universally acclaimed collection, Frank Bidart and David Gewanter have compiled the definitive edition of Lowell's work, from his first, impossible-to-find collection, Land of Unlikeness; to the early triumph of Lord Weary's Castle, winner of the 1946 Pulitzer Prize (when the poet was 30 years old); to the brilliant willfulness of his versions of poems by Sappho, Baudelaire, Rilke, Montale, and other masters in Imitations; to the late spontaneity of The Dolphin, winner of another Pulitzer Prize; to his last, most searching book, Day by Day. This hefty volume also includes poems and translations never previously collected, and a selection of drafts that demonstrate the poet's constant drive to reimagine his work. Bidart, Lowell's longtime friend, apprentice, and literary executor, has here contributed an introduction and afterword that both explore Lowell's idiosyncratic approach to poem-making. Moreover, Collected Poems includes voluminous notes and a glossary of important names.

At last, all readers, scholars, and students are given the opportunity to take in, entire, one of the great careers in twentieth-century poetry.


Praise for Collected Poems

"More than anyone else, [Frank] Bidart has the intellectual authority to edit [Lowell's] Collected Poems, and he has now given us this extraordinary thousand-page book, handsomely annotated by himself and David Gewanter . . . Bidart's intimate introduction leads the reader to understanding, in Lowell, the relation of private to public, of original to revision; and in his brilliant 'Afterword: On "Confessional" Poetry,' [Bidart] draws all the right distinctions between art and life . . . Lowell was . . . a markedly intelligent and resourceful poet of war, politics, and personal analysis; but he was also a fascinating poet of love, sex, and contemporary marriage . . . It is Lowell's boldness in returning life's gaze . . . that distinguishes the stunning poems that are collected here."—Helen Vendler, The New Republic

"[Bidart's] introduction (quite properly) doesn't make a case for Lowell's pre-eminence as a 20th-century American poet, but stresses instead the editors' attempt to look at every published instance of a Lowell poem and to include, in their notes, versions and lines that appeared elsewhere than in the published volumes. It is good to have included, among many other things in the notes and appendixes, magazine versions of such central poems to the Lowell canon as 'Beyond the Alps' and 'Waking Early Sunday Morning' . . . This [is a] splendid edition."—William H. Pritchard, The New York Times Book Review

"Lowell, like Wordsworth and Auden, was a tireless and obsessive rewriter . . . Just assembling and sorting through the various texts was an exhausting editorial enterprise. Then, though this had not been part of the original plan, Bidart decided that [Lowell's] poems needed to be annotated. But finally what [kept] the Collected Poems [from appearing until twenty-five years after Lowell's death] was the same thing that kept Penelope at her loom. The longer Bidart worked on the project, the more reluctant he was to finish. 'I loved Lowell—he mattered enormously,' Bidart said recently. 'And in a funny way to end this book was like losing him all over again.' In fact the book restores him—not Lowell the basket case but Lowell the master. And the Collected Poems, if you read it more or less in chronological order, supplies another kind of biography, the story of how a great poet finds and then refines his voice."—Charles McGrath, The New York Times Magazine

"Here is the long-awaited Collected Poems to prompt a reevaluation of what was always an asset-rich artistic enterprise . . . Frank Bidart and David Gewanter are tender and magnanimous to the poems. They devote a thousand sumptuous pages to most of those Lowell printed and give many drafts and variants in the voluminous notes. The persistent vigor and variety of [the poet's] creative energy is astonishing now that we see the whole career get its due."—Anthony Moore, The Boston Globe

"A monument to [Lowell's] sprawling, untidy talent and his courageous attempts to make it cohere."—Sunil Iyengar, The Washington Post

"The part of Collected Poems that I treasure most is the Lowell of the 1960s: Imitations, For the Union Dead, and Near the Ocean. These volumes maintain a marvellous poise, alive to the pressures of the age yet refusing to cave in or dwindle into a rant. If anything, Lowell, a devotee of Virgil, Horace, and Propertius, hit upon a tone—a buoyant classical sternness—that had scarcely been heard since the eighteenth century. Somehow, he alone seemed qualified to capture the decade's mixture of light-footed private desires and dark public soothsaying, and to convey the urgency of both in lines as terse and insistent as a newspaper headline."—Anthony Lane, The New Yorker

"Lowell's poems and translations always underwent a heroic but particularly bewildering degree of concentrated literary attention, scribbled in dozens of versions, displayed to friends and colleagues, rewritten, kibitzed over, altered, recast, published, revised, rewritten, and published again. The sheer bulk of Lowell's work—he produced a total of nineteen volumes, including plays and prose—makes one especially grateful for the appearance of a discriminatingly selected volume. Collected Poems includes not only 838 pages of the corpus, a glossary, notes, a chronology, and appendices with notes and insights of their own, but also variants on a number of poems and a few fragments of Lowell's excellent prose. This apparatus condenses twenty-five years of biography, criticism, and gossip. In certain respects it hints at the conclusions that Lowell's poems themselves never quite attained. By its tender editorial attention to Lowell's contradictions it may present the best case for his poetry."—Peter Davison, The Atlantic Monthly

"[This book] features an unusually elaborate scholarly apparatus for a collected work: notes, chronology, bibliography, even a glossary . . . Its riches will be a treasure for any curious, involved reader eager to penetrate Lowell's allusive poems . . . The magnitude of Lowell's achievement—an achievement won against horrific odds—can now come fully and magnificently into view."—Caroline Fraser, Los Angeles Times Book Review

"Simply by laying out [the many drafts, versions, and revisions of] this complex body of work, displaying the intensity of its equivocations, Collected Poems liberates the poetry from the poet we think we know. It allows us to see Lowell as more than one person at the same time. As a result Lowell emerges as a poet who loves language the way that a painter loves the feeling of paint . . . Bidart has given Lowell life after death."—James Longenbach, Boston Review

"Even those long familiar with his work will find [this collection of Lowell's poems] exhilarating . . . If what truly matters is the work—not the manic depressive bouts, the several wives, the mental hospital sojourns, the antic escapades—then Lowell's dogged and wholly original mastery of his craft ensures him abiding attention . . . The genius shines through . . . This long-awaited Collected [has been] beautifully and lovingly edited and produced . . . It is marvellous to have Robert Lowell's poems gathered together at long last in so sumptuous a book."—Eric Ormsby, The New York Sun

"[Here are] all of Lowell's poems and [their] significant variants, along with generous appendices, and, perhaps most crucially, 150 pages of notes . . . The notes are a kind of biography of Lowell's mind . . . The scholarship here is impressive."—Dan Chiasson, The Atlantic Monthly

"A big marble slab of a book . . . The publication of these collected poems presents the occasion for an evaluation of Lowell's entire career . . . Was he the last major poet in the English language? Perhaps another one will come along, though there's been little evidence of it since Lowell's death in 1977."—Richard Tillinghast, The New Criterion

"As Frank Bidart explains [in his introduction and afterword], and as David Gewanter exemplifies through his indispensable notes, a later version of a [Lowell] poem can be remarkably different from an earlier one, from magazine to book, or from book to book. And Lowell wasn't just tinkering. He could shift the entire premise of a poem, even a poem that was already widely admired. Because Lowell was comfortable with the idea—ideal, really—that no final version was possible, his Collected Poems, with all those glosses pinpointing variations, is a shimmering achievement of echo and counter-echo, likeness and unlikeness . . . You can see the achievement being achieved . . . Lowell was the dominant poet in America at every phase of his career, in both ambition and execution."—David Biespiel, Speakeasy

"One can't help, reading through this massive, spellbinding volume, mourning some of what has been lost in American poetry since the Partisan Review crowd was in the ascendant. Lowell's work evinces a contagious earnestness about writing (and rewriting) poetry in a bid for immortality, and an intellectual aggressiveness that is more ethical than metaphysical in nature (like Auden, Lowell's pacifist politics were often transparent). Lowell's embodied, phantasmagoric sense of history and geography highlights his generation's greater chronological proximity to Pound and, before him, Robert Browning. And the imagistic impulse that fueled much mid-century poetry is best typified by Lowell's unerring sense of visual detail: 'octagonal red tiles, / sweaty with a secret dank, crummy with ant-stale; / a Rocky Mountain chaise lounge, / its legs, shellacked saplings.' The greatest misfortune of Lowell's critical reception is that he has been lastingly deemed a confessional poet; as Bidart's closing essay notes, not only did Lowell carefully sift through details to preserve those with greatest aesthetic effect, but these details themselves were sometimes stolen from the lives of his peers. Either way, fans will be delighted to see the full version of The Mills of the Kavanaughs (which was cut down to a handful of stanzas for the Selected Poems) as well as the complete Land of Unlikeness, Lowell's debut which he never allowed to be reprinted. Not enough can be said to encourage the reader to absorb, and even attack, this book. From the earliest poems to several late, unfinished works, Lowell's style—'lurid, rapid, garish, grouped / heightened from life, / yet paralyzed by fact'—emerges as a sweeping constant, one that revealingly manages to accommodate successive poetic challenges and misreadings."—Publishers Weekly

"Credited with enlivening the practice of formal English prosody in America and for creating what became known (to his dismay) as confessional poetry, Lowell attained a literary stature as great as T.S. Eliot's a generation before. The authoritative rhythmic stride ('The sheep start galloping in moon-blind wheels') and complex music of his postwar work ('In Munich the zoo's rubble fumes with cats') eased into an unadorned candor ('Shaving's the one time I see my face,/ I see it aslant as a carpenter's problem-') by the mid-1970s. This mammoth collection includes the complete contents of Lowell's published books, from Land of Unlikeness, appearing here for the first time since 1944, through 1977's Day by Day, as well as poems in manuscript, translations, magazine versions, and other fugitive material. Given Lowell's penchant for revision, the editors have also included significant variants in their extensive endnotes. Though this volume might have benefited from a concise, introductory overview of Lowell's life and work, it is an essential addition for academic libraries."—Fred Muratori, Cornell University Library, Ithaca, New York, Library Journal

Reviews from Goodreads



  • Robert Lowell; Edited by Frank Bidart and David Gewanter; Introduction by Frank Bidart

  • A friend and colleague of such other important American writers as John Berryman, Elizabeth Bishop, Delmore Schwartz, Theodore Roethke, Peter Taylor, and Randall Jarrell, Robert Lowell (1917-77) was the renowned and controversial author of many books of poetry, including Day by Day, The Dolphin, For the Union Dead, Life Studies, and History. His Collected Prose was published by FSG in 1987.

    Frank Bidart is the author of several works of poetry, including In the Western Night: Collected Poems 1960-90 and Desire. He teaches at Wellesley College.

    David Gewanter is the author of two books of poems, In the Belly and The Sleep of Reason. He teaches at Georgetown University.

  • Robert Lowell Copyright Phil MacMullan
  • Frank Bidart Sigrid Estrada