The Letters of Robert Lowell

Robert Lowell; Edited by Saskia Hamilton

Farrar, Straus and Giroux



Trade Paperback

888 Pages



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One of the most influential poets of the twentieth century, Robert Lowell was also a prolific letter writer who corresponded with many of the remarkable writers and thinkers of his day, including Elizabeth Bishop, Ezra Pound, Hannah Arendt, William Carlos Williams, T. S. Eliot, Robert Frost, and Edmund Wilson. These letters, conversations in writing, document the evolution of Lowell’s work and illuminate another side of the intimate life that was the subject of so many of his poems: his deep friendships with other writers; the manic-depressive illness he struggled to endure and understand; his marriages to three prose writers; and his engagement with politics and the antiwar movement of the 1960s. The Letters of Robert Lowell shows us, in many cases for the first time, the private thoughts and passions of a figure unrivaled in his influence on American letters.


Praise for The Letters of Robert Lowell

"As this valuable collection makes clear, [Lowell] tirelessly rewrote and reimagined everything, including his own life."—Charles McGrath, The New York Times

"Absorbing and intimate . . . As they unfold, the letters play a resonant obbligato to the life and the poems alike."—Helen Vendler, The New Republic
"Already excerpted in The New Yorker and elsewhere, these letters have been awaited at least since Ian Hamilton's monumental 1985 biography of Lowell (1917-1977). Brilliant, intimate, free, sculpted, various and wildly desirous of communication, the letters were worth the wait. The letters to Randall Jarrell and John Berryman have a peculiar professional intimacy. Those to his various wives, particularly Elizabeth Hardwick, have a raw pleading that often centers on the aftermath of episodes of mania or depression, but they never veer into bathos. The letters to Elizabeth Bishop form the core of the collection, and they are extraordinary, particularly the letters describing Maine, where both summered (though almost never at the same time): Lowell's eye for physical detail and feel for emotional valence seem directly wired into his prose. There are love letters to an Italian mistress, and lovely, frank letters in friendship to Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. Lowell corresponded at one time or another with many major modernists (Eliot, Pound, Frost, Williams); watching Lowell simultaneously assert, defer and posture without obsequiousness is fascinating. Over the course of this vast volume, Lowell's reading, moods, professional obligations, political engagements, family life and final sense of isolation come through with often searing clarity. Even for those who don't care for Lowell's verse (or any verse), this is a major epistolary life."—Publishers Weekly

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Read an Excerpt

Robert Lowell (1917-77) was the renowned and controversial author of many books of poetry, including Day by Day (FSG, 1977), For the Union Dead (FSG, 1964), and Life Studies (FSG, 1959).
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  • Robert Lowell; Edited by Saskia Hamilton

  • Robert Lowell (1917–77) was the renowned and controversial author of many books of poetry, including Day by Day (FSG, 1977), For the Union Dead (FSG, 1964), and Life Studies (FSG, 1959).
  • Robert Lowell Copyright Phil MacMullan