Amy Lowell

Amy Lowell (1874-1925), American poet, critic, biographer, and flamboyant promoter of the imagist movement, was important in the "poetic renaissance" of the early 20th century.

Amy Lowell was born in Brookline, Mass., of the prominent and wealthy Lowell family of Boston and counted among her ancestors the famous 19th-century poet James Russell Lowell. After being privately educated, she spent many years traveling abroad. Rebelling against her genteel, respectable upbringing, she delighted in smoking a big black cigar while expounding the most advanced and revolutionary esthetic theories of the pre—World War I avant-garde. Endowed with a remarkable flair for organization, she was highly influential in stimulating interest in the poetic experiments of the time. From 1915 through 1917 she edited an annual anthology of imagist poets.

Lowell published her first volume of verse, A Dome of Many-coloured Glass, in 1912. Sword Blades and Poppy Seed (1914), her second volume, first showed the influence of imagist ideas. Curiously enough, in her critical comments she seemed to prefer the work of midwestern "nonimagists," such as Carl Sandburg, Edgar Lee Masters, and Vachel Lindsay, to the more image-centered and cosmopolitan poetry of T. S. Eliot and Ezra Pound. Though she borrowed often from Eliot in her poetry, she slighted him in her criticism and carried on a bitter feud with Pound.

Despite her enthusiasm for imagism, Lowell's best poems are closer in style to symbolist poetry than to imagist verse. "Patterns," her best-known poem, protests against puritan inhibitions and the repressive conventions of society. A moving feeling for the New England past pervades "Lilacs." Her unsigned Critical Fable (1922) was a contemporary redoing of James Russell Lowell's "Fable for Critics" and attempted to reproduce that earlier work's vernacular humor in judging contemporary poets. In this, Lowell was the first critic to note the "madness" of the characters in Robert Frost's North of Boston. She achieved another "first" by including a discussion of Wallace Stevens, who would not be recognized as a major poet until much later. Her denigration of Pound and Eliot as expatriates seems based more on patriotic than on literary principles. Perhaps her finest overall work was her biography of John Keats (1925).

A few of Lowell's separately published volumes of verse are Men, Women, and Ghosts (1916), Pictures of the Floating World (1919), What's o'Clock (1925), East Wind (1926), and Ballads for Sale (1927). Also of value are her Complete Poetical Works (1955) and Six French Poets (1915), a critical study.

Further Reading on Amy Lowell

Studies of Amy Lowell's life and work are S. Foster Damon, Amy Lowell: A Chronicle with Extracts from Her Correspondence (1935), and Horace Gregory, Amy Lowell (1958). She figures prominently in the critical study by Glenn Hughes, Imagism and the Imagists: A Study in Modern Poetry (1931). Hyatt H. Waggoner, American Poets: From the Puritans to the Present (1968), contains a section on her.

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