Maintaining Appearances and Encroaching Death in Robert Lowell’s “Terminal Days at Beverly Farms”

American poet, Robert Lowell is one of the frontrunners of the confessional poetry movement that would become popular in the 50s and 60s, a movement that would include others such as Sylvia Plath, Allen Ginsberg, and W.D. Snodgrass. Lowell’s poetry collection Life Studies is one of the first collections to include extensive autobiographical content within his poetry. Every artist takes inspiration from experiences in their lives (you write about what you know after all), but Lowell explicitly infuses facts about himself and his family in discussing broader themes concerning human nature. This is unlike other poets I’ve discussed in this blog, such as Wallace Stevens or Robert Frost, whose writing is much more allegorical. I wanted to look at the poem “Terminal Days at Beverly Farms” from Life Studies, a touching poem on the decline of his father. “Terminal Days” grapples with the theme of death and the ways that people face the inevitable. Although meditation on death is a far-reaching, philosophical theme, Lowell explores the topic through the personal and mundane. Lowell uses autobiographical information describing his father’s last days and his father’s refusal to acknowledge death up until the very end of his life. I’ll show you the poem below, and then give a very brief analysis (no need to get too heavy, the topic of death needs no help on that front): Continue reading

Psychic Civil War in the Tales of Edgar Allan Poe

Before there was Fight Club, Edgar Allan Poe was publishing multiple stories featuring main characters with alter egos. The trope of physically representing different aspects of the mind is by no means new, and certainly did not originate with Poe. However, he definitely seems to express old tropes and genres with a special kind of style. As numerous other Edgar Allan Poe critics have mentioned before, Poe loves to fixate on certain themes within his writings. In several tales, he regales us with allegorical tales of psychic civil war between passion and reason, usually resulting in the elimination of one of these parts of the psyche by the tale’s conclusion (he is just all about murder). This theme of the conflict between passion/inclinations/baser desires and reason/morality/intellect is by no means unique, but certainly a strife that resonates with readers. Beyond wanting to write appealing stories (Poe has been called a hack by some, I say give him a break, the man needed to make a living), this conflict aligns itself with Poe’s conception of poetry and literature. The primary focus of poetry for him is Beauty (elaborated on in “The Poetic Principle”), not passion or instruction and so any character who becomes too focussed on bodily desires, as William Wilson with his lust for the duchess must be eliminated.  It also doesn’t hurt that Poe’s writing is super brutal: if he was alive today he would definitely be in a metal band. I want to look at three of his tales in particular that grapple with the fight between passion and reason: “William Wilson”, “The Black Cat”, and “The Cask of Amontillado”.

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Can’t One Life Be Enough?: Wallace Stevens’s Celebration of Mortality in “The River of Rivers in Connecticut”

Although it is becoming more acceptable to be openly atheist, there is still a fair amount of prejudice directed at this population. In at least certain parts of the world there isn’t any Inquisition-like persecution, but atheists still get a lot of hate dumped on them for various reasons. One such complaint is that atheism is immensely depressing: life is all there is and then that’s it. There is no heaven or nirvana to imagine, there is no opportunity to continue on the wheel of samsara, you are simply finished. And apparently for some atheists the best way to spend the only life you get is to post on forums making fun of religious fundamentalists and compiling an expansive fedora collection that will clash nicely with their short-sleeved button down Hawaiian and/or flame patterned shirts. But for others the idea that this is the only life you get is incredibly exciting! Much of what we find beautiful is temporary, think for example of the brief, happy life of the Monarch butterflies. We are drawn to their fragility. Just because there is nothing beyond the eighty-odd years you get on the planet does not discount the richness of experiences you can potentially have here. Continue reading