This essay argues that Robert Lowell’s poetry demonstrates a critical engagement with the liberal individual that he is not often given credit for. By examining Lowell’s handling of the pathetic fallacy, whereby the external landscape is made to match the mood of the observer, the essay reveals a critique of the historical formation of American individualism, visible in how Lowell connects the literary historical tropes he is employing to the history of American “imperial” violence. This is first shown through a close reading of “Mouth of the Hudson.” The essay connects Lowell’s view to those of his New Critical mentors, such as John Crowe Ransom, for whom the individual of the liberal political order is entwined with the history of Puritan iconoclasm and Romantic views of the poetic subject. It argues that Ransom’s critique parallels those of later critics, such as Marjorie Perloff, David Antin, and Maria Damon, who see Lowell’s poetic self as both solipsistic and symptomatic of an American liberal ideology. Demonstrating that Lowell’s views were formed by a critique of liberal individualism, it then attempts to show how Lowell moved beyond this in his later work, harnessing a depiction of the poetic subject’s individual experience to a critique of individualism itself as manifested in the American political worldview of the Cold War era. It reads “Beyond the Alps” as a demonstration of the way Lowell is able to wed both critique and depiction of individuality together through a self-aware handling of the poetic landscape.
Skip Nav Destination
Research Article| December 01 2020
Robert Lowell, the New Critics, and the “Unforgivable Landscape” of Liberalism
Twentieth-Century Literature (2020) 66 (4): 485–512.
Hugh Foley; Robert Lowell, the New Critics, and the “Unforgivable Landscape” of Liberalism. Twentieth-Century Literature 1 December 2020; 66 (4): 485–512. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/0041462X-8770706
Download citation file: