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Robert Lowell

Judith Aronson, born 1942
Robert Traill Lowell, 1 Jan 1917 - 12 Sep 1977
1977 (printed c. 1993)
Gelatin silver print
Image: 20.9 x 31cm (8 1/4 x 12 3/16")
Sheet: 27.8 x 35.4cm (10 15/16 x 13 15/16")
Mat: 40.6 x 55.9cm (16 x 22")
Credit Line
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; gift of Judith Aronson
Restrictions & Rights
©1977 Judith Aronson
Object number
Exhibition Label
Robert Lowell’s family was descended from Puritans, and he developed a sense of ironic distance on his past to make himself into America’s foremost history poet. Lowell reflected on his Puritan inheritance more deeply than anyone since Nathaniel Hawthorne. His vision was dark; he maintained that behind the American character stood the figures of the Devil and Captain Ahab. A sense of obsession and agony fills many of his poems; in his account of Jonathan Edwards, "After the Surprising Conversions," he writes, "God / Abandoned us to Satan, and he pressed / Us hard. . . . / Content was gone. / All the good work was quashed. We were undone." The weight of Lowell’s inheritance (plus his fragile emotional state) did not break him. Instead, throughout the 1950s his writing loosened up, and his work became more intimate and personal. This transition spawned the idea of "confessional" verse, a style that increasingly fit the temper of the times
Data Source
National Portrait Gallery
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National Portrait Gallery Collection
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