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Biography of Amy Lowell

Amy Lowell

Amy Lowell (1874 - 1925)

Amy Lowell didn't become a poet until she was years into her adulthood; then, when she died early, her poetry (and life) were nearly forgotten -- until gender studies as a discipline began to look at women like Lowell as illustrative of an earlier lesbianism. She lived her later years in a "Boston marriage" and wrote erotic love poems addressed to a woman.

T. S. Eliot called her the "demon saleswoman of poetry." Of herself, she said, "God made me a businesswoman and I made myself a poet."

Amy Lowell was born to wealth and prominence. Her paternal grandfather, John Amory Lowell, developed the cotton industry of Massachusetts with her maternal grandfather, Abbott Lawrence. The towns of Lowell and Lawrence, Massachusetts, are named for the families. John Amory Lowell's cousin was the poet James Russell Lowell.

Amy was the youngest child of five. Her eldest brother, Percival Lowell, became an astronomer in his late 30's and founded Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona. He discovered the "canals" of Mars. Earlier he'd written two books inspired by his travels to Japan and the Far East. Amy Lowell's other brother, Abbott Lawrence Lowell, became president of Harvard University.

The family home was called "Sevenels" for the "Seven L's" or Lowells. Amy Lawrence was educated there by an English governess until 1883, when she was sent to a series of private schools. She was far from a model student. During vacations, she traveled with her family to Europe and to America's west.

In 1891, as a proper young lady from a wealthy family, she had her debut. She was invited to numerous parties, but did not get the marriage proposal that the year was supposed to produce. A university education was out of the question for a Lowell daughter, although not for the sons. So Amy Lowell set about educating herself, reading from the 7,000 volume library of her father and also taking advantage of the Boston Athenaeum.

Mostly she lived the life of a wealthy socialite. She began a lifelong habit of book collecting. She accepted a marriage proposal, but the young man changed his mind and set his heart on another woman. Amy Lowell went to Europe and Egypt in 1897-98 to recover, living on a severe diet that was supposed to improve her health (and help with her increasing weight problem). Instead, the diet nearly ruined her health.

In 1900, after her parents had both died, she bought the family home, Sevenels. Her life as a socialite continued, with parties and entertaining. She also took up the civic involvement of her father, especially in supporting education and libraries.

Amy had enjoyed writing, but her efforts at writing plays didn't meet with her own satisfaction. She was fascinated by the theater. In 1893 and 1896, she had seen performances by the actress Eleanora Duse. In 1902, after seeing Duse on another tour, Amy went home and wrote a tribute to her in blank verse -- and, as she later said, "I found out where my true function lay." She became a poet -- or, as she also later said, "made myself a poet."

By 1910, her first poem was published in Atlantic Monthly, and three others were accepted there for publication. In 1912 -- a year that also saw the first books published by Robert Frost and Edna St. Vincent Millay -- she published her first collection of poetry, A Dome of Many-Coloured Glass.

It was also in 1912 that Amy Lowell met actress Ada Dwyer Russell. From about 1914 on, Russell, a widow who was 11 years older than Lowell, became Amy's traveling and living companion and secretary. They lived together in a "Boston marriage" until Amy's death. Whether the relationship was platonic or sexual is not certain -- Ada burned all personal correspondence as executrix for Amy after her death -- but poems which Amy clearly directed towards Ada are sometimes erotic and full of suggestive imagery.

In the January 1913 issue of Poetry, Amy read a poem signed by "H.D., Imagiste." With a sense of recognition, she decided that she, too, was an Imagist, and by summer had gone to London to meet Ezra Pound and other Imagist poets, armed with a letter of introduction from Poetry editor Harriet Monroe.

She returned to England again the next summer -- this time bringing her maroon auto and maroon-coated chauffeur, part of her eccentric persona. She returned to America just as World War I began, having sent that maroon auto on ahead of her.

She was already by that time feuding with Pound, who termed her version of Imagism "Amygism." She focused herself on writing poetry in the new style, and also on promoting and sometimes literally supporting other poets who were also part of the Imagist movement.

In 1914, she published her second book of poetry, Sword Blades and Poppy Seeds. Many of the poems were in vers libre (free verse), which she renamed "unrhymed cadence." A few were in a form she invented, which she called "polyphonic prose."

In 1915, Amy Lowell published an anthology of Imagist verse, followed by new volumes in 1916 and 1917. Her own lecture tours began in 1915, as she talked of poetry and also read her own works. She was a popular speaker, often speaking to overflow crowds. Perhaps the novelty of the Imagist poetry drew people; perhaps they were drawn to the performances in part because she was a Lowell; in part her reputation for eccentricities helped bring in the people.

She slept until three in the afternoon and worked through the night. She was overweight, and a glandular condition was diagnosed which caused her to continue to gain. (Ezra Pound called her "hippopoetess.") She was operated on several times for persistent hernia problems.

She dressed mannishly, in severe suits and men's shirts. She wore a pince nez and had her hair done -- usually by Ada Russell -- in a pompadour that added a bit of height to her five feet. She slept on a custom-made bed with exactly sixteen pillows. She kept sheepdogs -- at least until World War I's meat rationing made her give them up -- and had to give guests towels to put in their laps to protect them from the dogs' affectionate habits. She draped mirrors and stopped clocks. And, perhaps most famously, she smoked cigars -- not "big, black" ones as was sometimes reported, but small cigars, which she claimed were less distracting to her work than cigarettes, because they lasted longer.

In 1915, she also ventured into criticism with Six French Poets, featuring Symbolist poets little known in America. In 1916, she published another volume of her own verse, Men, Women and Ghosts. A book derived from her lectures, Tendencies in Modern American Poetry followed in 1917, then another poetry collection in 1918, Can Grande's Castle and Pictures of the Floating World in 1919 and adaptations of myths and legends in 1921 in Legends.

During an illness in 1922 she wrote and published A Critical Fable - anonymously. For some months she denied that she'd written it. Her relative, James Russell Lowell, had published in his generation A Fable for Critics, witty and pointed verse analyzing poets who were his contemporaries. Amy Lowell's A Critical Fable likewise skewered her own poetic contemporaries.

She worked for the next few years on a massive biography of John Keats, whose works she'd been collecting since 1905. Almost a day-by-day account of his life, the book also recognized Fanny Brawne for the first time as a positive influence on him.

This work was taxing on Lowell's health, though. She nearly ruined her eyesight, and her hernias continued to cause her trouble. In May of 1925, she was advised to remain in bed with a troublesome hernia. On May 12 she got out of bed anyway, and was struck with a massive cerebral hemorrhage. She died hours later.

Ada Russell, her executrix, not only burned all personal correspondence, as directed by Amy Lowell, but also published three more volumes of Lowell's poems posthumously. These included some late sonnets to Eleanora Duse, who had died in 1912 herself, and other poems considered too controversial for Lowell to publish during her lifetime. Lowell left her fortune and Sevenels in trust to Ada Russell.

The Imagist movement didn't outlive Amy Lowell for long. Her poems didn't withstand the test of time well, and while a few of her poems ("Patterns" and "Lilacs" especially) were still studied and anthologized, she was nearly forgotten.

Then, Lillian Faderman and others rediscovered Amy Lowell as an example of poets and others whose same-sex relationships had been important to them in their lives, but who had -- for obvious social reasons -- not been explicit and open about those relationships. Faderman and others re-examined poems like "Clear, With Light Variable Winds" or "Venus Transiens" or "Taxi" or "A Lady" and found the theme -- barely concealed -- of the love of women. "A Decade," which had been written as a celebration of the ten year anniversary of Ada and Amy's relationship, and the "Two Speak Together" section of Pictures of the Floating World was recognized for the love poetry that it is.

The theme was not completely concealed, of course, especially to those who knew the couple well. John Livingston Lowes, a friend of Amy Lowell's, had recognized Ada as the object of one of her poems, and Lowell wrote back to him, "I am very glad indeed that you liked 'Madonna of the Evening Flowers.' How could so exact a portrait remain unrecognized?"

And so, too, the portrait of the committed relationship and love of Amy Lowell and Ada Dwyer Russell was largely unrecognized until recently.

Her "Sisters" -- alluding to the sisterhood that included Lowell, Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Emily Dickinson -- makes it clear that Amy Lowell saw herself as part of a continuing tradition of women poets.



152 Poems written by Amy Lowell

The poems are by default sorted according to volume, but you can also choose to sort them alphabetically or by page views.

Volume | Alphabetically | [Page Views] | Comments | First Lines


Page ViewsPoemComments
28062 Sea Shell Comments and analysis of Sea Shell by Amy Lowell 8 Comments
24022 Petals Comments and analysis of Petals by Amy Lowell 8 Comments
19461 Patterns Comments and analysis of Patterns by Amy Lowell 71 Comments
19406 New York at Night
17809 Irony Comments and analysis of Irony by Amy Lowell 1 Comment
16914 A Fairy Tale
15895 Summer Comments and analysis of Summer by Amy Lowell 2 Comments
15700 Before the Altar Comments and analysis of Before the Altar by Amy Lowell 46 Comments
14956 Patience Comments and analysis of Patience by Amy Lowell 48 Comments
11637 Listening Comments and analysis of Listening by Amy Lowell 4 Comments
10869 Roads
10693 Happiness Comments and analysis of Happiness by Amy Lowell 55 Comments
10596 To a Friend Comments and analysis of To a Friend by Amy Lowell 2 Comments
9996 The Captured Goddess Comments and analysis of The Captured Goddess by Amy Lowell 248 Comments
9746 Behind a Wall Comments and analysis of Behind a Wall by Amy Lowell 2 Comments
9548 The Lamp of Life
9499 Song Comments and analysis of Song by Amy Lowell 20 Comments
9421 Azure and Gold Comments and analysis of Azure and Gold by Amy Lowell 2 Comments
9414 Leisure Comments and analysis of Leisure by Amy Lowell 4 Comments
9187 Dreams Comments and analysis of Dreams by Amy Lowell 3 Comments
9175 The Fruit Shop
8929 Music Comments and analysis of Music by Amy Lowell 2 Comments
8249 The Way Comments and analysis of The Way by Amy Lowell 10 Comments
7998 The Trout
7972 Hero-Worship Comments and analysis of Hero-Worship by Amy Lowell 8 Comments
7835 Fragment
7729 A Lady Comments and analysis of A Lady by Amy Lowell 4 Comments
7620 Stupidity
7611 The Green Bowl Comments and analysis of The Green Bowl by Amy Lowell 2 Comments
7557 "To-morrow to Fresh Woods and Pastures New" Comments and analysis of 2 Comments
7528 The Matrix Comments and analysis of The Matrix by Amy Lowell 1 Comment
7451 At Night Comments and analysis of At Night by Amy Lowell 1 Comment
7408 Venetian Glass
7394 The Promise of the Morning Star
7347 Lead Soldiers Comments and analysis of Lead Soldiers by Amy Lowell 9 Comments
7345 The End Comments and analysis of The End by Amy Lowell 2 Comments
7278 A Japanese Wood-Carving Comments and analysis of A Japanese Wood-Carving by Amy Lowell 1 Comment
7257 The Dinner-Party Comments and analysis of The Dinner-Party by Amy Lowell 19 Comments
7199 Late September
7110 Anticipation
7011 In Darkness Comments and analysis of In Darkness by Amy Lowell 2 Comments
6968 A Tale of Starvation Comments and analysis of A Tale of Starvation by Amy Lowell 3 Comments
6966 Apology Comments and analysis of Apology by Amy Lowell 4 Comments
6916 Climbing Comments and analysis of Climbing by Amy Lowell 33 Comments
6914 Absence Comments and analysis of Absence by Amy Lowell 1 Comment
6786 Apples of Hesperides Comments and analysis of Apples of Hesperides by Amy Lowell 1 Comment
6771 The Giver of Stars
6382 Loon Point
6319 The Paper Windmill
6282 The Allies Comments and analysis of The Allies by Amy Lowell 1 Comment
6260 The Foreigner Comments and analysis of The Foreigner by Amy Lowell 15 Comments
6214 A Gift Comments and analysis of A Gift by Amy Lowell 4 Comments
6207 Astigmatism Comments and analysis of Astigmatism by Amy Lowell 13 Comments
6187 The Cross-Roads Comments and analysis of The Cross-Roads by Amy Lowell 17 Comments
6137 In a Castle Comments and analysis of In a Castle by Amy Lowell 8 Comments
6129 An Aquarium
6031 Crowned
6031 The Painted Ceiling Comments and analysis of The Painted Ceiling by Amy Lowell 9 Comments
5997 A Fixed Idea Comments and analysis of A Fixed Idea by Amy Lowell 4 Comments
5955 March Evening
5927 Aubade
5922 Fragment
5867 Vintage Comments and analysis of Vintage by Amy Lowell 1 Comment
5721 Before Dawn
5707 The Forsaken
5587 The Poet Comments and analysis of The Poet by Amy Lowell 10 Comments
5562 In a Garden Comments and analysis of In a Garden by Amy Lowell 4 Comments
5538 The Temple Comments and analysis of The Temple by Amy Lowell 1 Comment
5522 A Roxbury Garden Comments and analysis of A Roxbury Garden by Amy Lowell 1 Comment
5515 A Blockhead
5487 In Answer to a Request Comments and analysis of In Answer to a Request by Amy Lowell 209 Comments
5423 To Elizabeth Ward Perkins
5379 Aftermath
5297 1777
5237 Suggested by the Cover of a Volume of Keats's Poems Comments and analysis of Suggested by the Cover of a Volume of Keats's Poems by Amy Lowell 10 Comments
5221 The Pike Comments and analysis of The Pike by Amy Lowell 1 Comment
5218 Epitaph of a Young Poet Who Died Before Having Achieved Success
5183 The Blue Scarf
5097 The Fruit Garden Path
5074 The Pleiades
4999 The Shadow Comments and analysis of The Shadow by Amy Lowell 8 Comments
4886 Diya  {original title is Greek, Delta-iota-psi-alpha}
4883 Fool's Money Bags Comments and analysis of Fool's Money Bags by Amy Lowell 1 Comment
4835 Obligation
4773 The Cremona Violin
4768 On Carpaccio's Picture:  The Dream of St. Ursula
4735 The Road to Avignon Comments and analysis of The Road to Avignon by Amy Lowell 7 Comments
4733 Reaping Comments and analysis of Reaping by Amy Lowell 15 Comments
4672 From One Who Stays
4589 The Last Quarter of the Moon
4549 The Painter on Silk Comments and analysis of The Painter on Silk by Amy Lowell 1 Comment
4524 The Bombardment
4502 Sunshine through a Cobwebbed Window Comments and analysis of Sunshine through a Cobwebbed Window by Amy Lowell 1 Comment
4488 Stravinsky's Three Pieces Comments and analysis of Stravinsky's Three Pieces  by Amy Lowell 8 Comments
4443 The Great Adventure of Max Breuck Comments and analysis of The Great Adventure of Max Breuck by Amy Lowell 9 Comments
4420 Convalescence
4371 Hora Stellatrix
4354 Crepuscule du Matin
4330 The Basket Comments and analysis of The Basket by Amy Lowell 13 Comments
4308 Afternoon Rain in State Street
4283 An Opera House
4239 A Ballad of Footmen
4212 The Grocery Comments and analysis of The Grocery by Amy Lowell 11 Comments
4196 The Coal Picker Comments and analysis of The Coal Picker by Amy Lowell 203 Comments
4189 Epitaph in a Church-Yard in Charleston, South Carolina
4078 Fringed Gentians
4033 The Red Lacquer Music-Stand
4026 Malmaison Comments and analysis of Malmaison by Amy Lowell 10 Comments
4003 Frankincense and Myrrh
3947 Sancta Maria, Succurre Miseris Comments and analysis of Sancta Maria, Succurre Miseris by Amy Lowell 2 Comments
3934 Storm-Racked
3840 The Bungler
3767 Teatro Bambino.  Dublin, N. H.
3755 Two Travellers in the Place Vendome
3725 A Petition
3660 Monadnock in Early Spring
3650 White and Green
3590 Off the Turnpike Comments and analysis of Off the Turnpike by Amy Lowell 8 Comments
3568 J--K. Huysmans
3488 The Precinct.  Rochester Comments and analysis of The Precinct.  Rochester by Amy Lowell 5 Comments
3374 Miscast I
3357 Pickthorn Manor Comments and analysis of Pickthorn Manor by Amy Lowell 1 Comment
3305 The Exeter Road Comments and analysis of The Exeter Road by Amy Lowell 6 Comments
1763 To an Early Daffodil Comments and analysis of To an Early Daffodil by Amy Lowell 1 Comment
668 A Winter Ride Comments and analysis of A Winter Ride by Amy Lowell 1 Comment
635 A Little Song Comments and analysis of A Little Song by Amy Lowell 2 Comments
620 A London Thoroughfare.  2 A.M. Comments and analysis of A London Thoroughfare.  2 A.M. by Amy Lowell 7 Comments
620 A Tulip Garden Comments and analysis of A Tulip Garden by Amy Lowell 29 Comments
603 After Hearing a Waltz by Bartok Comments and analysis of After Hearing a Waltz by Bartok by Amy Lowell 432 Comments
602 The Taxi Comments and analysis of The Taxi by Amy Lowell 48 Comments
588 Spring Day Comments and analysis of Spring Day by Amy Lowell 3 Comments
581 Sword Blades and Poppy Seed Comments and analysis of Sword Blades and Poppy Seed by Amy Lowell 23 Comments
554 A Coloured Print by Shokei
517 Wind Comments and analysis of Wind by Amy Lowell 38 Comments
510 Number 3 on the Docket Comments and analysis of Number 3 on the Docket by Amy Lowell 4 Comments
482 The Fool Errant
473 Nightmare: A Tale for an Autumn Evening Comments and analysis of Nightmare:  A Tale for an Autumn Evening by Amy Lowell 12 Comments
470 Red Slippers Comments and analysis of Red Slippers by Amy Lowell 7 Comments
447 The Boston Athenaeum Comments and analysis of The Boston Athenaeum by Amy Lowell 191 Comments
447 Clear, with Light, Variable Winds
429 The Book of Hours of Sister Clotilde Comments and analysis of The Book of Hours of Sister Clotilde by Amy Lowell 2 Comments
415 Francis II, King of Naples
413 The Little Garden
406 The Hammers
398 The Starling
379 Mirage
366 Thompson's Lunch Room -- Grand Central Station
344 Miscast II
154 The Crescent Moon Comments and analysis of The Crescent Moon by Amy Lowell 12 Comments
83 The Cyclists
49 The Tree of Scarlet Berries Comments and analysis of The Tree of Scarlet Berries by Amy Lowell 8 Comments
8 To John Keats Comments and analysis of To John Keats by Amy Lowell 8 Comments


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