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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
27996 Sea Shell Comments and analysis of Sea Shell by Amy Lowell 8 Comments
23974 Petals Comments and analysis of Petals by Amy Lowell 8 Comments
19382 Patterns Comments and analysis of Patterns by Amy Lowell 70 Comments
19372 New York at Night
17765 Irony Comments and analysis of Irony by Amy Lowell 1 Comment
16876 A Fairy Tale
15825 Summer Comments and analysis of Summer by Amy Lowell 2 Comments
15652 Before the Altar Comments and analysis of Before the Altar by Amy Lowell 45 Comments
14914 Patience Comments and analysis of Patience by Amy Lowell 47 Comments
11586 Listening Comments and analysis of Listening by Amy Lowell 3 Comments
10834 Roads
10647 Happiness Comments and analysis of Happiness by Amy Lowell 54 Comments
10562 To a Friend Comments and analysis of To a Friend by Amy Lowell 2 Comments
9936 The Captured Goddess Comments and analysis of The Captured Goddess by Amy Lowell 247 Comments
9719 Behind a Wall Comments and analysis of Behind a Wall by Amy Lowell 2 Comments
9525 The Lamp of Life
9467 Song Comments and analysis of Song by Amy Lowell 19 Comments
9381 Azure and Gold Comments and analysis of Azure and Gold by Amy Lowell 2 Comments
9349 Leisure Comments and analysis of Leisure by Amy Lowell 3 Comments
9157 Dreams Comments and analysis of Dreams by Amy Lowell 2 Comments
9148 The Fruit Shop
8909 Music Comments and analysis of Music by Amy Lowell 2 Comments
8219 The Way Comments and analysis of The Way by Amy Lowell 10 Comments
7953 The Trout
7927 Hero-Worship Comments and analysis of Hero-Worship by Amy Lowell 8 Comments
7783 Fragment
7668 A Lady Comments and analysis of A Lady by Amy Lowell 3 Comments
7599 Stupidity
7589 The Green Bowl Comments and analysis of The Green Bowl by Amy Lowell 2 Comments
7527 "To-morrow to Fresh Woods and Pastures New" Comments and analysis of 2 Comments
7510 The Matrix Comments and analysis of The Matrix by Amy Lowell 1 Comment
7418 At Night Comments and analysis of At Night by Amy Lowell 1 Comment
7380 Venetian Glass
7350 The Promise of the Morning Star
7320 Lead Soldiers Comments and analysis of Lead Soldiers by Amy Lowell 9 Comments
7319 The End Comments and analysis of The End by Amy Lowell 2 Comments
7243 A Japanese Wood-Carving Comments and analysis of A Japanese Wood-Carving by Amy Lowell 1 Comment
7235 The Dinner-Party Comments and analysis of The Dinner-Party by Amy Lowell 18 Comments
7140 Late September
7076 Anticipation
6995 In Darkness Comments and analysis of In Darkness by Amy Lowell 2 Comments
6946 A Tale of Starvation Comments and analysis of A Tale of Starvation by Amy Lowell 3 Comments
6939 Apology Comments and analysis of Apology by Amy Lowell 4 Comments
6874 Climbing Comments and analysis of Climbing by Amy Lowell 33 Comments
6871 Absence Comments and analysis of Absence by Amy Lowell 1 Comment
6755 Apples of Hesperides Comments and analysis of Apples of Hesperides by Amy Lowell 1 Comment
6752 The Giver of Stars
6360 Loon Point
6286 The Paper Windmill
6262 The Allies Comments and analysis of The Allies by Amy Lowell 1 Comment
6234 The Foreigner Comments and analysis of The Foreigner by Amy Lowell 15 Comments
6183 A Gift Comments and analysis of A Gift by Amy Lowell 3 Comments
6176 Astigmatism Comments and analysis of Astigmatism by Amy Lowell 13 Comments
6165 The Cross-Roads Comments and analysis of The Cross-Roads by Amy Lowell 17 Comments
6110 An Aquarium
6098 In a Castle Comments and analysis of In a Castle by Amy Lowell 8 Comments
6003 Crowned
6001 The Painted Ceiling Comments and analysis of The Painted Ceiling by Amy Lowell 9 Comments
5965 A Fixed Idea Comments and analysis of A Fixed Idea by Amy Lowell 4 Comments
5920 March Evening
5899 Aubade
5887 Fragment
5833 Vintage Comments and analysis of Vintage by Amy Lowell 1 Comment
5705 Before Dawn
5676 The Forsaken
5569 The Poet Comments and analysis of The Poet by Amy Lowell 10 Comments
5543 In a Garden Comments and analysis of In a Garden by Amy Lowell 4 Comments
5517 The Temple Comments and analysis of The Temple by Amy Lowell 1 Comment
5501 A Roxbury Garden Comments and analysis of A Roxbury Garden by Amy Lowell 1 Comment
5491 A Blockhead
5456 In Answer to a Request Comments and analysis of In Answer to a Request by Amy Lowell 209 Comments
5399 To Elizabeth Ward Perkins
5356 Aftermath
5272 1777
5215 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
5197 Epitaph of a Young Poet Who Died Before Having Achieved Success
5195 The Pike Comments and analysis of The Pike by Amy Lowell 1 Comment
5158 The Blue Scarf
5061 The Fruit Garden Path
5041 The Pleiades
4978 The Shadow Comments and analysis of The Shadow by Amy Lowell 8 Comments
4864 Diya  {original title is Greek, Delta-iota-psi-alpha}
4852 Fool's Money Bags Comments and analysis of Fool's Money Bags by Amy Lowell 1 Comment
4809 Obligation
4740 The Cremona Violin
4711 The Road to Avignon Comments and analysis of The Road to Avignon by Amy Lowell 7 Comments
4694 Reaping Comments and analysis of Reaping by Amy Lowell 15 Comments
4635 From One Who Stays
4554 The Last Quarter of the Moon
4523 The Painter on Silk Comments and analysis of The Painter on Silk by Amy Lowell 1 Comment
4500 The Bombardment
4469 Sunshine through a Cobwebbed Window Comments and analysis of Sunshine through a Cobwebbed Window by Amy Lowell 1 Comment
4468 Stravinsky's Three Pieces Comments and analysis of Stravinsky's Three Pieces  by Amy Lowell 8 Comments
4416 On Carpaccio's Picture:  The Dream of St. Ursula
4415 The Great Adventure of Max Breuck Comments and analysis of The Great Adventure of Max Breuck by Amy Lowell 8 Comments
4394 Convalescence
4342 Hora Stellatrix
4330 Crepuscule du Matin
4315 The Basket Comments and analysis of The Basket by Amy Lowell 13 Comments
4287 Afternoon Rain in State Street
4251 An Opera House
4214 A Ballad of Footmen
4180 The Grocery Comments and analysis of The Grocery by Amy Lowell 10 Comments
4173 The Coal Picker Comments and analysis of The Coal Picker by Amy Lowell 203 Comments
4166 Epitaph in a Church-Yard in Charleston, South Carolina
4063 Fringed Gentians
4015 The Red Lacquer Music-Stand
4009 To John Keats Comments and analysis of To John Keats by Amy Lowell 8 Comments
4006 Malmaison Comments and analysis of Malmaison by Amy Lowell 10 Comments
3979 Frankincense and Myrrh
3923 Sancta Maria, Succurre Miseris Comments and analysis of Sancta Maria, Succurre Miseris by Amy Lowell 2 Comments
3908 Storm-Racked
3817 The Bungler
3747 Teatro Bambino.  Dublin, N. H.
3731 Two Travellers in the Place Vendome
3696 A Petition
3641 Monadnock in Early Spring
3635 White and Green
3571 Off the Turnpike Comments and analysis of Off the Turnpike by Amy Lowell 8 Comments
3549 J--K. Huysmans
3473 The Precinct.  Rochester Comments and analysis of The Precinct.  Rochester by Amy Lowell 5 Comments
3361 Miscast I
3337 Pickthorn Manor Comments and analysis of Pickthorn Manor by Amy Lowell 1 Comment
3287 The Exeter Road Comments and analysis of The Exeter Road by Amy Lowell 5 Comments
1662 To an Early Daffodil Comments and analysis of To an Early Daffodil by Amy Lowell 1 Comment
617 A Winter Ride Comments and analysis of A Winter Ride by Amy Lowell 1 Comment
595 A Tulip Garden Comments and analysis of A Tulip Garden by Amy Lowell 29 Comments
588 A Little Song Comments and analysis of A Little Song by Amy Lowell 2 Comments
576 The Taxi Comments and analysis of The Taxi by Amy Lowell 48 Comments
572 A London Thoroughfare.  2 A.M. Comments and analysis of A London Thoroughfare.  2 A.M. by Amy Lowell 6 Comments
557 After Hearing a Waltz by Bartok Comments and analysis of After Hearing a Waltz by Bartok by Amy Lowell 430 Comments
546 Spring Day Comments and analysis of Spring Day by Amy Lowell 3 Comments
541 Sword Blades and Poppy Seed Comments and analysis of Sword Blades and Poppy Seed by Amy Lowell 23 Comments
525 A Coloured Print by Shokei
478 Number 3 on the Docket Comments and analysis of Number 3 on the Docket by Amy Lowell 3 Comments
477 Wind Comments and analysis of Wind by Amy Lowell 37 Comments
448 The Fool Errant
447 Nightmare: A Tale for an Autumn Evening Comments and analysis of Nightmare:  A Tale for an Autumn Evening by Amy Lowell 11 Comments
438 Red Slippers Comments and analysis of Red Slippers by Amy Lowell 6 Comments
427 The Boston Athenaeum Comments and analysis of The Boston Athenaeum by Amy Lowell 191 Comments
423 Clear, with Light, Variable Winds
413 The Book of Hours of Sister Clotilde Comments and analysis of The Book of Hours of Sister Clotilde by Amy Lowell 2 Comments
393 Francis II, King of Naples
388 The Little Garden
380 The Hammers
371 The Starling
352 Mirage
338 Thompson's Lunch Room -- Grand Central Station
330 Miscast II
119 The Crescent Moon Comments and analysis of The Crescent Moon by Amy Lowell 12 Comments
57 The Cyclists
32 The Tree of Scarlet Berries Comments and analysis of The Tree of Scarlet Berries by Amy Lowell 8 Comments


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