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Robert Lowell - Skunk Hour

For Elizabeth Bishop
Nautilus Island's hermit
heiress still lives through winter in her Spartan cottage;
her sheep still graze above the sea.
Her son's a bishop.  Her farmer
is first selectman in our village,
she's in her dotage.

Thirsting for
the hierarchic privacy
of Queen Victoria's century,
she buys up all
the eyesores facing her shore,
and lets them fall.

The season's ill--
we've lost our summer millionaire,
who seemed to leap from an L. L. Bean
catalogue.  His nine-knot yawl
was auctioned off to lobstermen.
A red fox stain covers Blue Hill.

And now our fairy 
decorator brightens his shop for fall,
his fishnet's filled with orange cork,
orange, his cobbler's bench and awl,
there is no money in his work,
he'd rather marry.

One dark night,
my Tudor Ford climbed the hill's skull,
I watched for love-cars.  Lights turned down, 
they lay together, hull to hull,
where the graveyard shelves on the town. . . .
My mind's not right.

A car radio bleats,
'Love, O careless Love . . . .' I hear
my ill-spirit sob in each blood cell,
as if my hand were at its throat . . . .
I myself am hell,
nobody's here--

only skunks, that search
in the moonlight for a bite to eat.
They march on their soles up Main Street:
white stripes, moonstruck eyes' red fire
under the chalk-dry and spar spire
of the Trinitarian Church.

I stand on top
of our back steps and breathe the rich air--
a mother skunk with her column of kittens swills the
     garbage pail
She jabs her wedge-head in a cup
of sour cream, drops her ostrich tail,
and will not scare.

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Added: Oct 29 2004 | Viewed: 18875 times | Comments and analysis of Skunk Hour by Robert Lowell Comments (6)

Skunk Hour - Comments and Information

Poet: Robert Lowell
Poem: Skunk Hour
Volume: Selected Poems
Year: Published/Written in 1976
Poem of the Day: Aug 10 2009

Comment 6 of 6, added on July 18th, 2014 at 5:04 AM.

rAtyxA I loved your article. Fantastic.

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Comment 5 of 6, added on August 12th, 2010 at 2:07 AM.
Skunk Hour

"the season's ill", although refers to the seasonal change but it implicates a diseased civilization. with expression "my mind's not right", the poet seems to loose insanity at the depressive prospect that greets him in his search of love. the love song that blares from the radio seems to be bleating meaninglessly in the atmosphere of general sterility. the appearence to skunks, looking for something to eat at a deadly hour, is the only sign of life and therefore survival.

Sarab Singh from India
Comment 4 of 6, added on December 3rd, 2008 at 2:09 PM.

That phrase 'I myself am hell' has always stuck in my mind when thinking about Lowell's confessionalism, and about confessional poetry in general. Its most wellknown practitioners have often been writers who have suffered from psychiatric illness and hospitalisation, and have sort to express this personal experience of inner turmoil in hard-hitting verse. The excerpt describing the car radio 'bleating' and the poet hearing in its song his own 'ill-spirit sob in each blood cell / as if my hand were at its throat' is a chillingly suicidal and audio-hallucinogenic metaphor for self-abjection, as is 'I myself am hell./ Nobody's here'...which reminds one of Arthur Rimbaud's desperate statement 'I is another'. One can see the beginnings of the line of self-expression which Anne Sexton and Sylvia Plath also experimented with after attended Lowell's workshops.

Dave Younger from United Kingdom

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