Robert Lowell Collected Poems

Lost in the Rockslide of History: Toward an Understanding of Robert Lowell's "History"

"History" is a title fraught with dilemma. There is, to begin with, the ambiguity inherent the word: there are nine entries listed in the OED, three of which are of primary concern here. "A relation of events" is the first; "A written narrative constituting a continuous methodical record, in order of time, of important or public events" is the second; "the aggregate of past events in general and the course of events or human affairs" is the third. "History" is a record, the content of that record, and a grand, abstract totality. Mirroring this dilemma is the ambiguity of all such poetic titles: is "history" a label, a self-identification, or rather the statement of a subject for meditation? I hope to show that for Robert Lowell's "History" it is both; and that his "History" partakes of all three of the OED's senses, flouting them all. Lowell's 366 sonnets are arranged chronologically by subject, and range from the creation of the world to the year of their own publication; while not inherently "methodical", they nevertheless attempt to offer a "continual record" of the intellectual inheritance and political history of...

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