Robert Lowell’s “Skunk Hour” appears as the last poem in his career-altering book Life Studies, published in 1959, but as Lowell described to Al Alvarez, a fellow writer and critic, the poem was the first in the book to be completed. The final section of four, the part of Life Studies that “Skunk Hour” appeared in becomes more confessional and more personal than those before it.
The poem, according to Lowell, was written in response to Elizabeth Bishop’s poem “The Armadillo,” a poem she dedicated to him. “Skunk Hour” indicated a new chapter in Lowell’s poetry, where his poetry became confessional but never dramatic or verbose.
The poem falls into eight stanzas with six lines each. According to Lowell, he added the first four stanzas after completing the last four; this accounts for some of their shift in tone.