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TheCanadian Review of American Studies, Volume 12,No. 1,Spring 1981 Lowell's "Heartbreaking" Verse Autobiography Rl,lando Anzilotti, ed. Robert Lowell: A Tribute. Pisa·N1~tri-Lischi Editori, 1979. 184pp. Ste\enGould Axelrod. Robert Lowell: Lifeand Art. Pnnceton· Princeton University Press, 1978.286 + xiv pp. Gany Willis Duringmyinterview with him in June 1974,Lowell said, among other things, thathehad had "'lots of good critics." Of course, even prior to writing publishahlepoems , he was acquainted with some of America's most notable poetcritics ,among them John Crowe Ransom, Allen Tate and the young Randall Jarrell.Probably for this reason, Lowell, unlike the other great American poetsof this century, received widespread poetic recognition from the very beginningof his career. Two of his friends, Tate and Jarrell, not only praised himin print but privately guided his development in its germinal phase. At eachstage of his career his work elicited fine critical articles: thus the anthologiesof critical pieces edited by Thomas Parkinson, London and Boyers, andJonathan Price remain among the most useful books on Lowell. In hooklengthstudies by a single critic, Lowell has not been consistently fortunate: thefirst book on Lowell (1962),by Hugh B. Staples, is brief but lucid and helpful;but Mazzaro's 1965study, evidently Catholic in perspective, misunderstandsand undervalues Lowell's post-Catholic poetry; Cosgrave's 1970 bookhas a perverse and autocratic moralism that "judges" only a few Lowell poemsto be worthy of serious attention; and Cooper's 1970book is intermittentlyfatuous . The books by Fein (1970),Perloff (1973),and Crick (1974) aresolid, substantial treatments; but only Williamson's Pi(l' the Monsters !1974) and Yenser's Circle to Circle (1975)do justice to the intricate subtleties 114 Gany ¾iilli of the poems. All these works were published prior to the poet's death in19T now that his zigzag progress has been stilled, critics can begin to assess hii achievement without concern that he will again catch us by surprise. Anzi lotti's book was compiled ''to do homage to his memory" (p. 7); Axelrod\ work was begun before the poet's death, but completed afterward. · Anzilotti's collection, Robert Lowell: A Tribute, grows out of a reunion in Pisa on May 25, 1978,of people who had known and loved Lowell Unfortunately, not all these "friends" of Lowell were intimately familiar with him and his work. Of the five Italian poets who contributed ..Reminis cences and Appreciations," one seems never to have met the man, threelli :. have met him but once, and the oldest to have met him several times, thouor 1 he cannot recall the final meeting in 1973.Their knowledge of Lowell thr· man is superficial; and their appreciation of him as "the greatest Englisr. poet of the last few decades" (p. 35) is not substantiated by incisive critical remarks. Only the sole American contributor of a ..reminiscence," Esther Brooks, was a close friend of Lowell's over a long period. She, who knew"thr; poems through the man" rather than "the man through his poems·· (p.J:1 has composed not a eulogy (like the other pieces in this section of the book1 but the sharpest, clearest portrait of Lowell's personality to date. Ofher reflections, more later. The "Essays" section of the book contains eight contributions, varyin; widely in length and quality. Lombardo, on Lowell's early poetry, saysnothin; new; Prampolini, in his long essay on Lowell's Dante, employs his impressi1c knowledge of Lowell's verse, Lowell's critics and Dante's verse to generate judicious and illuminating insights; Rizzardi, who seems to have knm1n Lowell fairly well, describes how he gave Lowell help with Imitations (e\cr the name "'imitations" was suggested by Rizzardi); Anzilotti, a good frient\ of Lowell's and the most prolific translator of Lowell's verse into Italian includes, in the course of his discussion of his problems as a translatort1l Lowell, valuable information about Lowell's poems. Anzilotti confirmsm1 impression that Lowell was a rather careless editor of his work, indifferer.' to misprints and to his own misspellings: work toward a meticuloush edited Collected Poems o.l Robert Lowell should begin soon, while Anzilow 1 and others are still alive to provide extra-textual evidence of the poet'i...


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