"Love follows knowledge."
"Beauty above all beauty!"
– St. Catherine of Siena

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Poetry: “The Dead in Europe” by Robert Lowell

Here’s another poem by this year’s poetic focus, Robert Lowell, and I wanted to post this poem in this month of May since May is Mary’s month, and this poem at its core has a prayer to the Blessed Mother.  The poem was published in 1946, and I would guess it was written toward the latter part of World War II.  I mentioned in my introductory post on Robert Lowell that he was a conscientious objector to the war, and a strong anti-war proponent after the war.  

The Dead in Europe
By Robert Lowell

After the planes unloaded, we fell down
Buried together, unmarried men and women;
Not crown of thorns, not iron, not Lombard crown,
Not grilled and spindle spires pointing to heaven
Could save us. Raise us, Mother, we fell down
Here hugger-mugger in the jellied fire:
Our sacred earth in our day was our curse.

Our Mother, shall we rise on Mary’s day
In Maryland, wherever corpses married
Under the rubble, bundled together? Pray
For us whom the blockbusters marred and buried;
When Satan scatters us on Rising-day,
O Mother, snatch out bodies from the fire:
Our sacred earth in our day was our curse.

Mother, my bones are trembling and I hear
The earth’s reverberations and the trumpet
Bleating into my shambles. Shall I bear,
(O Mary!) unmarried man and powder-puppet,
Witness to the Devil? Mary, hear,
O Mary, marry earth, sea, air and fire;
Our sacred earth in our day is our curse.

Let me provide a short analysis because this poem illustrates why Lowell is such a fine poet, and as I said before the finest American poet in the post WWII era.  This is not a poem in Lowell’s confessional style, and yet it has a conversational tone that belies its highly stylized form.  There are three stanzas of seven lines each written in iambic pentameter.  The first five lines have a rhyme scheme of ABABA and the sixth and seventh lines ending with the same word in each stanza: “fire” in the sixth and “curse” in the seventh.  Actually the seventh line is repeated in each stanza as a hymnal chorus, carrying enormous power: “Our sacred earth in our day is our curse.”  The poem uses two conceits which expounds its theme, the image of being buried as a result of the bombs, and the metaphor of marriage to suggest a harmonious resolution.  Let me try to flesh that out.  The bombs burry “the unmarried men and women,” not unmarried to each other but unmarried to a broken, dissonant world.  Each stanza appeals to the Blessed Mother to resolve this fragmentation and marry humanity to the four elements that was in classical times supposed to compose the material world, earth, water, air, and fire.  The war of his day is a curse stemming from the fall from Eden.  Marriage is not a literal sacramental marriage but a metaphoric bringing to unity.  Excellent poem.

We may not be in a world war but the times today are pretty bad and worthy of such prayer.  Blessed Mother pray for this broken world.

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