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

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Poetry: “Water” by Robert Lowell [UPDATED]

I’ve fallen down on my poetry read of Robert Lowell (this year’s annual poetry read), as I’ve fallen down on my overall reading.  I’ll get to that when I get to my 2015 summary which I’ll post in a few days.  Nonetheless I want to end the year with this really pretty poem from Lowell.  It’s rather straight forward, without any obscure, unexplained biographical detail that usually typifies Lowell’s great confessional poems.  The only thing you need to know is that the poem is addressed to the poet Elizabeth Bishop.  Lowell and Bishop formed one of the great friendships of American Letters, and from what I know it was purely Platonic.  Actually if I remember correctly, Bishop was lesbian, though she did not publicly reveal it.  Their correspondence is on Amazon and it amounts to some 469 letters between them.  You can read the NY Times review of the correspondence if you wish here  and you can sample some of Lowell’s letters to Bishop at this New Yorker article if you wish. 

by Robert Lowell

It was a Maine lobster town—
each morning boatloads of hands
pushed off for granite
quarries on the islands,

and left dozens of bleak
white frame houses stuck
like oyster shells
on a hill of rock,

and below us, the sea lapped
the raw little match-stick
mazes of a weir,
where the fish for bait were trapped.

Remember? We sat on a slab of rock.
From this distance in time
it seems the color
of iris, rotting and turning purpler,

but it was only
the usual gray rock
turning the usual green
when drenched by the sea.

The sea drenched the rock
at our feet all day,
and kept tearing away
flake after flake.

One night you dreamed
you were a mermaid clinging to a wharf-pile,
and trying to pull
off the barnacles with your hands.

We wished our two souls
might return like gulls
to the rock. In the end,
the water was too cold for us.

Yes, the ending signals his unfulfilled longing.  It’s very sweet and has the perfect Lowell touches.  I really admire Lowell’s poetry.  Here is a picture of the two of them on a beach.

Happy New Year.

UPDATE (6 Jan 2016)
I posted a complementary poem to Lowell's "Water," a poem by Elizabeth Bishop in memorial of her friend passing, Bishop's "North Haven."

1 comment:

  1. Thank you so much Manny for all the nice things you said on my Blog. I have learnt a lot from my visits here.

    Best wishes for a great New Year to you and your family. God bless.