Master of Arts (MA)
First Committee Member
Second Committee Member
Third Committee Member
Fourth Committee Member
Number of Pages
History (1973) remains Robert Lowell’s most criticized collection of poetry. This was largely because of the critical consensus that Lowell, the most well-known confessional poet, had moved too far away from the elements of the genre in his later works. This reception, coupled with his public mental health episodes, highly publicized divorce from Elizabeth Hardwick in 1972, and personal politics, had a negative impact on the legacy of the author. In revisiting this work, I argue that Lowell’s History is just as confessional as his earlier collections but presents the confessional mode in a different way. In doing so, Lowell challenges both the reader and the author as he attempts to convey the personal “I” through new poetic forms. Lowell also monumentalizes himself and his contemporaries by creating a space of legacy for them, allowing for multiple avenues of interpretations through his confession and his relationships. In doing so, History becomes both a revision and reflection of Lowell’s life and interpretation of important events. The massive volume of poetry offers an expansive look at history through the confessional lens and at the aging poet himself. My examination focuses particularly on forms of confession revealed through the political poems written during the 1968 anti-war campaign against Vietnam, Lowell’s friendship with Presidential candidate Eugene McCarthy, and his involvement in the political sphere. Lowell’s anti-war position, personal involvement, and intention in creating the collection are best read alongside the larger social context. This context allows us to better understand the relationships between Lowell and McCarthy, which will be defined in chapter 3, as well as understand how they functioned for one another and why Lowell chose to write about the campaign in the way that he did. Robert Lowell’s biographer, Ian Hamilton, notes that Lowell spoke for McCarthy at several fundraising events in New York in 1968. Eugene McCarthy, who was also friends with Lowell’s contemporaries, Allen Tate and J. F. Powers, stated that Lowell “sort of showed up” (McCarthy 116). Their friendship grew out of mutual respect and admiration for one another. Lowell was struck by McCarthy’s wit and McCarthy “enjoyed both the weight of Lowell’s prestige and the relief of his company (I. Hamilton 66). Their relationship would not only influence Lowell’s political poems in History but also McCarthy’s own poetry, which he published decades later. I also argue that the critical disregard for History has not allowed the collection to be interpreted for its cultural work.2 Reading this collection alongside the historical context allows us to understand the societal influence on the text as well view the text as a reflection of the time in which it was composed. History should be regarded with the same level of literary importance as Life Studies (1959) in terms of understanding the genre and Lowell himself. In doing so, we can examine this collection as representative of the political atmosphere of the late 1960s. Lowell carves a place for himself, his contemporaries, and those from whom he drew inspiration from or found conflict with in History. He monumentalizes his subjects by elevating them, confessing through them, and allowing the reader to interpret these moments as emblematic of both the author and as records of historical permanence. In revisiting Lowell’s History, I attempt to renew interest in Lowell’s late poetry by offering a rereading of his least positively received collection.
1960s; Confessional Poetry; Eugene McCarthy; Poetry; Politics; Robert Lowell
Arts and Humanities
University of Nevada, Las Vegas
Freeman, Jeremy, "Monumentalizing a Political Candidacy: Robert Lowell and Eugene McCarthy’s History" (2021). UNLV Theses, Dissertations, Professional Papers, and Capstones. 4143.
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