Amy Lowell

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Lowell, Amy (9 February 1874 – 12 May 1925)

An imagist poet, Lowell was born in Brookline, Massachusetts. Her father, a cousin of James Russell Lowell, was also related to Robert Lowell. Amy grew up in a house her father dubbed "Sevenels" (because seven Lowells lived there).

Lowell at first had a British governess, and became famous in her family for her creative misspellings. As a popular debutante, known for her dancing and conversational style, she had no fewer than 60 dinners thrown for her. Because it was not considered "proper" by her family for young women to go to college, she was denied a higher education, but made use of her family's extensive library to educate herself.

After a failed engagement and growing obesity, probably stemming from a glandular condition, Lowell was exiled to Egypt in 1897-1898, to help her forget her troubles and also lose weight. The spartan regimen imposed upon her nearly killed her. In 1902, Lowell took up poetry-writing. She met actress Ada Dwyer Russell in 1912, with whom she had a "Boston marriage" her remaining life.

Lowell received a posthumous Pulitzer Prize in 1925 for Whot’s o’Clock. Independent and defiant of social norms, the unmarried and lesbian poet enjoyed a good cigar and credited Ms. Russell with giving her the emotional support she needed. A unitarian in her outlook, she was quite the nonconformist. In What’s o’Clock (1925), she wrote,

  • I know that a creed is the shell of a lie.

“Her confirmation as a member of Trinity Church did not last long,” Jean Gould writes in the biography, Amy (1975). “She renounced conventional Christianity after a few years. . . . She would declare herself an atheist, although she was more of an agnostic. . . . Amy became convinced through her own sufferings and those of others that the god of this world, if there was one, was a devil and she did not hesitate to reject demonstration of deity.” Further, she stipulated “that there be no formal funeral or gathering, and no religious service.”

A collateral descendant of James Russell Lowell, she is identified with the literary movement of Imagism and, after Ezra Pound, became its main leader. Imagists advocated freedom in choosing subject matter, use of common speech, new rhythmic forms, concentration, and bringing about images in hard, clear common speech, precision, the creation of new rhythms, absolute freedom in choice of subject matter, the evocation of images in hard, clear poetry, and concentration. Its adherents wrote for Poetry: A Magazine of Verse. Although D. H. Lawrence and others were attracted, language teachers in general have had trouble explaining to neophyte poets why a work has to have complete sentences, in order to communicate, when the imagists got by using fragments like . . .

Heart-leaves of lilac all over New England,
Roots of lilac under all the soil of New England,
Lilac in me because I am New England.

Exceptionally obese and suffering ill health brought on by an injury suffered while lifting a buggy out of a ditch, Lowell died of a stroke.