Louis Untermeyer: On Amy Lowell's Poetry

[Amy Lowell’s first] volume, a Dome of Many-Coloured Glass (1912), was a strangely unpromising first book. The subjects were as conventional as the treatment; the influence of Keats and Tennyson was evident; the tone was soft and sentimental, almost without a trace of personality. It was a queer prologue to the vivid Sword Blades and Poppy Seed (1914), which marked not only an extraordinary advance but a totally new individuality. This second volume contained many distinctive poems written in the usual forms, a score of pictorial pieces illustrating Miss Lowell’s identification with the Imagists and, possibly most important from a technical standpoint, the first appearance in English of "polyphonic prose." Of this extremely flexible form, which has only begun to be exploited, Miss Lowell, in an essay on John Gould Fletcher, has written, "’Polyphonic’ means ‘many-voiced,’ and the form is so-called because it makes use of the ‘voices’ of poetry, namely: meter, vers libre, assonance, alliteration, rhyme and return. It employs every form of rhythm, even prose rhythm at times."

It was because of such experiments in form and technique that Miss Lowell first attracted attention and is still best known. But, beneath her preoccupation with theories and novelty of utterance, one listens to the skilled story-teller, to the designer of arabesques, to the narrator who (vide such poems as "A Lady," "Vintage" and the later "Bronze Horses") revivifies history with creative excitement.

Men, Women and Ghosts (1916) brims with this contagious vitality; it is richer in variety than its predecessors, swifter in movement, surer in artistry. It is, in common with all of Miss Lowell’s work, best in its portrayal of colors and sounds, of physical perceptions rather than the reactions of emotional experience. She is, preeminently, the poet of the external world; her visual effects are as "hard and clear" as the most uncompromising Imagist could desire. The colors with which her voice works are studded seem like bits of bright enamel; every leaf and flower has a lacquered brilliance. To compensate for the lack of inner warmth, Miss Lowell feverishly agitates all she touches; nothing remains quiescent. Whether she writes about a fruit shop, or a flower-garden in Roxbuy, or a windowful of red slippers, or a string quartet, or a Japanese print—everything flashes, leaps, startles, spins and burns with an almost savage intensity; a dynamic speed dizzies one. Motion frequently takes the place of emotion.

In Can Grande’s Castle (1918) Miss Lowell achieves a broader line; the teller of stories, the bizarre decorator and the experimenter are finally fused. The poems in this volume are only four in number—four polyphonic prose-poems of almost epic length, but they are extraordinarily varied, sweeping in their sense of amplitude and time. Pictures of the Floating World (1919) which followed is, in many wasy Miss Lowell’s most personal revelation. Although there are several pags devoted to the merely dazzling and grotesque, most of the poems are in a quieter key; a new restraint gives unsuspected overtones to stanzas that have much in common with the earlier and more famous "Patterns" where the narrative, the character and the thing observed are inextricably knit.

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Criticism Overview
Title Louis Untermeyer: On Amy Lowell's Poetry Type of Content General Poet Criticism
Criticism Author Louis Untermeyer Criticism Target Amy Lowell
Criticism Type Poet Originally Posted 12 Jan 2019
Publication Status Excerpted Criticism Publication Modern American Poetry: A Critical Anthology
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