William Drake: On Amy Lowell

Amy Lowell’s liberating influence on other women poets is not easily measured. Some poets, not surprisingly, felt embarrassed and apologetic at the effrontery of a woman who would clash with men and smoke cigars in publics. She seemed too noisy against the background of traditional feminine silence. But when Lowell could once be perceived apart from the male reaction, she emerged as an authentic, often inspiring presence. Sara Teasdale had met her a number of times, always under some social pressure, and had taken the usual amused view of the Lowell phenomenon. But after a careful reading of Lowell’s new book in 1919, Pictures of the Floating World, a new insight unfolded, and she wrote her: "It seemed to me that I realized for the first time what you are . . . Suddenly I knew you—the violence and the delicacy—I found you something that I can love in my own way."

In her championship of free verse and experimentation, Lowell seized the initiative from the male poets (for which she has been excoriated) and by her example helped to free women from the tight, small-scale lyrics that were considered women’s special provenance. Amy Lowell could be exhilarating to a woman who was herself in search of freedom. . . . [Her] great function, though nowhere explicitly acknowledged, was to have sought escape from the prison of self-rejection in which creative women were trapped, into the freedom of making the most of herself as she found herself. The image in a prose-poem Lowell created spontaneously in a letter to Grace Conkling stands as a haunting self- portrait:

A cloud wreath. A dryad. Wind through beeches. Little waves over glittering sand. An unhappy woman tinged by time, grievous with memories, impatient at the world’s dust, seeking a home for those thoughts which will in no wise be contented if caged.

Written in 1922, three years before her death, this fragment reveals the persistence of the old division within herself, though now softened into acceptance and made to serve her imagination: on one side, the free nature spirit, with her untroubled kinship with wind and cloud, the direct clarity of mind like water over sand; on the other, the woman burdened with the memory of confinement and therefore compelled perpetually to seek the freedom the dryad possesses by birthright; a feminine ideal that generates transformation of the real.


Title William Drake: On Amy Lowell Type of Content General Poet Criticism
Criticism Author William Drake Criticism Target Amy Lowell
Criticism Type Poet Originally Posted 12 Jan 2019
Publication Status Excerpted Criticism Publication The First Wave: Women Poets in America 1915-1945
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