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Amy Lowell: Biography & Poems

Instructor: Jacob Erickson

Jacob has his master's in English and has taught multiple levels of literature and composition, including junior high, college, and graduate students.

In this lesson, we'll learn about the imagist poet named Amy Lowell. We'll consider her famous works, writing styles, influences, social connections, and the context in which she was writing.

Introduction

While some people may think of artists and poets as reclusive and eccentric individuals, many have the social skills to make themselves known. Amy Lowell was certainly one artist who had little trouble mingling with others. In fact, Lowell is well known not only for her strengths in attaining fame and public recognition for herself, but also for other poets. Lowell's works include poems, essays, and a biography.

Brief Biography

Born in Massachusetts in 1874, Lowell belonged to an influential New England family that had ties to some of America's earliest settlers. Although Lowell was not allowed to attend college because of traditional gender roles, she was privately tutored and was a prolific reader from a young age. Lowell didn't begin writing poems until she was in her 30s, with her first poem, 'Fixed Idea,' published in 1910. Lowell worked diligently at her writing, and using the connections that she made through her wealthy family, Lowell was able to meet and work with many other important writers.

Although she published more than 650 poems herself, Lowell was critical in helping other poets to publish their writing. She also served as an editor; in 1915, she became the editor of Some Imagist Poets: An Anthology, which was an important collection of some of the most innovative writers alive. She continued writing until her death in 1925.

Although her poetry received mixed reviews during her life, the work of Lowell is now considered quite influential.
Amy Lowell

Context

The end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century brought tremendous changes in how the world was understood. Thinkers and philosophers began to undermine many assumptions people once held as truths. With Freud's new psychological theories and Darwin's publishings on evolution, scientists started to increasingly doubt the long-held beliefs about just how much human minds could understand about the world around them.

Faced with these new developments, many artists believed that it was necessary to create art that reflected the complicated reality of the world they lived in. This movement came to be known as modernism. Modernist artists attempted to create abstract art that treated the world as multi-layered. Modernism started around the beginning of the 20th century and lasted until roughly the end of World War II in 1945. There were a variety of subgroups within modernism, and one of the most important in poetry was the imagist movement. Imagist poets attempted to produce writing that was filled only with clear, precise images that spoke for themselves without any unnecessary words.

One of the most important figures in the imagist movement was Ezra Pound. A poet and critic, Pound coined the term imagism and considered himself the main developer of the ideals of the movement. Although Pound and Lowell had a close relationship for many years, they came to disagree with one another, which was one of the reasons Pound severed his ties with the movement. From then on, many considered Lowell the spokesperson for imagism. Moreover, many critics both now and during Lowell's time believed her to be not only an important leader for imagism, but an innovator of the style both as a poet and as an editor.

Poems and Other Works

Lowell did not publish her first poem until she was 36. However, after discovering the imagist movement, she became a diligent writer and worked hard to advance the ideals of imagism. Her first book of poetry, A Dome of Many Coloured Glass, was published in 1912. The collection received generally good reviews, although some saw her newness to poetry as a limitation.

Like many other imagist poets, Lowell frequently wrote her poems in free verse, meaning that they contained no strict rhyme schemes, mete, or other poetic forms. Take, for example, the first four lines of 'The Captured Goddess,' which was published in her 1914 collection titled Sword Blades and Poppy Seed:

Over the housetops,

Above the rotating chimney-pots,

I have seen a shiver of amethyst,

And blue and cinnamon have flickered (1-4).

In addition to the lack of meter or rhyme, notice that the language is free of any excess descriptions or adjectives. Similarly, the verbs or action words used are simple, and the images mentioned are somewhat common. These were some of the main qualities of imagist poems.

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