The Flamekeeper : The Confessional Purgation of the Soul in the Poetry of Robert Lowell
Abstract: This essay is a critical textual analysis of the poetry of Robert Lowell with focus on religious symbolism used in his work, and the Catholic theology which informed it. This results in a new, contrasting interpretation to the conventional view that he had abandoned his religious focus by mid-career, while accounting for his own assessment that he had not. Insights gained through this analysis, combined with those relating to Lowell’s personal history, reframe his confessional poetry while bolstering this claim. Through this study, poems selected from Lord Weary’s Castle, The Mills of the Kavanaughs, Life Studies and For the Union Dead are reinterpreted in order to explore the consequences of what Lowell could have intended with this stylistic modification, and discover the religiosity that he claimed was hidden. Lowell’s confessional poetry up until 1964 is examined and recast as the anguished wails of a Catholic soul in Purgatory. This fresh approach to one of America’s finest twentieth-century poets provides a novel foundation for the reinterpretation of the entirety of Lowell’s professional oeuvre.
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