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Life Studies and For the Union Dead

4.09 of 5 stars 4.09  ·  rating details  ·  932 ratings  ·  24 reviews
Robert Lowell, with Elizabeth Bishop, stands apart as the greatest American poet of the latter half of the twentieth century--and Life Studies and For the Union Dead stand as among his most important volumes. In Life Studies, which was first published in 1959, Lowell moved away from the formality of his earlier poems and started writing in a more confessional vein. The tit ...more
Paperback, 176 pages
Published October 16th 2007 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (first published 1967)
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Jun 18, 2009 Jamie rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: poetry lovers, fans of confessionalism
Shelves: poetry
This review is cross-posted from my blog, so forgive the rather overwhelming length.

I’ve been a bad, bad little aspiring poet. Naughtily, I’ve avoided reading a single collection of poetry—by a male writer—in all my years of writing, and, perhaps more criminally, done so even throughout the entirety of my undergraduate English experience. So I figure, hey, it’s time to catch up on my weaker points, as I head into graduate school; I order Robert Lowell and John Berryman, brush off the dust collec
A deeply difficult work to penetrate. This is not for the reader who is looking for some relaxed reading, which isn't to say this is better than some relaxed reading. Lowell is an acquired taste and can be frustrating many times. But this is one of the most thoughtful and heartbreaking works when you've taken it in its entirety and worked through the themes he develops. Part of its intensity comes from what a finely constructed work it is. This man takes on his demons.
You can't call yourself a fan of the Confessionals without reading some Robert Lowell. A great of American poetry, the observations and story-telling in his poems is magnificent and truthful, and it takes me right to where he was as a poet, an American, and as a person. While he's not my favorite of the Confessionals (see: Anne Sexton), it's well worth the read if you are a fan of poetry, especially the poetry of the mid-20th century.
Kelly Evans
I read excerpts of this one five or so years ago, and it struck me as pretentious and insincere, but now that I'm a little bit wiser (or I fancy myself as such), it seems to be a raw yet measured response to living and dying. It is a deep-felt reaction to childhood and the memories that we carry with us for a lifetime, even as new, large, overwhelming experiences threaten to overtake those formative times. I think I'd like to revisit it again in another five years or so and see how my reaction h ...more
John Sebold
The poem, "For The Union Dead" is probably enough for me to give this collection at least 3 stars. I was hestitant to give the whole collection a 5...just because the beginning of Life Studies with the faux-Joycean Portrait of the Artist section is a little tedious. However, there are still some remarkable poems in here. From "Terminal Days at Beverly Farms" to my personal favorite, "Three Months Spent Away," Lowell's work can be filled with a numbing heartbreak at times. (I hate using the term, ...more
Kristi Thompson
Plugged away at this off and on over a few weeks, reading it on coffee breaks at Starbucks, lunch hour in Frist, buses. Not with my comfort reading at home in the bath. Finally finished it today while waiting for a bus at the mall.

Interesting. Bits of masculine emotion and childhood I had difficulty relating to, bits of history I liked, faintly religious musings I was fascinated by, and at the very end some moments from a breakdown, and after, that justified the entire boof to me and made me und
Justin Evans
I have two problems reading poetry: first, 'Selected Poems' are always too long, but also rarely representative; second, 'Collected Poems' are always way too long; third, individual books of poetry always contain more crap than gem. This confirms my hard-won insights. Lowell's best poems are really, really great- in this book I recommend Beyond the Alps, During Fever, Man and Wife, Skunk Hour; Middle Age, Those Before Us, Eye and Tooth, Law, The Drinker, Jonathan Edwards, Caligula, For the Union ...more
The Mouth of the Hudson being my favorite, when in top form these poems wilt the world, others are a bit obscure.
3.5 stars. Oh, Skunk Hour. how i enjoy you.
Christine D
I realize I'm going to get blasted for giving this book such a poor rating. I was assigned this book for class, and while my poetry is equally depressing, the only way I could get through this assignment without offing myself was to relax with it in the pool and hot tub in Las Vegas with a frozen strawberry margarita full of substantial tequila shots, then garnished with more tequila, that no one in their right mind should drink alone, but it got me through the book. Maybe I can appreciate it fo ...more
This landmark collection of work is filled with amazing use of rhyme and voice, as well as poems that feel monumentally influential to modern poetry. Besides showing an expertise in seamless end rhymes, Lowell began his shift to free verse and slant rhyme in these poems, and his use of both can still be seen as innovative today.
I was introduced to modern poetry largely though the works of R. Lowell when I took a modern poetry course at UCR as I studied English literature. His work is profound and highly symbolic. I enjoyed this course perhaps more than any other I took despite the fact that I was going through some personal problems at the time.
Guang Tse
I can sense the manic energy behind the references to Ford Maddox Ford and other people of that time and place. Life Studies is particularly interesting and gives an alternative vision of what autobiographical poetry might look like. Occasional forays into depression aside, Lowell's poetry crackles with texture.
Seth Messinger
I'm not that great a poetry reader & I'll confess I thought it was boring and self involved at times (of course that sounds silly given that Lowell is a confessional poet). But, some of it really shined for me, especially the memoir sections (I realize that moments ago I complained about self involvement.
Liza Bolitzer
This has been my favorite collection of poetry for the last seven years, read together it is brilliant even though the individual poems do not all stand alone. Actually, i think that quality it precisely what I like about it.
Sara Sams
"None of these poems struck me as failures but I am also having a hard time remembering them." Glad I finally read these... important, sure.
To me, "Life Studies" is Lowell's best book, along with "Day by Day," but the title poem of "For the Union Dead" is again, to me, his best poem.
Great, snarky, blue-blooded poet. If you've ever lived in Boston, or had a family that drove you nuts, read this.
Catherine Hogan
this is my favorite book of poetry,
"these victorious figures of bravado ossified young."
Christian Patterson
some poems in here are 1, some are 5 for me
Poems. Book Club. Hal's recommendation.
Max  Heinegg
The best poet in this style since Eliot
Gary McDowell
Sorry, but this book bores me to tears.
Seth Miller
motherfucker can write some POETRY.
Nicole Brezin
Nicole Brezin marked it as to-read
Aug 27, 2015
Daniel Sweetland
Daniel Sweetland marked it as to-read
Aug 24, 2015
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  • Collected Poems, 1937-1971
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  • Hinge & Sign: Poems, 1968-1993
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Robert Lowell, born Robert Traill Spence Lowell, IV, was an American poet whose works, confessional in nature, engaged with the questions of history and probed the dark recesses of the self. He is generally considered to be among the greatest American poets of the twentieth century.

His first and second books, Land of Unlikeness (1944) and Lord Weary's Castle (for which he received a Pulitzer Prize
More about Robert Lowell...
Collected Poems Life Studies Selected Poems Imitations For the Union Dead

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