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Life Studies and For the Union Dead

4.08  ·  Rating details ·  1,274 ratings  ·  42 reviews
This popular volume collects two of Lowell's finest books of poetry.
Paperback, 169 pages
Published January 1st 1967 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux
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Average rating 4.08  · 
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 ·  1,274 ratings  ·  42 reviews

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Jun 11, 2009 rated it really liked it
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
May 18, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: poetry, classics
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.
Sep 27, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: poetry
This collection combines two of Robert Lowell's most popular books: Life Studies and For the Union Dead ...

From Life Studies ...
The snow had buried Stuyvesant.
The subways drummed the vaults. I heard
the El's green girders charge on Third,
Manhattan's truss of adament,
that groaned in ermine, slummed on want. . . .
Cyclonic zero of the word,
God of our armies, who interred
Cold Harbour's blue immortals, Grant!
Horseman, your sword is in the groove!

Having just finished a collection of Richard Wilbur's early poems a few days ago, I can't help but compare these two poets with one another. To me, their subjects, themes and attitudes seem diametrically opposed, but sadly, the result on me, the reader, is the same--I just don't feel much response to either's work.

Lowell seems prickly and pugnacious here. Spoiled, pissed-off. Him against everyone else. That the world would be a better place if he were in charge, but he's not, so the
Terence Manleigh
"The season's ill ---"

The ur-text of Confessional poetry, the book that started it all. With “Life Studies,” Lowell opened up a whole new frontier for poetry and “fathered” a whole group of disciples/fellow inmates (see Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton, etc.). Lowell’s particular stature in the American culture (he and his famous family were practically American royalty) gave these poems a great advantage …as Elizabeth Bishop ruefully put it to him, “I could write in as much detail about my
Apr 09, 2018 rated it liked it
Most of these poems were very well-written, with breath-taking tempos and cut-glass phrasing. I almost always appreciated the jarring but oddly appropriate word choice, and the intricacy of the phrasing. But, with very few exceptions, I felt like I was wallowing in teen angst as I read these. A few poems turned outward, as in Dropping South: Brazil, and For the Union Dead, but far, far too many turned inward, and reading those poems was quite draining.

Miguel Vega
I really liked these two collections. Robert Lowell managed to transform the literary genre with his more personal "confessional" writing, with him showing the darker tones of American life, life behind the curtains. Lowell rightfully deserves his title especially when we are still using that style today.
Julien L
Nov 03, 2019 rated it really liked it
Robert Lowell has a beautiful ear for language, especially the sound of it, even if the rhythms are sometimes stilted. The poems in both collections are both difficult to decode and relatively simple to grasp; essentially, multiple reads are rewarding.

Mid-century US poetry is pretty underrated, and Lowell is a prime example of that school.
Oct 11, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: poetry
Skunk Hour was life changing
Apr 17, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
my American classic
John Sebold
Sep 30, 2009 rated it really liked it
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
Mar 08, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: poetry
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
Justin Evans
Aug 20, 2010 rated it liked it
Shelves: poetry-and-drama
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
Christine D
Aug 20, 2013 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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
Steve Kettmann
Jun 18, 2016 rated it really liked it
Weird to think that for a time in the '50s Lowell was the U.S. poet with the highest visibility. I'm sure he's still widely taught, but I never hear young people bringing him up to me, unlike, say, Robert Frost or Eliot. Lowell at times wanders off down hallways of wearing his learning on his sleeve, which was no doubt widely appreciated in real time, but does not hold up well. When he narrows down to a single day, a single feeling, the power of his language takes the miniaturist focus of his po ...more
May 06, 2014 rated it really liked it
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
Feb 12, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: own
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
Jan 09, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: school-books
I don't normally read too much poetry, mainly because I don't overly enjoy it. But since I had to for one of my courses, I read this one. It was interesting how it was written. I enjoyed that it was about his life and about specific people he knew from his life. I don't really have too much to say about this book of poetry.

If you enjoy reading poetry, I recommend you picking this book up and giving it a read.
Sep 22, 2018 rated it really liked it
I'd intended to read Lowell for a while after reading about him while on a flight to Sarasota from San Diego.

Over a year later, I found this book in a box on the side of the road in Somerville, Massachusetts, where I was staying with a friend for a few weeks while between places.

I read it after I moved into a bedroom on the third floor of a house in Jamaica Plain, burying myself into Lowell while my blue curtains billowed from the autumn night's wind.
Mar 05, 2008 rated it liked it
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.
Tse Guang
Oct 22, 2013 rated it really liked it
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
Sep 21, 2013 rated it liked it
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
Aug 14, 2007 rated it it was amazing
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
Aug 21, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: mfaing, poemz
"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.
Jul 30, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Great, snarky, blue-blooded poet. If you've ever lived in Boston, or had a family that drove you nuts, read this.
Max  Heinegg
Dec 19, 2007 rated it it was amazing
The best poet in this style since Eliot
Christian Patterson
some poems in here are 1, some are 5 for me
Jul 27, 2007 rated it really liked it
Shelves: poets
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.
Mar 21, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: anthology, 2015, poetry
3.5 stars. Oh, Skunk Hour. how i enjoy you.
Jun 17, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: poetry
The Mouth of the Hudson being my favorite, when in top form these poems wilt the world, others are a bit obscure.
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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 Pu