115th Annual Conference - Honolulu, Hawaii
Friday, November 10 - Sunday, November 12, 2017

Robert Lowell's Boston Easternism

Sarah-Jane Burton, Western Sydney University

Robert Lowell’s  Life Studies has been acknowledged by critics and readers alike as a distinct rendering of the city of Boston and the Puritan tradition, bound by Western ideals. This paper argues that it is instead Lowell’s use of Eastern imagery that situates his poetic narrative in its Bostonian context.

Proposal: 

Robert Lowell’s most well-known work Life Studies (1959) evokes powerful images of the poet and his family’s personal history. Familial legacy and emotionally haunted places and spaces resonate as key themes in the collection and the city of Boston stands as a monolithic image throughout. However, Lowell’s articulation of his home is often examined only at face value. Critics and readers alike have situated Lowell’s rendering of Boston in a specific Puritan tradition, bound by Western notions of tradition and behavior.  This paper argues that it is instead Lowell’s use of Eastern imagery, and his articulation of connections with Japan and China that situate his poetic narrative in its Bostonian context. Drawing on the rich history of Boston’s trade with the East and other aesthetic, personal and historical connections, this paper analyses how Lowell uses the East in the poems “Father’s Bedroom” and “Man and Wife” to create a mid-century rendering of the topographical mode. This paper argues for a new appreciation of Lowell’s Boston Easternism: the idiosyncratic literary style that the poet employs to express his personal experience of his home city.