Robert Lowell

Born In 1917, Robert Lowell attended Harvard And Kenyon Colleges. He studied under John Crowe Ransom and Robert Penn Warren as a student, and in 1946 received a Pulitzer Prize For His book, Lord Weary’s Castle. Lowell was a conscientious objector during the Second World War and was imprisoned for it. He opposed the war in Vietnam. His prose memoir, Life Studies, published in 1959, is regarded as a milestone in modern poetry. Lowell became the chancellor of the Academy of American Poets in 1962 and served in that position until his death in 1977.


       Excerpt from
   Waking Early on Sunday Morning

When will we see Him face to face?
Each day, He shines through darker glass.
In this small town where everything
is known, I see His vanishing
emblems, His white spire and flag-
pole sticking out above the fog,
like old white china doorknobs, sad,
slight useless things to calm the mad.

Hammering military splendor,
top-heavy Goliath in full armor —
little redemption in the mass
liquidations of their brass,
elephant and phalanx moving
with the times and still improving,
when that kingdom hit the crash:
a million foreskins stacked like trash . . .

Pity the planet, all joy gone
from this sweet, volcanic cone;
peace to our children when they fall
in small war on the heels of small
war-until the end of time
to police the earth, a ghost
orbiting forever lost
in our monotonous sublime.

Questions for Reflection: Excerpt from “Waking Early on Sunday Morning”

  1. After having read the excerpt from “Waking Early on Sunday Morning,” with what feeling are you left? How does the poem relate to the subject of the poem?
  2. How does Lowell regard “Him” whose face we may not see? Why is this so?
  3. How does war mix in this poem with religion? Religious belief? How does religion mix with politics? How do politics mix with war?
  4. How does the poem speak to responsibility the country believes it has? How might this responsibility point to being overbearing? How do you think the Lowell feels about the country’s role? Relate your ideas to those expressed in the poem?
  5. How does Lowell feel about the planet and those who inhabit it?
  6. How does Lowell feel about the future?