March 1, 2018 – Robert Lowell, Other Writers’ & Poets’ Birthdays
Today is Thursday, March 1, 2018. It’s the birthday of three poets whose first names start with “R:” Robert Lowell, Richard Wilbur, and Robert Hass. Also born today was composer Frédéric Chopin. And John Keats’s “To Sleep” is our poem for today. Thank you for continuing to read Bidwell Hollow. If you have a moment today, consider sharing Bidwell Hollow with someone you think may enjoy it. Have a magnificent Thursday.
It’s the birthday of poet Robert Lowell (affiliate link). He was born in 1917 in Boston, MA. He came from a prominent literary family. James Russell Lowell was a great-uncle and poet Amy Lowell, a cousin.
After two years at Harvard, Lowell transferred to Kenyon College in Ohio. He studied under poets John Crowe Ransom and Randall Jarrell.
When Lowell graduated in 1940, he converted to Catholicism and married aspiring novelist Jean Stafford.
During World War II, he spent five months in a federal penitentiary in Connecticut as a conscientious objector. The experience colored some of Lowell’s work.
Lowell’s first book of poetry, “Land of Unlikeness,” released in 1944. He followed it in 1947 with “Lord Weary’s Castle.”
“Lord Weary’s Castle” deals with Lowell’s faith as an antidote to a desolate and unjust world. For the work, Lowell received the 1947 Pulitzer Prize in Poetry. He dedicated “Lord Weary’s Castle” to Stafford, but the couple divorced the year after it published.
Lowell suffered from manic depression. He wrote about his illness in poems included in his 1959 collection, “Life Studies.” That volume earned Lowell a National Book Award.
In the 1960s, Lowell’s poetry incorporated his opposition to the Vietnam War and civil rights activism. When invited by the White House to attend an arts festival hosted by President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1964, Lowell declined. He didn’t much care for the President, and he didn’t think the President cared much for the arts.
Lowell published three collections in 1973. One of those, “The Dolphin,” netted him his second Pulitzer.
But in Sep. 1977 in a cab from New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport to Manhattan, Lowell had a heart attack and died. He’d published the month before his volume “Day by Day.”
Many continue to view Lowell as one of the finest poets of the 20th century. He, along with John Berryman, serve as the prototypical Confessional Poet. That group of artists who mined their trials and tribulations in verse.
William Dean Howells
Born today in Martins Ferry, OH, in 1837 was William Dean Howells (affiliate link).
By 1858, Howells was contributing poems and stories to periodicals such as The Atlantic Monthly. He wrote in 1860 a biography of Abraham Lincoln’s Presidential campaign.
Proceeds from the book paid for Howells to travel to Boston. There he met The Atlantic editor James Russell Lowell and writers such as Nathaniel Hawthorne and Ralph Waldo Emerson.
After spending the Civil War years working for Lincoln’s Administration in Italy, Howells returned to the States. He became assistant editor and then editor of The Atlantic Monthly. From this position, he published reviews that helped usher in the careers of writers such as Mark Twain and Henry James.
Indeed, Howells championed realistic fiction, like the kind written by James and Twain. He described realism as “nothing more or less than the truthful treatment of material.”
For his part, Howells deployed realism in two of his novels, 1882’s “A Modern Instance” and “The Rise of Silas Lapham” in 1885.
Howells wrote over a hundred books, from novels to travel narratives, memoirs, and poetry collections. He became the first president of the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1908. And it’s that organization that now awards every five years the Howells Medal for Fiction.
And today is accepted as the birthday of composer and pianist Frédéric Chopin (affiliate link). The composer was born in 1810 near Warsaw in what is today Poland.
Chopin’s birth certificate recorded Feb. 22 as his birthdate. The composer, though, insisted he was born on March 1.
By the time he turned 17, Chopin’s reputation had reached throughout Europe. He moved to Paris in the 1830s, where he wrote masterpieces such as “Nocturnes, Op. 55” and “Piano Sonata No. 2.”
Also born on this date in New York City in 1921 was Richard Wilbur (affiliate link).
Wilbur planned to be a journalist when he graduated from Amherst College in 1942. But by the time he earned a Master’s degree at Harvard in 1947, he’d changed his career path to poetry.
That same year, Wilbur produced his first poetry collection. A second volume followed in 1950, and a third, “Things of This World,” in 1956. “Things of This World” earned Wilbur a National Book Award and his first Pulitzer Prize.
Along with writing poetry, Wilbur translated French, Russian, and Spanish poems and plays. He translated works by Molière, Joseph Brodsky, François Villon, and more.
Wilbur’s work in translation netted him his first Bollingen Prize in 1963. A second Bollingen, for poetry, followed in 1971.
Wilbur served as U.S. Poet Laureate from 1987-1988. The following year he published “New and Collected Poems,” for which he received his second Pulitzer Prize.
In October, at 96 years old, Richard Wilbur passed away.
Today is the birthday of poet Robert Hass (affiliate link), born in 1941 in San Francisco.
The Bay Area and Northern California figures into much of Hass’ poetry. Except for a short stint in Buffalo, NY, in the late Sixties, Hass has spent his entire life in or around San Francisco. He’s taught at the University of California, Berkeley since 1989.
Hass has published six volumes of poetry, spanning from 1973 to 2010. His 2007 collection, “Time and Materials,” won the Pulitzer Prize and a National Book Award.
And Hass served as U.S. Poet Laureate from 1995-1996.
O soft embalmer of the still midnight!
Shutting with careful fingers and benign
Our gloom-pleased eyes, embower’d from the light,
Enshaded in forgetfulness divine;
O soothest Sleep! if so it please thee, close,
In midst of this thine hymn, my willing eyes,
Or wait the amen, ere thy poppy throws
Around my bed its lulling charities;
Then save me, or the passèd day will shine
Upon my pillow, breeding many woes;
Save me from curious conscience, that still lords
Its strength for darkness, burrowing like a mole;
Turn the key deftly in the oilèd wards,
And seal the hushèd casket of my soul.
– John Keats, Public Domain