Robert Lowell

Pulitzer Prize-winning Robert Lowell was Poet Laureate of the United States from 1947 to 1948. His poetry has been set by Elliott Carter in Carter's song cycle In Sleep, In Thunder for tenor and 14 instrumentalists. Other composers who have set Lowell's poetry include Benjamin Britten, Leon Kirchner, and Leo Smit. Lowell was the founder of the confessionalist movement in poetry.

Photo: Robert Lowell, courtesy of Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

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Lowell was born into a prominent family in Boston and could trace his roots back to passengers from the Mayflower. He attended Harvard for two years before graduating from Kenyon College in Ohio.

He won the Pulitzer Prize in 1947 at the age of thirty for his second book of poetry, Lord Weary’s Castle. That same year, he served as the Poet Laureate. His early poetry is highly formal.

Lowell was politically active in protesting World War II and was imprisoned because he refused to serve in the army. He also opposed the Vietnam War.

Lowell led a tumultuous personal life, going through several marriages as well as mental illnesses. These personal struggles, as well as his encounters with younger poets in the 1950s, caused him to change his views on poetry and write his seminal work Life Studies (1959), which launched the Confessional Poetry movement.

–Christie Finn Source: Academy of American Poets

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