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Lowell, Amy (1874-1925)  
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Amy Lowell was a poet, translator, essayist, literary biographer, and public speaker. Her poetry is extremely frank, forthrightly sensual, and often overtly lesbian.

She was born February 9, 1874, in Brookline, Massachusetts, to Augustus and Katherine Lawrence Lowell. She was much younger than her siblings and so grew up lonely in the company of literate and socially sophisticated adults on the ten-acre family estate, Sevenels. She was a precocious child even among a prominent family of high achievers and important New England personages, James Russell Lowell, a great-cousin, among them.

Throughout her life, Lowell would struggle to distinguish herself on her own merits and accomplishments, apart from her family fortune and famous relatives. She attended private girls' schools until age seventeen when she left school to care for her elderly parents.

At home, she undertook a rigorous self-education, reading widely among the several thousand books in the library of Sevenels. She became an ardent student of poetry, especially Keats's. After her parents' deaths, Lowell purchased Sevenels from her father's estate, transforming the house and stables into a compound almost totally devoted to her two great endeavors: creating and promoting modern American poetry and breeding dogs.

After a decade of poor health and painful operations brought on by an injury suffered while lifting a buggy out of a ditch, Lowell died of a stroke on May 12, 1925. She was survived by Ada (Dwyer) Russell, the woman with whom she had shared her home and her passions for thirteen years.

Lowell's first poem was published, in Atlantic Monthly, when she was thirty-six; but subsequently her poetry production was as prolific as her reading was voracious. She published on average a volume a year even during the most debilitating periods of her illness. Her last book of poems, What's O'Clock (1925), published posthumously, received the Pulitzer Prize in 1926.

Much of Lowell's poetry was inspired by her two great muses, Ada Russell, also her fairest and most reliable critic, and Eleonora Duse, a popular stage actress for whom Lowell's infatuation was powerful and life-long, though they met only twice. Lowell wrote dozens of sonnets and lyrics to and for Duse, some of which were so intimate they were suppressed until the deaths of both women.

The effectiveness of Lowell's best work derives from its startling detail and provocative imagery. Her favorite images are water, bathing, and fountains; flowers and gardens; nature and natural phenomena. She employs these figures again and again in passionate lyrics, often addressed to "Beloved" (Ada Russell).

In Sword Blades and Poppy Seed (1914), the lesbian poetry is highly coded, as in "Aubade." Others of the poems veil lesboeroticism beneath stylistic convention, as in the last stanzas of "In a Garden":

And I wished for night and you.
I wanted to see you in the swimming-pool,
White and shining in the silver-flecked water.
While the moon rode over the garden,
High in the arch of night,
And the scent of the lilacs was heavy with stillness.

Night, and the water, and you in your whiteness,

But in Pictures of the Floating World (1919), Lowell's lesbian lyrics and conceits become more explicit even as they also grow more tender and nostalgic, the result of her maturing relationship with Russell and her chronic ill health, as in "A Decade":

When you came, you were like red wine and honey,
And the taste of you burnt my mouth with its
Now you are like morning bread,
Smooth and pleasant.
I hardly taste you at all for I know your savour,
But I am completely nourished.

Lowell was exceptionally obese all of her life, and though easily hurt by insults and ridicule, she was quite unselfconscious about representing her body as sexual, sensual, and pleasurable in her poetry. Lowell was in this respect and in all things disarming, famous for smoking cigars and wearing men's shirts, and for these predilections she was the target of numerous humiliations and personal attacks from critics more intent on mocking her appearance and habits than assessing seriously her work.

Lowell was, in addition, a tireless promoter and patron of poetry. She wished to be thought of as an "activist" of American poetry. Her fame and generosity introduced her to many of America's most promising poets: Robert Frost, Edwin Arlington Robinson, Sara Teasdale, Elinor Wylie, and others. She was a good booster and did much to enlarge their reading publics and enhance their critical esteem.

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