Poet Sally Nacker and I met many years ago at a writing workshop, before we entered college. Her own work is among my favorite in contemporary American poetry. I am pleased to be able to publish here her scholarly yet highly personal impressions of Amy Lowell, a founder of American Imagism and a poet too long neglected.
Sally Nacker received her MFA in Creative Writing from Fairfield University in January 2013. She has since been selected as a finalist for the Fairfield Book Prize—as well as a semifinalist for the Crab Orchard Review’s Series in Poetry— for her collection Vireo. Her paper, “Wings and Windows: My Letter to Amy Lowell” was introduced by poet Annie Finch on Poetry Foundation’s Harriet Blog, and is currently published as a web project on Winona Media. She has three poems in the spring, 2014 issue of The Wayfarer: A Journal of Contemplative Literature and two poems forthcoming in the June issue of Mezzo Cammin: An Online Journal of Formalist Poetry by Women. She resides in Connecticut with her husband and their two cats, and is privately carving out a life in letters. By clicking on this link, you will find some earlier praise for Sally’s paper.
Life, like a dome of many-coloured glass,
Stains the white radiance of eternity.
How did I come to love Amy Lowell, this poet kept in the past (1874-1925)? Intrigued as a graduate student, I began a project on her. Absorbed in Lowell’s biography John Keats, I traveled by train to Cambridge, Massachusetts where I indulged in two days of uninterrupted research in Harvard University’s Houghton Reading Room where her papers and some of belongings are now housed. I requested the book Jean Gould mentions in her biography Amy: The World of Amy Lowell and the Imagist Movement—Leigh Hunt’s Imagination and Fancy—the very book Lowell discovered as a young girl in her father’s enormous library at their home, the Sevenels. This is the book that lit the eternal light in Lowell, inspiring her to become a poet. This is the book I held, more than one hundred years later, in my own hands. A transfer of light?
I composed my paper as a personal missive to Amy Lowell because I wanted to address her soul, the inward beauty and loneliness about her. I cared for little else. I wanted to be as vulnerable as she was. I wanted to, as biographer Richard Holmes speaks about in his Footsteps, “learn” her “by heart.”
Author and historian on China, Florence Ayscough was a dear friend of Lowell. Together they collaborated on Fir-flower Tablets. The painted lantern slides that accompany my letter to Lowell are Ayscough’s; Harvard University has granted me permission to use them. I chose them because of the strong bond between Lowell and Ayscough. Ayscough used the slides in her memorial talk on Lowell at the Keats House. To use them here seemed a reunion.
WINGS and WINDOWS
Amy Lowell, Poet March 19
Heaven, I Imagine
It is six o’clock on a chilly morning, and nearly spring. For two months, I have been trying to write you a letter from my heart. The birds are gathering now at the feeder below my window and really nothing gives me greater joy than the sound of them. You know how it is when you hear their singing? It’s a miracle. They don’t know anything about me, or anyone, or even that we listen. Yet they sing.
Last fall I gave my friend, Leslie, my dear friend of the work, six Elizabeth Barrett Browning daffodil bulbs. She said that next week she would unveil the protective leaf covering from the flowerbed. I am hoping Elizabeth is there. As I write this, I am hoping you are near. And Emily— is she in her room expecting our visit? Is her ear at her door, listening for our footfall on her stair? Do you hear Sappho’s voice floating like balloons in air?1
How lovely if this missive could truly be sent to your home, the Sevenels (named by your father for the seven Lowells who lived there!), and find you. In the preface to the “Private Scrap-book” you created as a little girl (“Arranged by Amy Lowell, Lowell & Co., Sky-Parlour, Sevenels”), you wrote:
In a pretty cottage at the end of the world lives Dame
Nature and her twelve children. The cottage is covered
with climbing roses and there is a woods, and a pond and
an orchard near it in fact it is the prettiest cottage that ever was.
What follows are twelve picture cutouts from a magazine, representing the months of the year (Dame Nature’s twelve children).2
I drove by the Sevenels in January. Heavy stone posts still “flank” the entrance, but the house is no longer “inviolate from the eye of passers-by” by “a wide belt of …elms…with just enough evergreens.”3 Nor is it set amid acres of meadow leading inward to a grove. Granted, it was a winter’s day of twelve degrees when I was there, but I saw no evidence of meandering, patterned gardens that “change with the seasons,” “colour [being] their very breath;”4 no fruit garden paths or apple and pear orchards. Indeed, the house, its front façade redone, now sits on a wide, baron scope of land. The land is neatly groomed around the pristine structure, but it has a lonely feel in the way that it sprawls empty and still in the light and shadow.
And the roof stretches flat across the housetop: no longer does your Sky Parlour jut up to the clouds on the left; your “large, square [“bedchamber,”5] [“your rookery under the eves”6] with its long dormer windows set at the top of the house…with a southern view”7 of your father’s sunken gardens has been removed. It is just as well, as that was yours: you were a child there; and at the age of fifty-one, you died there. How charming if it had been dislodged and lifted into heaven for you, and placed on a cloud. Knowing you, on your way up you tugged it from the roof yourself.
Indeed, it is in the dwelling of your poetry that I must look for you now— and so moved by it am I— so stilled and quieted. In all of its intricate simplicity, it speaks of beauty, loneliness and soul to me. Enormous subjects, yes, but your poems contain a concentrated smallness that encapsulates these qualities. And so, at the risk of seeming impertinent, boldly I turn to you (myself having “an itch for writing”8) to begin my “chat with you these brief few minutes.”9
~The Glass Vase~
“Without poetry the soul and heart of a man starves and dies.”
Poetry “is nothing in the world but the soul of a man as it really is.”10
What is poetry? Is it mosaic
Of coloured stones which curiously are wrought
Into a pattern? Rather glass that’s taught
By patient labor any hue to take
And glowing with a sumptuous splendor, make
Beauty a thing of awe; where sunbeams caught,
Transmuted fall in sheafs of rainbows fraught
With storied meaning for religion’s sake.
–Amy Lowell, from A Dome of Many-coloured Glass11
Your poem “A Tale of Starvation”12 begins, you remember, with an old man who had experienced numerous hardships to the degree that his “heart was soured in his weary old hide” (line 22). He was rendered unable to allow beauty to enter him: “no created thing was other than a hurt to his gaze” (lines 12-13). He lived “all alone” in a house “underneath a leaning hill” (line 14); what windows there were he whitewashed thick, / To keep out every spark of the sun” (lines 16-17). Not until he discovered one day while “digging, a spade or two” (line 38), “a dim old vase of crusted glass,/ Prismed while it lay buried deep”(lines 46-47), had the windows to his soul been uncovered to beauty.
Does the line “Prismed while it lay buried deep” not work as metaphor for the old man’s soul? In revealing it by accident while hoeing a row of beans, had he not been caught off-guard, now suddenly standing in full view of his buried and intricately cut soul? In the found vase, he recognized the beauty that had been crusting and wasting within him.
The vase he unearthed, as we are often changed by a poem or an object (once its clarity shines), changed the man. Indeed he “fed his life/on the beauty of the vase, on its perfect shape./And his soul forgot its former strife” (lines 84-85). The beauty of light over the object (indeed, over his own soul) moved him; he no longer detested the sun:
The old man saw it in the sun’s bright stare
And the colours started up through the crust,
And he who had cursed at the yellow sun
Held the flask to it and wiped away the dust.
He took the vase with him everywhere. In her book On Beauty and Being Just (a work you would love, Amy, for its deep argument for beauty), Elaine Scarry states precisely the feeling I think this man must have:
It is as though one has just been beached, lifted out of one
ontological state into another that is fragile and must be held onto
lest one lose hold of the branch and fall back into the ocean.”13
For fear of lying “wasted” again in darkness, he had not wanted to lose site of his vase.
But a passing schoolmaster (a frail spirit, preferring books to the world, I suppose), “pompous and kind,” advises him (as though through experience):
That’s a valuable thing you have there,
But it might get broken out of doors,
It should be met with the utmost of care.”
For objects can be “harmed by being mishandled,”14 can’t they? Noticing an object’s “beauty increases the possibility that it will be carefully handled” 15 (Or so we can hope!). Refuting the professor’s remarks, the farmer exclaimed that it gave him joy. Joy! “Who would dare say” (line 13), he thought, “a fragile vase should not stand in a bean-row!” (line 12).
Though indeed, one day while digging, “the blade of his hoe crashed into the glass, / And the vase fell to iridescent sherds” (lines 118-119). His fingers became “cut and torn” (line 123) as he frantically gathered the broken pieces, and buried them in the ground. I envision blood from his hands spilling over the glass into the earth, Amy. Having buried his broken, bleeding soul back down, he could no longer survive. He blocked the windows to his house with torn pieces of his own coat and starved himself to death.
“ ‘I can’t get out,’ said the starling.”
Sterne’s Sentimental Journey
(Amy Lowell, “The Starling,” epigraph)16
Your father kept caged mockingbirds at the Sevenels— because he enjoyed their song. “Hear that, Amy,” he said, leading you by your small hand, “he’s our mocking-bird.”17 He “adored these birds and always kept one in a cage, whether in the little apple-and-pear orchard during the summer or in the greenhouse or a sunny corner of the long dining room in winter.” 18 You listened, and soon became used to the birds, but you “never could understand why the mockingbird was in a cage.”19
In his essay “Amy Lowell of Brookline,” Peter C. Rollins writes that your “work evinces a pervasive sense of being bound by convention, tradition, and role as it conflicted with the desire for flight, for active participation in those activities and feelings forbidden by the Victorian tradition of the Lowells.”20 Indeed, you were not fond of the stifling Queen Victoria; a fact abundantly evident in your poem “The Sisters:”21
Mrs. Browning’s heart
was squeezed in stiff conventions. So she lay
Stretched out upon a sofa, reading Greek
And speculating, as I must suppose,
For Queen Victoria was very young and strong
And all-pervading in her apogee
at just that time;
Since I am very fond of Mrs. Browning
And very much indeed should like to hear her
Graciously asking me to call her “Ba.”
But then the devil of verisimilitude
Creeps in and forces me to know she wouldn’t.
Convention again, and how it chafes my nerves,
Confound Victoria, and the slimy inhibitions
She loosed on all us Anglo-Saxon creatures!
Whose fault? Why let us say,
To be consistent, Queen Victoria’s.
In your earliest collection, The Dome of Many-coloured Glass, you have a sonnet titled “The Starling,”22 in which the speaker begins: “Forever the impenetrable wall / Of self confines my poor rebellious soul” (lines 1-2). In reading this poem, I have found myself so drawn to the words “self” and “soul.” In Jane G. Goldberg’s essay “Psychoanalysis: a Treatment for the Soul,”23 she states that “Freud would have known that there was an earlier meaning to the root word psyche, and this earlier meaning gave his new science added depth. As well as meaning ‘soul,’ psyche also meant, ‘Butterfly.’ The soul is a liberated being. It flies. It is not bound by the weight of the body or by gravity. Psychoanalysis, the understanding of the soul, leads us to freedom of flight.”
The speaker in “The Starling” indicates that her soul is “jailed” (line 5) within her “self” (line 2), which is a remarkable statement. One definition in the OED that applies to self is “one’s nature, character or (sometimes) physical constitution or appearance.” Not only does the speaker feel that her soul is locked within her body (which meshes with Goldberg’s statement), but she feels it bound by her very nature and character. This states to me that the speaker feels unable to express her innate truth (soul) to the outside world because she feels “barred” by her motus operandi. She desires “to be some other person for a day” (line 14) is tricky. The OED’s definition of “person” is “an individual human being; a man, woman; or child.” “My thoughts are grown uneager and depressed / Through being always mine” (lines 9-10), indicates that the oppressed soul would like to fly out of the speaker and into another human being, presumably one not confined. The speaker craves “alien passions, strange imaginings” (line 13)— she “craves…passions” and “imaginings!” She has none. How she aches to be jostled and surprised: her “fancy’s wings…moulted and the feathers blown away, [she wearies] for desires never guessed” (line 11-12). This is critical, isn’t it? The speaker feels so caged and uninspired: she knows she is missing something, but she has been so isolated that she cannot even guess at what that might be. What I observe here, Amy, are her wide eyes peering through her soul, which feels featherless from its entrapment.
I see the caged birds at the Sevenels as symbols illustrating your conventional, confining upbringing, but also as symbol for you as poet; your spirit began to sing in order to fly free. In a letter to your dear companion, Ada, after your death, your friend Florence Ayscough wrote that you “thought work the most important thing in life.”24 As is expressed in your poem “Sword Blades and Poppy Seed,” the poet must, in “…losing life, think it complete; / Must miss what other men count being, / to gain the gift of deeper seeing” (lines 385-387)25.
~The Humming-bird Maker~
Your collection What’s O’clock (published posthumously, thirteen years after The Dome of Many-coloured Glass) includes your poem “The Humming-birds,”26 in which your theme of isolation continues. The speaker, so moved by “the humming-birds flying in the stream of the fountain,” becomes aware of how stifled inside her heart are her own birds (soul). She clasps “her hands over [her] heart” (line 10), and pleads (to God, to the universe?):
Pound and hammer me with irons,
Crack me so that flame can enter,
Pull me open, loose the thunder
Of wings within me.
I clasp my own heart as I listen to your speaker’s cry for iron and fire, as I hear the verbs “pound,” “hammer,” “crack,” “ pull”— such violence it would take to open her heart is unimaginable. She dares to be left “wrecked” by the violence, and then “consoled,” this “maker of humming-birds / Who dare bathe in the leaping water” (lines 18-20).
The phrase “Who dare bathe” is profound and dark; it is the “rebellious soul” you speak of in “The Starling” brought to a deeper plane: you, of course, were more experienced when you wrote “The Humming-bird Maker;” you held more dimension, both as human being and poet. “Bathe” conjures up the desire to cleanse oneself, pleasurably. Also, it evokes nakedness: because the fountain-bath is set in sunny, open air, the poem illustrates the desolate isolation the speaker feels from her inability to openly be that which she is: extraordinarily bold and sensual in her wings and color.
The subject continues to explode into another metaphor: “The Humming-birds” is also about the creation of the art of poetry, and the poet is the “humming-bird maker.” Indeed, in your biography John Keats, you have written about the violent act of wrenching a poem from yourself:
I do not suppose that any one not a poet can realize the agony
of creating a poem. Every nerve, even every muscle, seems strained
to the breaking point. The poem will not be denied, to refuse to write it
would be greater torture. It tears its way out of the brain, splintering
and breaking its passage, and leaves that organ in the state of jelly-fish
when the task is done.27
And in “The Humming-birds,” does the water from the fountain not represent the “unconscious and the emotions” 28 in which the artist drenches her self during times of creation? How deeply the speaker desires that her heart “let loose its humming-birds”(line 11)! She is begging to endure violence, to even bleed, in order that her soul may “…dare bathe in a leaping water” (line 20). “Leaping,” suggests to me a lively and daring unconscious; it is tinged with blood-color, denoting womanhood, fertility and birth. The words I see are all thrusting; the meter is trochaic, resisting the expected: “Up—up—water shooting, / Jet of water, white and silver, / Tinkling with the morning sun-bells. / Red as sun-blood, whiz of fire, / Shock of fire-spray and water” (lines 1-5), “…the fountain waits to toss” the humming-birds “diamonds” (line 9). The “fountain waits!” How I love that; the water is alive in anticipation of the birds’ arrival, jeweled confetti in hand— to celebrate.
The poem begins with an effusion of color, movement and sound, from which the poet feels isolated. How you turn each stone! In the “jet of water” “tinkling with the morning sun-bells,” for example, I hear little bells. You are referring to the flower, the “sun-bell,” which does not, of course, tinkle, but you make it knell. “Red as sun-blood, whiz of fire” sets the stage for the “shock of fire-spray and water:” fire-sprays are actual tulips, bright red— how you transform noun into verb! We see the fire-sprays here amid the dance of blood-glinted birth-water and fire. “Shock” goes well with the “dare” at the poem’s conclusion, doesn’t it—the shocking and daring effusion of a sensual, creational joy? Every blossom, each throat opens, offering its nectar to the humming-birds. “Blood-red” repeats and bounces off the later “trumpet-vine bursts:” you are referring here to the blood-red trumpet vine, an actual flower vine which, indeed, consists of “scarlet-throated trumpet flowers”— and can we not see and hear the abrupt flutter of green ruby-throated hummingbird wings erupting from the vine amid the tinkling, sprinkling sun-lanced water that becomes diamonds dancing in air?
~The Soul of the Far East~
…Miss Lowell’s approach to Japan sprang from a childish
enthusiasm which grew to critical and sympathetic appreciation…
Your brother Percival is one of our foremost scholars on the Far East and Old Japan. Indeed, “…direct reverberations from [his] writing from Japan enter twentieth-century English poetry through their effects on…” you.30 You, yourself, have admitted it: “All through my childhood [Percival’s] constant stream of pictures, prints and kakemonos flowed in upon me…[which] made Japan so vivid to my imagination that I cannot realize that I have never been there.” 31 And, “soon after [your] poem [“Guns as Keys: and the Great Gate Swings” (about Old Japan opening its doors to the West)] appeared in the Seven Arts, a Japanese wrote to [you] expressing his wondering admiration of [your] descriptive power and, in closing asked how many years [you] had lived in his country!” 32
In his book The Soul of the Far East, Percival goes into great depth in regards to the subject of impersonality, so crucial to the Far Easterner. He begins by explaining the profound moment in every Western child’s life when he, in a “sudden revelation,”33 becomes aware “of his own personality.”34 “It is a discovery akin to that of waking up. All at once he becomes conscious of himself; and the consciousness has about it a touch of the uncanny. Hitherto he has been aware only of matter; he now first realizes his mind. Unwarned, unprepared, he is suddenly ushered before being, and stands awestruck in the presence of— himself. ”35 “For years this alter ego haunts him, for he imagines it an idiosyncrasy of his own, a morbid peculiarity he dare not confide to anyone, for being thought a fool.”36
In your childhood and adolescent journals, you admitted—“I was a fool”37— when you felt you talked on too much about yourself, or after you had expressed your emotions in public. You felt embarrassed, as Peter C. Rollins describes, about “lapsing from the Lowell ethic of self-control and self-discipline.”38 You experienced the “morbid peculiarity” in yourself that Percival talks about, and in an intensely amplified manner.
Percival refers to “the peculiar loneliness of childhood,”39 after the child becomes aware of his personality, “for nothing is so isolating as a persistent idea which one dares not confide.”39 How loud— your isolation!
Continuing with the topic of impersonality in The Soul of the Far East, Percival asks “was there ever anyone willing to exchange his personality for another’s? Who can imagine foregoing his own self? Nay, do we not cling even to its outward appearance? Is there a man so poor in all that man holds dear that he does not keenly resent being accidentally mistaken for his neighbor?”40 And yet, Amy, in your poem “The Starling,” you ask “to be some other person for a day.”
~The Road to Nirvana Not an Easy One? ~
How easy, if one is a-weary, to lie down on a
big soft couch! But no. She sits in a chair,
writing, writing throughout the night.41
I am useless.
What I do is nothing,
What I think has no savour.
There is an almanac between the windows:
It is of the year when I was born.
(Amy Lowell, “New Heavens for Old,” stanza 1)42
Your Poem “New Heavens for Old” (from your collection Ballads for Sale) is demarcated into three sharp stanzas. It opens with the speaker putting herself down, confessing her sensations of emptiness. What heightens the intensity of her depressed feelings is her opinion that her station in life has been predetermined: “There is an almanac between the windows: / It is of the year when I was born.” This is metaphor: an almanac predicts the atmospheric and astrological events for each year. Set “between the windows” through which she views the outside world, a chart maps out her life of isolation.
In the second stanza you introduce the crowds outside the “iron fronts of the houses” (line 12)—how I envision a cage! “My fellows call for me to join them, / They shout for me” (lines 6-7) indicates the tug the speaker feels from the crowds. She feels enough connection to name them her “fellows,” but she utters no reply. She views the thunderous crowds in their “vermilion” (line 8) war paint as indecent, strutting, laughing, cursing, brawling (lines 10-11) and cheering for a burnt offering. The “young men” are lusting and thirsting after “the rawness of life” (line 18), while the speaker remains enveloped in her isolation.
I want to look for moment, at these “young men” (line 13). As the twenty-four line stanza continues, not only are they “ready to strip off their clothes” (line 16), but we learn that their “hearts” are “naked” and “jeering” (line 13); they are “ready to strip off their customs, their usual routine” (line17). The world outside the window of the speaker’s world is undergoing an upheaval, rising up from beneath the oppression of restriction. This outside world is metaphor for modernism exploding from Victorian confines: “They explode upon the dead houses like new, sharp fire” (line 26).
On reading through the final stanza, like a flower before my eyes the poem’s Buddhist element began to unfold. I observed the speaker arranging “three roses in a Chinese vase” (line 28), and thoughts of your knowledge of the Far East began streaming into my mind. What we see is an artist separated from the lust of the world, striving to transcend her isolation. Humbly, and in solitude, she is unfastening the corset of personality, striving for enlightenment through her art form (flower arranging/poetry). In your Keats biography, you explain:
Keats peculiar excellence lies in a sort of selflessness.
Which is odd, because few men have had a more vivid
personality than he. …But when he writes poetry, he
seems to become a clear glass through which beauty itself
In 1893, a performance that you saw of the dancer Eleonora Duse “brought forth an ‘overwhelming vision’ in [your] mind and soul which sent [you] leaping into the realm of poetry for [your] own creative expression. …And if, in the spring of 1893, [you] could not fully understand what was happening to [you,] [you] sensed it, and [were] both troubled and elated by it”44 Had you intuited the long and lonely hours a commitment to your calling would require? In his essay, “The Café Royal,” English poet and critic, Arthur Symons, describes the quality you saw in Duse’s performance as “a profundity of spirit which adopts art for its own end but continually transcends it, being greater than any given artistic construct.”45 You “defined this end as the speech of the soul, that is, the delineation of personality itself, the supreme mystery of the knowable universe.”46 And did you not express, too, that “poetry is nothing in the world but the soul of the artist as it really is?”47
All of this, of course, is not easy. After fussing over her art form (revision! revision!), the speaker sits in “a South window” (line 33). You would know, due to your horticultural knowledge gifted to you by your father, that the southern windows of a house supply the most sun. Indeed, he kept a caged bird in “a sunny corner of the long dining room in winter,”48 and the dormer windows of your Sky Parlour faced the sunny, southerly slope of your gardens. We do not know whether it is day or night in this poem, but by having chosen to use the word “South,” you have indicated “sun.” The contrast is clear between the words “South window” and the proceeding “Winter nights” (line 35); between light and darkness, warmth and cold. You provide contrasts, too, between color and pall (the pink, red and yellow roses of the speaker’s art form against the “pale [toxic] wine” (line 34)). What unfolds are the colors, light and heat of creation and its chill, dark underbelly— the particular venom at times felt within a life-style designed to achieve artistic enlightenment. The line “sip pale wine with a touch of hemlock in it” (line 34) is entirely metaphor: the artist is sipping her solitude, detecting a tinge of poison in it, knowing she must endure her isolation until she lies in her grave. Indeed, in your research-notes for your Keats biography, you wrote:
August 23, 1819, Keats wrote: “A solitary life…will enable me to
write finer things than anything else could, — So I will indulge it.”
This idea he banished as “unworthy” in less than a month. Alas!49
~The World’s Dust~
Just three years before your death, you wrote in a letter to your friend Grace Conkling “a haunting self-portrait:”50
A cloud wreath. A dryad. Wind through beeches.
Little waves over glittering sand. An unhappy woman
Tinged by time, grievous with memories, impatient at
The world’s dust, seeking a home for those thoughts
Which will in no wise be contented if caged.51
“Those thoughts” that would “in no wise” be “contented if caged,” of course, were your butterflies, your bird; your very psyche (soul)52 I observe the word home in opposition to the word “caged”. A home is a dwelling from which we come and go, a refuge to return to after a journey away, and a place of comfort. A cage, on the other hand, represents a confine from which we cannot escape.
I observe the words “Unhappy,” “tinged,” “grievous,” “impatient,” “seeking,” and am particularly touched by the latter two in that they vex and move; it appears you were itched by a need for flight that, even under sadness, kept you lively. The words “unhappy,” “tinged” and “grievous” express stuck, passive feelings, don’t they? Draped in despair, your “impatient” wings still twitched, your “seeking” eyes continued to scope the scenery for a path out.
And “the world’s dust!” Amy, here you evoke the Far East (the phrase appears frequently in Far Eastern poetry). You would have known the words well. It is the Buddhist’s way to shake the world’s dust (its lust, greed, etc.) isn’t it, in order to attain a contemplative life of simplicity? In researching this notion, I have come across a beautiful poem by the reclusive poet Tao Ch’ien (also known as Tao Yuan-Ming), for which I thought you might feel a deep affinity. It is a called “Returning to Live in the Country;” its last two lines read:
Too long a captive in a cage,
I have now come back to Nature.53
The love of flowers has persisted in our family for many years,
and on Mr. Higginson’s admirable ground-plan my
father raised up such spaces of flowering beauty as few
children can have the good fortune to look back upon.54
Percival explains how “the Far-Oriental lives in a long day-dream of beauty. He names rather than reasons, …The muse appears not to him, as to the Greeks, after the fashion of a woman, nor even more prosaically after the likeness of a man. Unnatural though it seems to us, inspiration seeks no human symbol. His Muse is not kin to mankind. She is too impersonal for personification, for she is Nature.”55 Do note the lovely paradox (pointed out to me by my friend, Elizabeth): your brother names Nature a she! Your dear friend, Elizabeth Ward Perkins describes well the way in which you observed nature:
The sharp images of nature gathered by the poet in those
active out-of-door days of her childhood and youth served
her well when ill-health and unremitting labor chained her
to her house. Even then, if she went into her garden thrice
in a spring, she saw with a more ardent attention, felt with more
keenly directed emotion than the rest of us in the springs of
In your poem “The Sisters,” when addressing Elizabeth Barrett Browning the speaker states “as if I didn’t know / What those years felt like tied down to a sofa” (lines 82-83). During your more than seven years of confining neurasthenia,57 I imagine you transcended your pain by recalling your solitary explorations as a child through your father’s paradise of gardens so alive below your windows, so in awe and at home were you with nature. Later in life, you came to “know every tree, every rock, every flower, as only children know these things, and that is something if forfeited can never be captured again.”58
“As only children know!” Psychologist Edward Hoffman, in his book Visions of Innocence: Spiritual and Inspirational Experiences of Children, having interviewed people about their spiritual encounters as children, observes, in part, that “…the childhood doorway to transcendence may lie hidden within a flowering garden, a grove of trees, the scampering play of squirrels, or even a pebbled plot of grass with insects.”59
As though prophesying your own demise, in your autobiographical poem “Penumbra” (stanza 3) you write to your companion, Ada, about all the things at the Sevenels that are a part of you, and that will remain to comfort her long after your passing. How generously you provide a window through which we view, as though in present time, the little Amy Lowell among the trees and gardens:
The front-door will gaze down among the old trees
Where, as a child, I hunted ghosts and Indians;
It will look out on the wide gravel sweep
Where I rolled my hoop,
And at the rhododendron bushes
Where I caught black-spotted butterflies.60
~ “A Philosopher Watching a Pair of Butterflies”~
a woodblock print by Hokusai61
Chinese Philosopher Chuang Tsze, known is Japan as Soshi,
was famous for a dream he once had in which he found him-
self fluttering through the air like a butterfly; afterwards,
however, he was unable to decide whether this meant he had
briefly turned into a butterfly or a butterfly into him.62
Even the Iris bends
When the butterfly lights upon it.
I am drawn again to the image of the butterfly as I ponder a child’s involvement in nature. I recall, in thinking back on Jane G. Goldman’s essay “Psychoanalysis: a Treatment for the Soul,”64 that the word “psyche” not only refers to “soul,” but that the old root word also meant “Butterfly.” And I imagine how the child in experiencing nature releases his or her soul, grows delighted by it and feels its lightness in flight.
Was it during your private excursions through the Sevenels’ gardens that your cage unlatched and you drank freely from the pollen of pure being? This, this, Amy, is the stuff of your poetry: “the free nature spirit, with [your] untroubled kinship with wind and cloud, the direct clarity of mind like water over sand.”65
Here butterflies and bees fare far to rove
Amid the crumpled leaves of poppy flowers;
Here four o’clocks, to the passionate night above
Fling whiffs of perfume, like pale incense showers.
A little garden, loved with a great love!66
Where I grew up, beyond our backyard existed a large meadow (“one could put” the whole of it “in one’s pocket, but as a child it seemed limitless,” as you have recollected in your essay “ ‘Sevenels’: Brookline, Massachusetts” 67 about a patch of your gardens). My sister and I refer to it as our butterfly field. It was there that daily in the summer months we would run with our nets and jars as into a sun-lit dream. To this day, we speak of it often. In that meadow, we became truly free.
And I am recalling, suddenly, a summer-school fieldtrip I took as a little girl. Our teacher took us on a walk through a path in the woods, quite abundant with butterflies. She explained that we should never grab hold of a butterfly’s wings because we will lift the powdery color off (indeed, their scales, my friend, Elizabeth, informs me) with the touch of our fingers. She was correct.
~The Door Unlatching~
Adding to your years of private experiences and perceptions among the flowers, trees, bugs and birds of your father’s garden at the Sevenels, in a state as natural as dreaming, I can imagine how you began blending your private perceptions of nature with those of the Far East. All your loneliness, your feelings of separateness from the world, found a release and natural ebb in the beauty and impersonality of the Japanese world provided you by your brother. As though during spring or a new moon, rather than festering or numbing these powerful feelings were privately jostled and loosened. I hear the voice of your soul screaming like a “seabird” in “wanton happiness”68 over Hokusai’s Great Wave.
Spring has arrived and buds have begun to form on the web of naked branches spread across the pale sky out my window. How swollen and reaching they are amid the lilt of birdsong.
I read somewhere (I cannot recall where!) that in Japan, in order to see how closely Hiroshige had captured a landscape, a man once went to see an actual landscape that he had painted. On viewing the landscape, rather than commenting on how well Hiroshige had captured it, he could only exclaim that it had looked exactly like the Hiroshige.70 I am harked to your description of a garden patch at the Sevenels: “In earliest Spring, snowdrops begin to glisten in the sunny spots under the trees to be followed by such masses of crocuses that I never see them without thinking of Chaucer’s “pied mead.”71
A snowstorm descended when I visited my family in Wisconsin last month. The glistening snow crested the black trees, and the landscape astounded me by its echo of Hiroshige. From time to time throughout the weekend, looking out the window, I would lose myself in an inner stillness. My spirit entered into the blue, quiet air, joined the falling specks of white “intolerable beauty”72 and rested with the ribbons of snow along the fine and elegant Maple. Indeed, on recalling the images today, I see how the snow resembles “the silence surrounding the sparse phrases”73 of your poetry.
I am particularly drawn to the “silence surrounding” your poem “Trees in Winter.”74 Here, you’ve structured seven three-line stanzas over two pages: not haikus, necessarily, but loosely appearing so in their sparseness and clarity, and in their evocation of atmosphere and emotion. Each stanza begins with the name of a tree followed by a colon. What follows are two brief lines describing the tree in focus. There is not so much a speaker as there is an atmosphere. We see winter in “white earth” (line 3), “falling veil” (line 6), “silver” (line 9), “naked ground” (line 12), “grey sky” (line 15), “wind” (line 18), “alabaster” (line 21). We see the trees in quick, stark images as though in the sudden clarity of dream: “Black clouds slowly swaying” (Pine-Trees, line 2), “Coned green shadows” (Hemlocks, line 5), “Stiff black threads” (Elm-Trees, line 8), “Layered undulations” (Cedars, line 11), “Flaring needles / Stabbing” (Almonds, lines 14-15), “Tossing smoke / Swept down” (Weeping Cherry, lines 17-18). “In a few flowing brush strokes,”75 the poem articulates an emotional atmosphere. My breath is taken by the mood in the words that begin the second line of each stanza: “Black” (line 2) “Coned” (line 5), “Stiff” (line 8), “Layered” (line 11), “Flaring” (line 14), “Tossing” (line 17), “Twisted” (line 20).
Yes, I am pulled toward the white space surrounding your winter trees. “This element, emphasized by Basho (and so sacred to Haiku), is the means to express the correspondence between human sensibility and the various aspects of nature, a part of the Buddhist conception of the interpenetration of all phenomena. In this way, man enters the spirit of nature, and this same faculty gives him an awareness of the divine.”76
It is in this space that I hear the “noiseless noise”77 of snow, so reverently quiet, and feel the chill, still misty air, the atmosphere of a frozen, infertile soul— the gusts of white wind, from time to time, rattling a barren underworld. What else? Beauty. As though through glass I view these trees in this peculiar forest—desirable, yet unattainable— a bizarre snow globe of dreamscape so real I hurt from it.
~ Windows ~
And now I round my brief journey with you back to beauty as through glass. Perhaps it is because of windows that we are drawn to glass, the clear, light-emitting sheath isolating us from the picture at hand. While inside, we sit at windows to look out (sometimes we look in, from the outside). We position a chair and table at a corner window from which to observe the birds; we place our desk near a window to make our solitary hours more pleasant; we may like to take our breakfast at the kitchen window. In your biography of Keats, you illustrate him as “perched on the window-seat of the sitting-room, peering through the window into space….” like a “caged animal, or bird.”78 Throughout your collections, the word window appears over and over and over as though it were a refrain threaded throughout your life— a constant, knelling bell in the echoing valley of your soul. And like-wise it is, too, with the words beauty, light, butterfly, bird, soul and wings. Poet Maxine Kumin once stated how a student pointed out to her that she puts a horse in every poem.79 An exaggeration? Yes. But it isn’t so difficult to detect a poet’s preoccupations, is it?
And do we not often hear how the eyes are the windows to the soul? And isn’t our soul indeed our window through which we perceive the world? In your poem “Trees,” the speaker expresses a view she sees through her own window as “girded in[her] soul, [she] walks the world:”80
The branches of the trees lie in layers
Above and behind each other,
And the sun strikes on the outstanding leaves
And turns them white,
And they dance like a splatter of pebbles
Against a green wall.
The trees make a solid path leading up to the air.
It looks as though I could walk upon it
If I only had courage to step out the window.
The “outstanding” beauty of the tree-path lures her, as if in dream, to step from her high window and “walk upon it” (oh, were she a bird or butterfly!). Her isolation is expressed so vividly: if she were to enter fully the world of true beauty that she sees out her window, surely it would mean sudden death for her (“If only I had courage to step out…”).
My favorite photograph of you is the one in which you are seated in your little wooden boat on Dublin Lake in New Hampshire, where you had your cottage, Broomley Lacey. It is summer. The front of your body is facing the lens of the camera, but your face is turned away toward the bank. You are donning a straw hat brimmed with a black ribbon, a crisp white blouse and a skirt, dark and long. One oar rests across your lap. It is not clear to me whether you are docking at the bank, or leaving it. Is it Ada, your true love and companion, in the seat opposite you, her back to the lens? I don’t know; the photograph I held in my hands at the Houghton Library was not dated. To me, this is a photograph of your life, a world wholly private. Rightly, your eyes are fixed on nature, and not the lens. Though it is not in view in the photograph, Mount Monadnock looms somewhere there, I imagine, like Mount Fuji for you. And though you are not at sea, I hear Orpheus in the rhythm of your oars and in the quiet water swishing beneath them.82 The photograph is sepia in tint (as I recall), but blossoms in my imagination now blue as a Hiroshige. And I hear your gust of sweet laughter out over the glassy air all at once broken with light.
In Japan, the butterfly is the symbol of death and rebirth; it is thought to carry the souls of the dead. Thankfully, summer is near. May you bloom a new set of wings, and perhaps I shall see you amid my garden.
Thank you for enduring.
Yours in poetry— (Goodnight! Goodnight!83),
Copyright Sally Nacker, 2014. All rights reserved. No portion of “Wings and Windows: My Letter to Amy Lowell” may be reprinted on the web or otherwise. Publishers’ permissions granted the author are for the paper’s appearance on Winona Media only.
1 Amy Lowell, “The Sisters,” What’s O’clock. Copyright 1925 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, renewed 1953 by Harvey H. Bundy and G. D’Andelot Belin. Reprinted with permission by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
2 Amy Lowell Diaries, Notebooks, and Scrapbooks, 1884-1906 (MS Lowell 38). Houghton Library, Harvard University.
3 Amy Lowell, “Sevenels: Brookline, Massachusetts.” Amy’s personal essay found in Florence Ayscough and Amy Lowell: Correspondence of a Friendship, Harley Farnsworth MacNair, editor, 1945, University of Chicago Press.
4 Lowell, “Sevenels: Brookline, Massachusetts.” Florence Ayscough and Amy Lowell: Correspondence of a Friendship, Harley Farnsworth MacNair, editor, 1945, University of Chicago Press.
5 Elizabeth Shepley Sergeant, “Amy Lowell: Memory Sketch for a Biographer,” Fire Under the Andes, p. 14. Alfred A. Knopf, 1927.
6 Sergeant, “Amy Lowell: Memory Sketch for a Biographer,” p. 14
7 Jean Gould, Amy: The World of Amy Lowell and the Imagist Movement, p 20.Dodd, Mead and Company, 1975.
8 Gould, Amy: The World of Amy Lowell and the Imagist Movement, p. 20.
9 Amy Lowell Diaries, Notebooks, and Scrapbooks, 1884-1906 (MS Lowell 38). Houghton Library, Harvard University.
10 Amy Lowell, “Why we Should Read Poetry,” Poetry and Poets: Essays by Amy Lowell, p. 6. Copyright 1930 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, copyright renewed 1958 by Harvey H. Bundy and G. D’Andelot Belin. Reprinted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
11 Amy Lowell, “Fragment,” from A Dome of Many-coloured Glass. Houghton Mifflin Company, 1912.
12 “A Tale of Starvation,” by Amy Lowell. From Sword Blades and Poppy Seed, by Amy Lowell. Copyright 1914. Reprinted in this section with permission by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.
13 On Beauty and Being Just, copyright  by Elaine Scarry.
Used by permission. All rights reserved
14 On Beauty and Being Just, copyright  by Elaine Scarry.
Used by permission. All rights reserved
15 On Beauty and Being Just, copyright  by Elaine Scarry. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
16 Amy Lowell, “The Starling,” from A Dome of Many-coloured Glass. Houghton Mifflin Company, 1912.
17 Gould, Amy: The World of Amy Lowell and the Imagist Movement, p. 19.
18 Gould, Amy: The World of Amy Lowell and the Imagist Movement, p. 19.
19 Gould, Amy: The World of Amy Lowell and the Imagist Movement, p. 19.
20 Peter C. Rollins, “Amy Lowell of Brookline,” America Reflected, p. 648. New Academia Publishing, 2010. Copyright 2010 by Peter C. Rollins. Used by permission from Peter C. Rollins.
21 Amy Lowell, “Sisters,” from What’s O’clock. Copyright 1925 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, renewed 1953 by Harvey H. Bundy and G. D’Andelot Belin. Reprinted with permission by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
22 Amy Lowell, “The Starling,” from A Dome of Many-coloured Glass. Houghton Mifflin Company, 1912.
23 Jane G. Goldberg, “Psychoanalysis: a Treatment for the Soul,” found on her own website under the category, “Blogs:” http://drjanegoldberg.com/. Used by permission.
24 In a letter to Ada Dwyer Russell, St. Andres, New Brunswick, May 24, 1925, Florence Ayscough writes “Amy thought work the most important thing in life.” Florence Ayscough and Amy Lowell: Correspondence of a Friendship, Harley Farnsworth MacNair, editor, 1945, University of Chicago Press.
25 Excerpt from “Sword Blades and Poppy Seed,” by Amy Lowell. Sword Blades and Poppy Seed, by Amy Lowell. Copyright 1914. Reprinted with permission by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.
26 Amy Lowell, “The Humming-birds,” What’s O’clock. Copyright 1925 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, renewed 1953 by Harvey H. Bundy and G. D’Andelot Belin. Reprinted with permission by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
27 John Keats, by Amy Lowell: copyright 1925, copyright renewed 1953 by Ada Dwyer Russell. Reprinted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
28 http://www.spiritcommunity.com/dreams/water.php on the internet: Dream Meanings (water). Copyright © Tierra Verde Publishing & August Wald, PhD 1999 – 2014. All Rights Reserved Worldwide Spirit Community SpiritCommunity.com ™
29 “Amy Lowell and the Far East,” The Bookman, Volume LXIII, no. 1, March, 1926, p. 13. I originally read an adapted article based on the original one in Florence Ayscough and Amy Lowell: Correspondence of a Friendship, edited by Harley Farnsworth MacNair, University of Chicago Press, 1945.
30 David Ewick, Japonisme, Orientalism, Modernism: A Bibliography of Japan in English Language Verse in the early 20th Century, http://themargins.net/bib/D/d06.html
31 S. Foster Damon, Amy Lowell, A Chronicle , p. 55. Copyright 1935 by S. Foster Damon, copyright renewed 1963. Reprinted with permission by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
32 “Amy Lowell and the Far East,” The Bookman, Volume LXIII, no. 1, March, 1926, p. 12. I originally read an adapted article based on the original one in Florence Ayscough and Amy Lowell: Correspondence of a Friendship, Harley Farnsworth MacNair, editor, University of Chicago Press, 1945.
33 Percival Lowell, The Soul of the Far East (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company., 1888), p. 19.
34 Lowell, The Soul of the Far East, p. 19.
35 Lowell, The Soul of the Far East, p. 19.
36 Lowell, The Soul of the Far East, p. 19.
37 Amy Lowell Diaries, Notebooks, and Scrapbooks, 1884-1906 (MS Lowell 38). Houghton Library, Harvard University.
38 Peter C. Rollins, “Amy Lowell of Brookline,” America Reflected, p. 648. New Academia Publishing, 2010. Copyright 2010 by Peter C. Rollins. Used by permission from Peter C. Rollins.
39 Lowell, The Soul of the Far East, p. 20.
40 Lowell, The Soul of the Far East, p. 20.
41 Elizabeth Shepley Sergeant, “Amy Lowell: Memory Sketch for a Biographer,”
Fire Under the Andes, p. 27,Alfred A. Knopf, 1927.
42 “New Heavens for Old,” Amy Lowell. From Ballads for Sale, Amy Lowell,Houghton Mifflin Company, 1927. Reprinted throughout this section by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
43 John Keats, by Amy Lowell. Copyright 1925, copyright renewed 1953 by Ada
Dwyer Russell. Reprinted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
44 Gould, Amy: The World of Amy Lowell and the Imagist Movement, p. 61
45 The Café Royal, by Arthur Symons. Westminster, The Beaumont press, 1923,
as discussed in Glen Richard Ruihley’s The Thorn of the Rose: Amy Lowell Reconsidered (Archon Books, 1975), p. 34. Permission granted to quote from Ruihley’s work by Ronald Colman, Executor of Glenn Richard Ruihley’s estate.
46 Ruihley, The Thorn of the Rose, p. 34. Archon Books, 1975. Permission granted by Ronald Colman, Executor of Glenn Richard Ruihley’s estate.
47 Amy Lowell, “Why we Should Read Poetry,” Poetry and Poets: Essays by Amy Lowell, p. 6. Copyright 1930 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, copyright renewed 1958 by Harvey H. Bundy and G. D’Andelot Belin. Reprinted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
48 Gould, Amy: Amy Lowell and the Imagist Movement.
49 Notes Concerning John Keats (MS Lowell 51), Houghton Library, Harvard University.
50 Florence Ayscough and Amy Lowell: Correspondence of a Friendship, Harley Farnsworth MacNair, editor, University of Chicago Press, 1945.
51 From A letter from Amy Lowell to Grace Conkling. MS Am Lowell 19.1(296). Houghton Library, Harvard University.
52 Here, again, I am referencing Jane G. Goldberg’s essay “Psychoanalysis: a Treatment for the Soul,” found on her own website: http://drjanegoldberg.com/. Used by permission.
53 Translation by Robert Kotewall and Norman l. Smith, The Penguin Book of Chinese Verse, p. 8, Penguin Books Ltd., Harmondsworth, Middlesex, England, 1962.
54 Amy Lowell, “‘Sevenels’: Brookline, Massachusetts.” Amy’s personal essay found in Florence Ayscough and Amy Lowell: Correspondence of a Friendship, Harley Farnsworth MacNair, editior, University of Chicago Press, 1945.
55 Lowell, The Soul of the Far East, p. 64.
56 “Amy Lowell of New England,” by Elizabeth Ward Perkins, Scribner’s, September, 1927, p. 330. I originally read the excerpt in Ruihley’s The Thorn of the Rose: Amy Lowell Reconsidered, p. 72. Permission granted by Ronald Colman, Executor of Glenn Richard Ruihley’s estate.
57 Ruihley, The Thorn of the Rose: Amy Lowell Reconsidered, p. 46. Archon Books, 1975. Permission granted by Ronald Colman, Executor of Glenn Richard Ruihley’s estate.
58 Amy Lowell, “Sevenels”: Brookline, Massachusetts. Amy’s personal essay found in Florence Ayscough and Amy Lowell: Correspondence of a Friendship, Harley Farnsworth MacNair, editor, University of Chicago Press, 1945.
59 Edward Hoffman, Visions of Innocence: Spiritual and Inspirational Experiences of Childhood, p. 176. Shambhala Publications, Inc., Boston, MA, 1992. I was led to this insightful book by reading Richard Louv’s Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder, Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2008. Though I do not quote Louv as I do Hoffman, I would like to thank both these authors for their scholarship.
60 Amy Lowell, Pictures of the Floating World. Copyright 1919. Reprinted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
61 Matthi Forrer, Hokusai: Prints and Drawings (Prestel Verlag, 2010, first published in 1991), print 123. Consulted publisher: “fair use.”
62 Matthi Forrer, Hokusai: Prints and Drawings (Prestel Verlag, 2010, first published in 1991), print 123. Consulted publisher: “fair use.”
63 Amy Lowell, Pictures of the Floating World. Copyright 1919. Reprinted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
64 Jane G. Goldberg, “Psychoanalysis: a Treatment for the Soul,” found on her own website under the category, “Blogs:” http://drjanegoldberg.com/. Used by permission.
65 William Drake, The First Wave: Women Poets in America 1915-1945. Copyright 1987 by MacMillan Publishing Company.
66 Amy Lowell, “The Little Garden,” lines 10-14. From The Dome of Many-coloured Glass, Houghton Mifflin Company,1912.
67 Amy Lowell, “Sevenels”: Brookline, Massachusetts.” Amy’s personal essay found in Florence Ayscough and Amy Lowell: Correspondence of a Friendship, Harley Farnsworth MacNair, editor, 1945, University of Chicago Press.
68 Amy Lowell, “A Japanese Wood-carving,” A Dome of Many-coloured Glass, 1912. I am referencing the last line of this poem.
69 In her biography Keats, Volume I (p. 395), Amy refers to Keats’s style as “word-painting:” John Keats, by Amy Lowell: copyright 1925, copyright renewed 1953 by Ada Dwyer Russell. Reprinted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
70 I have read quite a bit on Hiroshige and honestly cannot locate where I read this. If any reader knows, please do inform me and I shall give it its proper citation.
71 Amy Lowell, “ ‘Sevenels’: Brookline, Massachusetts.” Amy’s personal essay found in Florence Ayscough and Amy Lowell: Correspondence of a Friendship, Harley Farnsworth MacNair, editor, 1945, University of Chicago Press.
72 Amy Lowell, “La Vie De Boheme,” Pictures of the Floating World. I quote Amy’s phrase “…girded in my soul / I walk the world” (lines 17-18), to illustrate a woman viewing the world through the window of her soul. Pictures of a Floating World, Amy Lowell. Copyright 1919. Reprinted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
73 Ruihley, The Thorn of a Rose: Amy Lowell Reconsidered, p. 91. Archon Books, 1975. Permission granted by Ronald Colman, Executor of Glenn Richard Ruihley’s estate.
74 “Trees in Winter,” Amy Lowell, Pictures of the Floating World. Copyright 1919. Reprinted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
75 Matthi Forrer, Hiroshige (Prestel Verlag, 2011, first published in 1991), p. 23. Consulted publisher: “fair use.”
76 Ruihley, The Thorn of a Rose: Amy Lowell Reconsidered, p. 91. Archon Books, 1975. Permission granted by Ronald Colman, Executor of Glenn Richard Ruihley’s estate.
77 “Noiseless Noise!” I first read this phrase while reading the journals of Dorothy Wordsworth, and then while reading Keats poem “I Stood Tip-toe Upon a Little Hill,” I recognized it. In Amy’s biography Keats, Volume I (pp. 132-133), she writes “The ‘noiseless noise’ is absolutely perfect and what a strange thing this effect of summer calm should have been noted by Dorothy Wordsworth in the very same words. In her Alfoxden journal for January twenty-third, 1798, she speaks of “That noiseless noise which lives in the summer air.” The loveliest thing is that Keats could not have read Dorothy’s journals at that time!” John Keats, by Amy Lowell. Copyright 1925, copyright renewed 1953 by Ada Dwyer Russell. Reprinted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved. The words “noiseless noise” describe, perfectly, the sound of snow to me, as here,
The clouds were pure and white as flocks new shorn,
And fresh from the clear brook; sweetly they slept
On the blue fields of heaven, and then there crept
A little noiseless noise among the leaves,
Born of the very sigh that silence heaves:
(John Keats, “I Stood Tip-toe Upon a Little Hill,” 1817);
The sun gone down. The crescent moon, Jupiter, and Venus. The sound
of the sea distinctly heard on the tops of the hills, which we could never
hear in summer. We attribute this partly to the bareness of the trees,
but chiefly to the absence of the singing of birds, the hum of insects,
that noiseless noise which lives in the summer air.
(Dorothy Wordsworth, journal, 23 January 1798)
78 Amy Lowell, John Keats. Copyright 1925, copyright renewed 1953 by Ada Dwyer Russell. Reprinted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
79 I read this in an essay by Maxine Kumin, either in her book Always Beginning, copyright 2000 by Maxine Kumin, Copper Canyon Press or in Women, Animals, and Vegetables, copyright 1994 by Maxine Kumin,Ontario Review Press, reprinted by arrangement with W.W. Norton and Company, Inc.. The idea of an artist’s preoccupation showing itself in one’s work struck me, and I have always remembered Kumin’s words (unfortunately, not the exact source of them!).
80 Amy Lowell, “La Vie De Boheme,” Pictures of the Floating World. I quote Amy’s phrase “…girded in my soul / I walk the world” (lines 17-18), to illustrate a woman viewing the world through the window of her soul. Pictures of a Floating World, Amy Lowell. Copyright 1919. Reprinted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
81 Amy Lowell, “Trees,” Pictures of the Floating World. Copyright 1919. Reprinted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
82 Though I do not quote Scarry verbatim here, I felt inspired to include the presence of Orpheus in my description of Amy rowing her boat after reading Scarry’s book, On Beauty an Being Just, p. 105. On Beauty and Being Just, copyright  by Elaine Scarry. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
83 Amy Lowell, “The Sisters,” What’s O’clock. Copyright 1925 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, renewed 1953 by Harvey H. Bundy and G. D’Andelot Belin. Reprinted with permission by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
Permissions and Gratitude
I would like to thank, first and foremost, the Trustees under the will of Amy Lowell for their generous and prompt permissions: Lowell works in my paper are made available by permission of the Trustees under the will of Amy Lowell. I would also like to thank Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company for their astounding generosity with permissions and the librarians and curators at Houghton Library at Harvard University for their own heart-felt permissions. Further thanks go to Keith Stanger, Information Services Librarian at the Eastern Michigan University Library for putting me in contact with Ronald Colman, the current Trustee of Glenn Richard Ruihley’s work. I am grateful for having been granted permission to quote from Ruihley’s beautiful study on Lowell: The Thorn of a Rose: Amy Lowell Reconsidered. Thanks to Elaine Scarry’s agent (ICM), Peter C. Rollins (“go for it!”), Jane G. Goldberg for their permissions. Thanks to the Davidson Library at the University of California in Santa Barbara, the Walter P. Reuther Library, the Beinecke Library of Yale University, the Cleveland Public Library (Ohio Center for the book), Random House and The University of Chicago Press for extending their hand in an effort to direct me in permissions. Scholarship is sacred; I thank every scholar who enlightened me as I explored the inner world of Lowell.
While immersed in my pursuit of permissions for this publication, I did my best to track down every source. In a couple of instances “fair use” seemed apparent, and I let the publisher’s guidelines or the rules of “fair use” direct me. In most cases, I sought permission directly. I could not find, though not for lack of trying, the copyright owners for three beautiful works: Jean Gould’s Amy: The World of Amy Lowell and the Imagist Movement (Dodd, Mead and Company, 1975), pieces from Harley Farnsworth MacNair’s Florence Ayscough and Amy Lowell: Correspondence of a Friendship (University of Chicago Press, 1945) that I quote from, and Elizabeth Shepley Sergeant’s “Amy Lowell: Memory Sketch for a Biographer,” from her Fire Under the Andes (Alfred A. Knopf, 1927). Should any reader have knowledge on who may own these individual and most beautiful works, please come forward. Should these owners neither deem my use “fair” nor wish to grant me permission, I will pull the paper.
Thanks to poet Elizabeth Kirschner, who, with her steady, brilliant light, guided me through the initial writing of this project in 2012. Thanks to poet Annie Finch for writing about it on Poetry Foundation’s Harriet Blog. Thanks to Dan Odegard, a truly special, irreplaceable friend—such an intellect and heart!—who always sees and understands me. Thanks, always and forever, to the beautiful poet, artist and my inseparable friend of the work and heart, Leslie Schultz— you took my letter to Lowell along with Ayscough’s slides, and, as you always do, created anew. Thanks to John (“thank you”). Finally, and eternally, I thank my dear, bright mother—I miss you with all my heart.
(Note the mural above, of the history of Northfield, designed by Margit Johnson, with figures of John and Ann North!)
Thank you for your company during this first year of my blog–look for postcards and news this summer, with a host of new posts beginning in September 2014!
Leslie and Sally at W.A. Frost in Saint Paul, 1988.
What Course to Chart Now?
Above: Lake St. Clair, the sixth Great Lake, the heart-shaped body between Lake Huron and Lake Erie
Here is a poem I wrote last summer, just after launching the year-long weekly blog project:
Earlier today, I delivered a fresh
manuscript, to a poet friend, in a bag
emblazoned with a green mermaid, crowned, stamped
quirkily off-center onto the kraft paper.
Then I drove fifty miles in a rushing sea
of traffic to discuss, wheels within wheels,
the greening patterns labyrinths make on the
antique depths of our rushed, modern psyches.
Now, here I am, parked inside a Starbuck’s,
adrift in a lagoon of round tables,
trendy glasses in place (how I need them),
with my purple laptop up, my fingers
poised above the keys, ready to harpoon
a whole pod of insights from the deck
of my shining new vessel: the Blog Post.
This has been a year of adventure. During this time, I have been able to keep my commitment of one post each Wednesday–Post #52 was published last week. In addition, (with technical support from Tim and Karla) I was able to add digital postcards on Mondays and holidays, as well as the occasional special post.
I launched into this year-long project in May because I knew Do Life Right, Inc. would be publishing And Sometimes Y during the summer. New convention says that it helps to have web presence, a “platform” (something I’ve associated with political parties only, until recently.) In the past year, though I don’t think it has helped my publisher or me reach the readers of my books, I’ve gained much from my blogging practice. Musing over the past twelve months, I’ve learned the following, and more.
1) A Blog is a New Art Form
Part scroll, part illuminated manuscript, part essay, part scrapbook and diary–the blog post is a new literary animal uniquely suited to matching a writer’s voice and images with readers in a way that offers the opportunity for near-instant feedback.
2) Blogs are Extremely Flexible
The blog is easily adaptable to each writer’s preoccupations, and format and length can be various. In my own experience, the blog post can handle anything from one line of text on a postcard and brief news alerts to lengthy interviews and scholarly essays, and anything in between. Posts can handle poetry, prose, and photographs with equal ease.
3) Blogs Can Create — and Enhance — Community
Through blog posts on a variety of topics of interest to me, I have connected online with people I have never actually met, reconnected with people I haven’t seen in a long time, and forged deeper connections with friends and family –we now know a bit more about what each other is interested in. A big “Thank You!” to everyone who responded to these posts and let me know of your enjoyment through emails and/or comments. That is what kept me going this year!
4) My Blog Helps Me Celebrate the Work of Others
Variety is the spice of life. Even I get a bit tired of my own work and my own point of view. I think my very favorite aspect of the blog post is the ability to shine a spot light on the work that other people are doing, work I admire and work in which I take great joy. For example, I have been able to:
*Showcase the extraordinary photographs of flora and fauna by my sister, Karla Schultz;
*Share interviews with labyrinth maker Marilyn Larson, editors Jan Rider Newman and Jessica Roach Fergusson, teacher Julia Denne, book seller Jerry Bilek, authors J.J.M. Braulick and Liana Cole, and dancer Atia Cole;
*Publish the poetry of Ronald Wallace and Tim Braulick, as well as some classic poets; an essay of Beth Dyer Clary; and the thoughts of many on their favorite book stores across the nation and the world;
*Highlight the good news in my orbit, including Northfield’s Sidewalk Poetry, Poem in Your Pocket Day, the Maria W. Faust Sonnet contest, Big Woods CSA Farm, and NASA’s poetry-to-Mars project, the world of Little Free Libraries, the Doors of San Diego, and the artist-enhanced utility boxes of Minneapolis, among other topics.
In addition, I have been able to share the lives of people who have made my own life richer: those of my four great-grandmothers and that of my friend E. Ryan Edmonds. Each of these women now has her own post, her own always-lighted shrine I can visit any time.
In many ways, the blog posts I have published this year reinforce my sense of how my life is interconnected with the kindness, generosity, wisdom, talent, and individuality of so many other people. This is, of course, true for each one of us, but sometimes that reality is eclipsed for a time. It is good to be reminded of how enriched I am every day by the intentions and actions and insights of others. The passions and accomplishments of those around me fuel my own sense of possibility.
5) Blogs Can Be Creative Stimulants
This year of blogging has coincided with a banner year of both new work and publishing. On the publishing side, I published more poems in more journals and pieces of pavement that I have ever done before, in addition to publishing my second novel for young people, a short story, and a long scholarly review of poet Ava Leavell Haymon’s new book, Eldest Daughter. I’ve also read my poetry publicly, was invited to speak to sixth-graders on my life as a poet (slipping in a workshop on rhythm and meter), and was featured in Dancing Sun Media documentary on Northfield’s Sidewalk Poetry Project. I find I have unprecedented energy for new poems, and I finished a long poem that I began in 1993, the primary poem, “Lady Tashat’s Mystery”, in a new book-length manuscript called Reading the Bones, refined with the help of poet friends Sally Nacker and D.E. Green. Last summer, I decided to finish two works-in-progress (adult fiction–novels), making some headway on each, and I also re-committed to a languishing quilt project (begun 10 years ago) that is now in the home stretch. Currently I am sending out poems to journals on a regular basis as well as sending out the book manuscript to potential publishers.
Coincidence? I think not.
In addition to the above, I have written several poems specifically for featured blog post topics. The ability to publish my own work — and the internal pressure to do so — has been very stimulating, indeed.
(Lady Tashat, Minneapolis Institute of Arts)
6) My Blog Helps Me Share My Other Work
In addition to sharing my work as an “artist” (poems, fiction, essays, and photographs), my blog has helped me to share my skills as an interviewer, a quilter, a cook, an arts advocate for my beloved home town of Northfield, a passionate reader, and (most especially) as a homeschooling mother.
7) A Blog Demands Patience
In this age of instant gratification, I have learned to wait for the right time to develop or publish some posts, while I have had ideas that look a long time to piece together after I had the initial idea (sometimes a title, sometimes a photo, sometimes a mere topic). The “PUBLISH” button gives the illusion that one has more control that one really does, because it is really off-limits until the post has a certain level of polish and completeness.(So far, thank goodness, I have not pushed it by mistake!) I have several ambitious draft posts now in various stages of readiness–hope to be able to sail those off to you when the leaves begin to turn.
8) A Blog Demands New Skills and Flexibility
This is especially true for someone like me who is not tech-savvy. I have learned how to cope with vast quantities of spam (heartfelt thanks to the developers of Akismet), new versions of WordPress, mysterious glitches, and weird freeze-ups and deletions. I have learned more than patience, though: I have learned how to combine images with text (art direction 101?), how to record and incorporate audio clips of poetry, how to create digital postcards with jpgs and Powerpoint, and how to approach strangers to ask for help on content or technical matters. None of this would be possible without the encouragement of visionary publisher Lisa Cottrell Bentley of DoLifeRight (www.doliferight.com), the step-by-step materials I purchased from blog guru Dan Blank of WeGrowMedia (www.wegrowmedia.com), and the reliable technical assistance and moral support and general cheer-leading from blogger and consultant Myrna Mibus and my very tech-savvy husband, Tim Braulick. Thank you, thank you!
9) Blogs Require Regular Time and Commitment
I knew that. I thought I did. Now I really do! The care and feeding of a blog is a part-time job. It is a blast, but (at least for me) it requires putting other projects on hold. This leads me to my final insight, the same insight I had at the start of this experiment, though now with a little different skew:
10) Change Can Be Good!
This year has been a watershed for me, and now I sense it is time for another change.
Truthfully, I am not certain how I will structure things to come! That is probably also a good thing. I know I need a change of pace for the summer, so I am going to limit posts for June, July, and August to weekly and holiday postcards, news flashes (should any be warranted), and (perhaps) an occasional spontaneous essay. Come September, I plan to resume more in-depth posts, but the frequency and form remains to be seen.
Last October, I accepted the invitation of publisher Lisa Cottrell Bentley to submit a short video to the second annual Do Life Right Teleconference. My topic was my initial thoughts on blogging. (I include the link address here, for anyone who would like to check it out: http://www.doliferightinc.com/2013/10/23/leslie-schultz-on-doing-blogging-right)
This summer I plan to do that hardest thing for me: be unscheduled! If the spirit moves, I will spend more time on fiction, on adding homeschooling resources to Winona Media, and on shaping another book of poems. I plan to spend lots more time outside and lots more time reading (can’t have enough of that!).
Next week, before the hiatus, I have a special treat to offer: the work of a very perceptive poet and scholar, Sally Nacker, sharing her thoughts addressed to poet Amy Lowell in her moving and scholarly work, “Wings and Windows”, complete with vintage lantern slides of Lowell and her home and garden at Sevenels. And then, this first year of blogging will be full and complete, like a bulging scrapbook documenting a wonderful, various, momentous year of my life.
Finally, as I head off into the future, I would like to thank everyone who took time to read the blog, cheer me on with comments and emails, and assist with sharing of passion and ideas. If you have requests for “Posts of the Future”, let me know. This summer I shall be reevaluating what I have done and drawing up new plans. I would love to incorporate ideas from readers. Thanks, again, for sharing the ride.