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Amy Lowell

August 2010
By Rachel Jirka   

Amy Lowell at Sevenels

Amy Lowell was born on February 9, 1874, to a wealthy and influential family in Brookline, Massachusetts.  She was the youngest of five children born to Augustus and Katherine Lawrence Lowell—themselves products of the booming cotton industry in Massachusetts.  Lowell’s education began at the family home in Brookline, where she was taught by a governess.  Between the ages of eight and twelve, Lowell attended a number of private schools in Brookline and Boston, where she was labeled something of a class clown.  Her formal education ended at age seventeen.  While her brothers were able to avail themselves of a Harvard education, Lowell did not have that opportunity herself.  Lowell instead experienced the social scene of her class, travelling to Europe in 1896, as well as attending parties and other entertainments.  Lowell continued her education privately, as she had access to her father’s library.  Lowell also frequented the Boston Athenæum, of which her great-great grandfather was a founder. 

The deaths of Katherine Lowell in 1895 and Augustus Lowell in 1900 compelled Lowell to take on the social responsibilities of her parents.  The Brookline public school system and the Women’s Municipal League are two of the many organizations that benefitted from Lowell’s efforts. In fact, the Boston Athenæum would not be in this present location were it not for Lowell’s desire to fight for just causes.  The Boston Athenæum considered a move from the Beacon Street site, an issue that Lowell vehemently opposed.  In protest, Lowell wrote a poem commemorating the Boston Athenæum; it was included in her first published collection, A Dome of Many-Coloured Glass (1912). 

Lowell turned to poetry in 1902, after seeing three plays which featured the actress Eleanora Duse.  Her first book of poetry was published in 1912 and received lukewarm reviews.  Lowell continued to work despite the criticism; however, in 1913 Lowell’s poetic style was reborn after encountering a poem signed “H.D. Imagiste.”  Influenced by H.D. (Hilda Doolittle) Lowell threw herself into the imagist style, a movement founded by Ezra Pound.  She became a forceful spokeswoman for the movement, and a falling out with Ezra Pound over the direction of Imagism resulted in Lowell becoming the movement’s leader. 

 

Beginning in the early 1920s, Lowell devoted herself to the poet Keats, publishing an extensive biography in 1925.  Lowell died of a stroke in May 1925 at the family home in Brookline.  After her death, Lowell won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1926.  The winning collection, entitled What’s o’clock, included the poem “Lilacs,” one of her best-known works.

Lowell was significant to American literary history because of the strength of her convictions and her drive to speak for that in which she believed.  She was a forceful voice for modern poetry in the early 20th century, and it is thanks to Amy Lowell that the Modernist movement developed in American literature and culture.

Below you can read the Amy Lowell poem "The Boston Athenæum" (1903 / 1912) with wood engravings of the Library by Rudolph Ruzicka (1952) by clicking on the image below. This keepsake was printed in 2007 for the 200thanniversary of The Boston Athenæum and it can be purchased at the circulation desk in the Library.

 

Selected Works:

John Keats
1925
5E .K223 .l .2

What’s o’clock
1925
VEP .L9495 .w

Ballads for sale
1927
VEP .L9495 .b

The complete poetical works of Amy Lowell
1955
VEP .L9495 .co

Poetry and poets, essays
1930
XVEP .L952

Bibliography:

Amy: the world of Amy Lowell and the Imagist movement
Gould, Jean
1975
65 .L9497 .go

American aristocracy: the lives and times of James Russell, Amy, and Robert Lowell
Heymann, C. David
1980
CT215 .L68 H 49

Selected Letters:

The letters of D.H. Lawrence & Amy Lowell, 1914-1925
Edited by E. Claire Healey & Keith Cushman
1985
PR6023.A93 Z5336

Selected books illustrated by Rudolph Ruzicka (1883-1978):

Boston: distinguished buildings & sites within the city and its orbit as engraved on wood
With a commentary by Walter Muir Whitehill
1975
(Requires a Special Collections Appointment)

Boston Public Library: a centennial history
by Walter Muir Whitehill; illustrated by Rudolph Ruzicka
1956
Z733.B752 W5

Bible. Biblical drawings by Rudolph Ruzicka
With illustrative passages from the Holy Bible, selected by Ruth Hornblower Greenough
1951
(Requires a Special Collections Appointment)

The book of the homeless = Le livre des sans-foyer
Edited by Edith Wharton
1916
(Requires a Special Collections Appointment)