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poem is taped to rock

 

Solitaire

by Amy Lowell

 

When night drifts along the streets of the city,

And sifts down between the uneven roofs,

My mind begins to peek and peer.

It plays at ball in odd, blue Chinese gardens,

And shakes wrought dice-cups in Pagan temples

Amid the broken flutings of white pillars.

It dances with purple and yellow crocuses in its hair,

And its feet shine as they flutter over drenched grasses.

How light and laughing my mind is,

When all the good folk have put out their bedroom candles,

And the city is still.

 

 

No wonder nighttime wakefulness is so delightful to poet Amy Lowell. She slept by day and wrote at night. Would that I could be so industrious. For those of us cursed with two a.m. racing thoughts, Lowell’s trilling about how light and laughing my mind is when everyone else is fast asleep sounds like someone raving on about how fun it is to toss the kettle ball.

 

But let’s look at “Solitaire” from a less bitter angle. The poem was written in 1917, two years after T.S. Eliot’s “Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” which begins

 

Let us go then, you and I,

When the evening is spread out against the sky

Like a patient etherized upon a table;

Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets,

The muttering retreats

Of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels

 

Lowell surely had read that poem before she wrote “Solitaire.” (She was close friends with Ezra Pound who famously promoted Eliot’s publication.) I can’t help but hear Lowell echoing the “Prufrock” opening with her own—

 

When night drifts along the streets of the city,

And sifts down between the uneven roofs

 

and then choosing to wander in a completely different direction. To hell with your whiny neuroses, she could be saying. I’m going to enjoy the hell out of this.

 

And it’s off to the races. Or rather, to the Pagan temples and the Chinese gardens.

 

I left the poem at a scenic overlook of Lake Charlevoix in northern Michigan. It was 9:00 p.m. and the sun was just going down:

 

*

 

Amy Lowell (1974- 1925) was born the youngest of five children to a wealthy Boston-Brahim family. What a family—her great-grandfather a founder of the Boston Athenaeum, one brother a famous astronomer, another the president of Harvard, two cousins poets (James Russell Lowell and Robert Lowell) and the Lowell clan itself featured in a famous ditty—

 

And this is good old Boston,

The home of the bean and the cod,

Where the Lowells talk only to Cabots,

And the Cabots talk only to God.

 

Lowell was something of a terror in the private schools she attended, talking back to teachers and clowning around to make the class laugh. She was not allowed to go to college (being female) but she had a post-secondary education of sorts in the family’s 7,000 volume library and in the many trips she made abroad.

 

While in Europe she befriended and promoted Ezra Pound with whom she shared a passion for Imagist poetry. They had a falling-out over the direction of Imagist poetry, he unkindly calling her version “Amygism” and his protégé Eliot snidely calling her “the daemon saleswoman of modern poetry.” She published a journal of Imagist poetry in the United States, toured the country to promote poetry and provided financial assistance to other poets including Carl Sandburg. She didn’t begin publishing her own poetry till she was 36. As well as explicit love poetry to her partner of many years, Ada Dwyer Russell, Lowell wrote a 1,300 page biography of John Keats.

 

Lowell had a big personality and a glandular problem that led to obesity and health issues. She was also known for smoking cigars.

 

She died at age 51 of a stroke and won the Pulitzer Prize posthumously.

 

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