Robert Lowell, “To Speak of Woe That Is in Marriage”

“To Speak of Woe That Is in Marriage”

“It is the future generation that presses into being by means of these
exuberant feelings and supersensible soap bubbles of ours.”
– Schopenhauer

“The hot night makes us keep our bedroom windows open.
Our magnolia blossoms. Life begins to happen.
My hopped up husband drops his home disputes,
and hits the streets to cruise for prostitutes,
free-lancing out along the razor’s edge.
This screwball might kill his wife, then take the pledge.
Oh the monotonous meanness of his lust…
It’s the injustice… he is so unjust–
whiskey-blind, swaggering home at five.
My only thought is how to keep alive.
What makes him tick? Each night now I tie
ten dollars and his car key to my thigh…
Gored by the climacteric of his want,
he stalls above me like an elephant.”

from Life Studies, Noonday, 1959


3 Responses to Robert Lowell, “To Speak of Woe That Is in Marriage”

  1. Simon says:

    Hey hey! A poem by Cal! Weird: this is the poem oan Hambidge always mentions when we chat about Lowell’s work. Would be interested to hear what other people think about his one. (Note: There’s a typo in l. 10 ‘MY’ should be ‘my’ and l. 11 ‘hime’ should be ‘him’.)

  2. RK says:

    Cal! First time I hear someone other than a critic who was on familiar terms with him call him by that nickname. Now he feels like an uncle to me too.

    Thanks for the proofing, Simon.

  3. Simon says:

    ‘Joan Hambidge’ should be ‘Joan Hambidge’. The epigraph’s from Schopenhauer’s embarrasingly misogynistic essay, ‘The Metaphuysics of Love of the Sexes’.I still don’t know what ‘supersensible soapbubbles’ are, but following a talk with Sofianos, I suspect that the image might be the regarded as the kind of gain that’s often overlooked but which often accompanies losses of meaning in the course of translation. ‘To Speak …’ should ideally be read in conjunction with ‘Man and Wife’, the poem that precedes it in ‘Life Studies’, if only because in the latter poem the image of the magnolia recurs: ‘At last the trees are green on Marlborough Street, / blossoms on our magnolia ignite / the morning with their murdeous five days’ white.’ Genre: late-modern epithalamium. Weird because: it’s confessional without being confessional – a dramatic monologue which, because of the quotation marks, we must imagine as being spoken by Stafford, and which complements (but also complicates) the supposedly ‘confessional’ voice Lowell adopts throughout ‘Life Studies’. Best line: ‘This screwball might kill his wife, then take the pledge’, if only because it condenses the way in which Lowell’s ‘breakthrough’ volume consistently manages to conflate the personal with the political during the ‘tranquilized ‘Fifties’, encapsulating both the imperial and commercial growth of America during the Cold War as well as the insular, inward looking uncertainty accompanying the sense of banal horror behind the white picket fence of bourgeois domesticity.

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