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On "The Mouth of the Hudson"


Stephen Yenser

"The Mouth of the Hudson" is virtually an emblem of the precarious position of man as the persona has come to see him. The poem opens with "A single man," who stands on an outcrop above a railroad siding and watches the trains switching beneath him. . . .

These lines sum up the random violence of the poet-speaker's world, his lack of control over that world, and the scrambled puzzle that it seems to him. The fact that the train is a mechanical, and the ice floe a natural, phenomenon suggests the ubiquity of anomie and implies the impossibility of self-determination; in a world in which neither nature nor civilization is ordered, the individual has no choice but to drift. This theme is all the more remarkable in "The Mouth of the Hudson" because several of its details recall, ironically, "The River" section of The Bridge. Lowell seems to repudiate implicitly the optimistic vision of Crane; and the poem ends, not with Crane's "Passion" and promise of deliverance, but with "the unforgivable landscape."

From Circle to Circle: The Poetry of Robert Lowell. Copyright 1975 by the Regents of the University of California.


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