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On "New Heavens for Old"

Cheryl Walker

Horace Gregory claims that Lowell's "true affinities were of a nineteenth-century origin, gathered from her readings in her father's library at Sevenels and among the book shelves of Boston's Athenaeum." There is much to support this view, even in Lowell's own estimation of herself in a late poem like "New Heavens for Old," published in the posthumous Ballads for Sale. In this poem she contrasts the new women of the 1920s who:

bare the whiteness of their lusts to the dead
gaze of the old housefronts,
They roar down the street like flame,
They explode upon the dead houses like sharp, new fire

with her own, old-fashioned, persona:

But I--
I arrange three roses in a Chinese vase:
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
I fuss over their arrangement.
Then I sit in a South window
And sip pale wine with a touch of hemlock in it,
And think of Winter nights,
And field-mice crossing and re-crossing
The spot which will be my grave.

Just as Amy Lowell's culture was a complex mixture of late-nineteenth and early twentieth-century elements, of Victorianism, progressivism, and modernism, Lowell herself interacted with her culture both as a progressive and as a reactionary.

From Masks Outrageous and Austere: Culture, Psyche, and Persona in Modern Women Poets. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1991. Copyright 1991 by Cheryl Walker.

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