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Robert Lowell

On March 1, 1917, Robert Lowell was born into one of Boston’s oldest and most prominent families. He attended Harvard College for two years before transferring to Kenyon College, where he studied poetry under John Crowe Ransom and received an undergraduate degree in 1940. He took graduate courses at Louisiana State University where he studied with Robert Penn Warren and Cleanth Brooks. Lowell contributed a lot for American poetry, until his sudden death from a heart attack at the age of 60. Robert Lowell served as a chancellor of the Academy of American Poets from 1962 until his death in 1977.

To Speak of Woe in Marriage has a free verse with simple rhyming couplets structure. In this poem Robert Lowell writes about sex without actually saying the word 'sex'. It is about how a woman is suffering in her marriage due to her husband’s abusive attitude and behavior. It is overall in a feeling of despair and pain. The woman in the poem is afflicted with an abusive husband and from the first line, hostility is indicated. "The hot night makes us keep our bedroom windows open" gives the feeling of rage. The tension in the room is due to boiling tempers. As the poem continues, the wife continues describing her husband, "This screwball might kill his wife, then take the pledge" seems to indicate her husband is very willing to say things to please others, but when it comes to his own nature, he's dangerous and a psychopath. When she mentioned that he might kill his wife, she is too scared to admit that it is who might be killed. She describes his lust in unpleasant ways and wants to keep herself alive, even if she must run away.

The language in the poem changes from words like ‘us’ and ‘our’ in the beginning to ‘I’ and ‘his’ at the end. This is interesting because it highlights the enormous gap that has come between the woman and her husband – not a literal gap (they still share the same bed), but a metaphorical gap because they are no longer close in their relationship. The very beginning line of the poem “The hot night makes us keep our bedroom windows open” reveals an intense tension between a wife and her drunkard husband. She fights with her husband and knows that he is having sex with other prostitutes too. This further shows that there were feelings of rage, frustration, and even fear. The husband is running away from his marriage problems; he goes to look for sex somewhere else. And Lowell portrays the wife lamenting at home because her husband is out there looking for different thrills, "My only though is how to keep alive." In the line, "What makes him tick, "Lowell brings us (the reader) inside the poem to make us part of their marriage dispute and invite us to judges for ourselves.  The existence of fear is evident through lines 13-14 “Gored by the climacteric of his want, / he stalls above me like an elephant.” The comparison of her husband’s behavior with an animal of a great size shows how much she fears her husband and feels hopeless. Furthermore, this simile relates to the physical unattractiveness that has emerged from the ugliness of their sex lives. The use of simile in this poem makes the readers to create their own personal interpretation of the poem. In addition to this, as the words change from “us” and “our” in the beginning to “I” and “his” at the end, readers can feel the gap between the couple because they are no longer close in their relationship in the sense of genuine, loving feelings for each other. Although this poem has great feelings of despair and pain, it realistically describes a relationship that consists lust, anger, and pain. 


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