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Martin, J. (1983). Grief and Nothingness: Loss and Mourning in Robert Lowell's Poetry. Psychoanal. Inq., 3(3):451-484.

(1983). Psychoanalytic Inquiry, 3(3):451-484

Grief and Nothingness: Loss and Mourning in Robert Lowell's Poetry

Jay Martin, Ph.D.

Between grief and nothing, I will take grief.

—Faulkner, The Wild Palms

Robert Lowell was the most important poet in America during the 1960's and 70's. Not only was his poetic achievement high, he also, like his ancestors James Russell Lowell and Amy Lowell, occupied a prominent position as a literate spokesman on social and cultural issues. At the same time, more privately, he was preoccupied with death; and he gave the richest expression that twentieth-century poetry has to offer of the varieties of the experience of loss and mourning. He wrote solidly and continuously in the great tradition of the literature of grief.

In retrospect, his whole life seemed to have been lived under the shadow of death. When, late in life, Lowell wrote, “always inside me is the child who died, always inside me is his will to die,” he seems to be making a point similar to the one Jacques (1965p. 507) made: “How each one reacts to the mid-life encounter with the reality of his own eventual death … will be markedly influenced by his infantile unconscious relation to death.”

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