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Everything You Love is Gonna Leave You

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I just finished a million page book about one of my favorite poets, Robert Lowell. I’ve read his collected prose, his letters with Elizabeth Bishop, his poems, and yet it came as a horrible shock when I read about his final months, weeks, and his last day. I was a senior in high school when I bought my first collection of his poems, “Day by Day.” I had no idea who he was. I was attracted to the cover and I opened the book to a poem called “For Sheridan.” Thus began a lifelong love of Robert Lowell.

The poem starts:

We only live between/ before we are and what we were

And ends:

Past fifty, we learn with a surprise and a sense

of suicidal absolution

that what we intended and failed

could never have happened —

and must be done better.

 

What was going on in my seventeen year old mind?

 

9 Responses

  1. Something prophetic and prescient for a young mind. Hunted by the striving to be better. But is this that to which we are all doomed…failure, disappointment? Standards set too high, hopes splattered. And yet, and yet, there is here the suggestion of the reincarnation of possibility.

  2. I recall…he played piano in the hospital. Bishop loved him so.

  3. Most seventeen year olds are on the brink of despair, even those not prone to depression. It’s a nothing year. Sixteen is a big deal – you get your license, you RULE the world with that freedom. Eighteen, you are (technically) an adult, you can vote and go to war. Seventeen is a forlorn year, an in-between year, a middle child year.

    You were searching for meaning, dabbling with thoughts of death, the mystery of it, the dramatic end that leaves everyone whispering, cringing as they shake their heads, purse lips, and discuss it in hushed voices, ala Sylvia Plath.

    In your mind, it was important to understand what others thought, why they thought it, and poetry gave that to you, but somehow never quite satisfied you in the way of Robert Lowell, who came along and told you “Day by Day” how to live.

    (at least this is my interpretation at 5:30 a.m. after only 1/2 cup of coffee)

  4. Thank you. After a gazillion years of therapy I couldn’t have articulated that.

  5. “What was going on in my seventeen year old mind?”

    I do not know. You judged a book by its cover and got lucky. I’m assuming the luck was good. In my senior year, when I was likewise seventeen, it was my mixed fortune to discover how to tranquilize and enrapture myself by smoking as much marijuana as I could get away with. I think that was good luck on my part. I think that otherwise, I would have been professionally medicated by multi-degreed and licensed professionals who would have applied to my mind the latest in behavioral technologies, and that was not what I wanted.

    I wanted to write. That want pre-dated cheater joints and beer-can bongs by the lifetime that is adolescence. Come pot-head time, I began writing poetry. Verily, it exploded from me that autumn of my senior year as though a damn* had burst. The first poems were a series of four called “Stoned Hero” (1, 2, 3, and 4, go figure). I don’t have those poems anymore, and I threw almost everything else from those days away a long time ago — expect for the few that were published.

    The early big influence on me was Richard Brautigan, particularly his “The Pill Versus the Springhill Mine Disaster,” a paperback copy of which I carried in my pocket in those early scribbler’s days. I think, Betsy, you may have made a better choice, though I can’t say for sure. I have Lowell’s “Collected Poems” on my shelf, and have had it for fifteen years, but have not read it yet. I’ve thought there would always be time for that, but who can say?

    (*”damn” — yes, that’s the way I spelled it, though not intentionally. Doctor Freud, paging Doctor Freud, please call the Comment Desk.)

  6. Ready to jump right in, no question that she who hesitates is lunch while giving no thought at all to a couple of decades ahead when it would become all about treading carefully, looking before you leap.

  7. You knew because you observed, perhaps by chance or choice, the intimacy of secrets held tight by those of us who come to realize how fickle and cruel the lie of time. Learning that as a teenager is both a blessing and a curse.
    At seventeen time is oxygen, a forever thing. We see choices and decisions as simple as I want fries with that. But you opened a book and the young girl/old soul in you saw the truth, not the Hallmark one: milk won’t take away the belly pain and toothpaste won’t cure cavities. Eat cake before bed.

    “that what we intended and failed
    could never have happened —
    and must be done better.”

    Let it be known that seventeen is exactly as Donna said. I miss it terribly and am forever grateful it is over.

  8. Seventeen year old absolution?

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