Academic journal article Connotations : a Journal for Critical Debate

"Stand and Live": Tropes of Falling, Rising, Standing in Robert Lowell's Lord Weary's Castle

Academic journal article Connotations : a Journal for Critical Debate

"Stand and Live": Tropes of Falling, Rising, Standing in Robert Lowell's Lord Weary's Castle

Article excerpt

Tropes of falling, rising, and standing recur frequently in Robert Lowell's poetry from Lord Weary's Castle (1946), whose title-page illustration depicts Abel falling backwards in a field after having been assaulted by Cain, caught leaving the scene of the crime, to Day by Day (1977) and to poems left unpubUshed at the time of Lowell's death in 1977.1 I wish to draw attention here to their centrality in Lord Weary's Castle, where they are connected with the volume's overarching theme of Ufe restored. My close readings focus on how the tropes coUaborate with verse form, aUusion, and intertextual metamorphoses to project fictions of life restored, and on how journeying, buildings, and apocalyptic scenarios incorporate the tropes within religious, historical, and autobiographical frames of reference. While ultimately wedded to a Christian hope in life restored, the tropes undergo perilous trials during the course of a journey from the initial poem, "The Exile's Return," to the final poem, "Where the Rainbow Ends," which bids the poet himself "Stand and live."

1.

In "The Exile's Return," first published in The Nation on February 23, 1946, tropes of faUing, rising, and standing frame a prophetic vision of Ufe restored in Germany after World War II. When readers encountered it at the outset of Lord Weary's Castle, published in December, it was still a very contemporary poem, and was the first of many poems in the volume that aUuded to wars in Europe from the Middle Ages to the twentieth century, and in North America from King Philip's War to the Civil War:

"The Exile's Return" marshals a sequence of where-when-where-wherewhen subordinate clauses attended by an accretion of and additive elements to structure its configurations of space and time. One begins to realize after reaching line 6 that Lowell's iambic pentameter verse paragraph is not blank verse but a systematically built edifice for which sestets and quatrains also serve as building blocks. The abcbcadeed rhyme scheme of the first sestet+quatrain unit, with a trimeter introduced to conclude the sestet, recurs in the second sestet+quatrain unit's fghgfhijji rhymes, the sixth line again being a trimeter. The "extra" final quatrain (kllk) solidifies the base on which the whole rhyming structure stands. Lowell's incorporation within the verse paragraph of the ten-line stanza that Matthew Arnold used for "The Gipsy Scholar" is thematically allusive, insofar as Arnold's stanzaic poem recounts the self-exile of one "Who, tired of knocking at preferment's door, / One summer-morn forsook / His friends, and went to learn the gipsy lore, / And roamed the world with that wild brotherhood." Unlike Lowell's exile, he "returned no more" (335). In Lord Weary's Castle Lowell makes repeated use of the "exile" stanza, including at the end in "Where the Rainbow Ends," another rendition of the exile returned theme.2

In a poem rife with religious and literary allusions, a link is forged with the stoning of St. Stephen, alluded to in the epigraph to Lord Weary's Castle, when falling "torn-up tilestones crown the victor," with a pun on "crown" (enhanced by "Stephanos," Greek for "crown" or "garland").3 There is no outright pun on "Fall" at the end of line 9, but after a late caesura "Fall" lingers for a split second as an appendage of the line's semantic thrust ("Where torn-up tilestones crown the victor. Fall"), even as it fulfils the line's delayed metrical aspirations. Perched at line's end, it also pledges rhyming allegiance with the preceding line. The "Holstenwall / Fall" rhyme lodged within a quatrain (deed in the ongoing rhyme scheme) echoes Humpty Dumpt/s wall / fall, leaving us with a pun, after all, on "Fall." Lowell was given to making odd connections of this sort through wordplay, rhyme, dead metaphors, jaded idioms, and unlikely allusions.

Without naming the city alluded to in "The Exile's Return," Lowell scatters clues in the form of phrases from the H. …

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