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By Robert Lowell

The stiff spokes of this wheel


touch the sore spots of the earth.




On the Potomac, swan-white


power launches keep breasting the sulphurous wave.




Otters slide and dive and slick back their hair,


raccoons clean their meat in the creek.




On the circles, green statues ride like South American


liberators above the breeding vegetation—




prongs and spearheads of some equatorial


backland that will inherit the globe.




The elect, the elected . . . they come here bright as dimes,


and die dishevelled and soft.




We cannot name their names, or number their dates—


circle on circle, like rings on a tree—




but we wish the river had another shore,


some further range of delectable mountains,




distant hills powdered blue as a girl’s eyelid.


It seems the least little shove would land us there,




that only the slightest repugnance of our bodies


we no longer control could drag us back.


Robert Lowell, “July in Washington” from Collected Poems. Copyright © 2003 by Harriet Lowell and Sheridan Lowell. Used by permission of Farrar, Straus & Giroux, LLC, http://us.macmillan.com/fsg. All rights reserved.

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Source: Collected Poems (Farrar Straus and Giroux, 2003)

  • Living
  • Nature
  • Social Commentaries

Poet Bio

The most celebrated and ambitious American poet of his era, Robert Lowell transformed the particulars of his prominent New England family’s background and turbulent private life into controversial art. Lowell’s book Life Studies (1959), which reveals his struggles with madness, alcohol, and marital infidelity, gave rise to the so-called “confessional” school. In subsequent works he explored political issues and historical figures while extending his experiments in verse technique.

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