Robert Lowell was regarded by many as the greatest American poet of his generation. "Somehow or other...in the middle of our worst century so far," his contemporary and friend Elizabeth Bishop wrote, "we have produced a magnificent poet." The scion of a distinguished New England family, Lowell crafted his poetry to comment on the nation's fate and even to influence the course of American politics. Along with Anne Sexton, John Berryman, and Sylvia Plath, he was a pioneer in the movement later known as Confessional Poetry, and his political gestures were often timely and controversial: his refusal of President Johnson's invitation to the White House came to symbolize the opposition of writers and intellectuals to the Vietnam War. Since Lowell's death in 1977, his reputation has suffered a decline; yet arguably no poet living today writes with the same authority, the same sense of grandeur.
Robert Lowell's Life and Work: Damaged Grandeur is a critical memoir by acclaimed poet Richard Tillinghast, a friend and student of Lowell's in the 1960s. Tillinghast shows how Lowell's gift for the grand gesture was tragically intertwined with the manic-depressive illness that afflicted him throughout his adult life- hence the "damaged grandeur" of the title. This book offers a radical re- examination of Lowell's poetic career and argues for the restoration of this complex and troubled poet to a pre-eminent position in American letters.