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Robert Lowell:

An Inventory of His Papers at the Harry Ransom Center

Creator: Lowell, Robert, 1917-1977
Title: Robert Lowell Papers ca. 1845-1988 (bulk 1970-1977)
Dates: ca. 1845-1988
Extent: 23 boxes (oversize materials in box 23), 9 galley folders, 14 sound recordings (11.5 linear feet)
Abstract: Although this body materials spans more than a century, the bulk of the materials document Lowell's writings as a poet, playwright, and translator during the last seven years of his life. Heavily edited drafts of poems published in The Dolphin, Lizzie and Harriet, History, and Day by Day illustrate Lowell's propensity for revision. The collection also includes photographs, medical files, and legal papers that provide biographical information about Lowell's early and later life. In addition, the collection contains letters and manuscripts from several of Lowell's contemporaries.
RLIN Record #: TXRC94-A10
Language English.
Access Open for research

Administrative Information

Acquisition Purchase, 1968-1992 (#4289, #9580, #12247, #12617)
Provenance Materials relating to Endecott and the Red Cross were purchased in 1968 from the Gotham Book Mart, but the bulk of the manuscripts and correspondence comprising this collection were acquired from the Estate of Robert Lowell in 1982. Important additions (including additional manuscripts and correspondence, clippings, family documents, honorary degrees, medical files, memorial service materials, obituaries, photographs, school publications, and sound recordings) were received in 1991 from Elizabeth Hardwick, and another three items of correspondence were acquired through the Argosy Book Store in 1992.
Processed by Jennifer Patterson and Joan Sibley, 1993-1994

Harry Ransom Center, University of Texas at Austin

Biographical Sketch

American poet Robert Traill Spence Lowell IV was born in Boston on March 1, 1917, to Robert Traill Spence Lowell III and Charlotte Winslow Lowell, a relation of writers James Russell Lowell and Amy Lowell. In addition to being the descendant of poets, Lowell encountered and was taught by numerous prominent poets during his classicist education. Lowell attended St. Mark's School (1930-1935), where he was influenced by Richard Eberhart, and Harvard University (1935-1937). In 1937, Boston psychiatrist and poet Merrill Moore sent young Lowell to meet Ford Madox Ford, who was visiting Allen Tate in Tennessee at the time. It was there that Tate introduced Lowell to John Crowe Ransom, and Lowell subsequently transferred to Kenyon College (1937-1940) where Ransom had accepted a new post. It was at Kenyon that Lowell made the acquaintance of lifelong friends Randall Jarrell and Peter Taylor. Lowell also came under the tutelage of Robert Penn Warren and Cleanth Brooks when he undertook further study at Louisiana State University (1940-1941).
After college, Lowell worked as an editor and as a teacher at several institutions, including the State University of Iowa, the Kenyon School of Letters, Boston University, Harvard University, the University of Essex, and Kent University, among others. During his career, he taught such poets as W. D. Snodgrass, Anne Sexton, and Sylvia Plath.
His first volume of poetry, Land of Unlikeness, was published in 1944 and was followed in 1946 by his Pulitzer Prize winning effort Lord Weary's Castle. Lowell also won the National Book Award for his 1959 work Life Studies, and again received the Pulitzer for The Dolphin, published in 1973. His final work, Day By Day, was published in 1977 and was awarded the National Book Award Critics Circle Award. His other major works include: Poems 1938-1949 (1950), The Mills of the Kavanaughs (1951), For the Union Dead (1964), Near the Ocean (1967), Notebook 1967-1968 (1969), For Lizzie and Harriet (1973), and History (1973).
Lowell also wrote and translated plays ( Phaedra and Figaro, 1961; The Old Glory, 1965; Prometheus Bound, 1969; The Oresteia of Aeschylus, 1978), and published translations of poetry by Eugenio Montale ( Poesie di Montale, 1960), Baudelaire ( The Voyage and Other Versions of Poems by Baudelaire,1968), and others ( Imitations, 1961).
His work especially during the 1960s and 1970s stressed his preoccupations with political and social issues, such as protest of the
Vietnam War and support of presidential candidate Eugene McCarthy. During this same period, Lowell's early formal style gave way to a controversial personal or confessional style of poetry under the influence of such poets as John Berryman, William Carlos Williams, and Ezra Pound.
Lowell was married to Jean Stafford (1940, divorced 1948), to Elizabeth Hardwick (1949, divorced 1972), and to Caroline Blackwood (1972), and had two children, Harriet Winslow Lowell (born 1957) and Robert Sheridan Lowell (born 1971). He lived primarily in England after 1970 and died September 12, 1977, while on a visit to New York City.

For further information on the life and work of Robert Lowell, see

Axelrod, Steven Gould. Robert Lowell: Life and Art. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1978.
Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 5: American Poets Since World War II. Detroit: Gale, 1980.
Fein, Richard J. Robert Lowell. Twayne's United States Author Series, no. 176. New York: Twayne Publishers, 1970.
Hamilton, Ian. Robert Lowell: A Biography. New York: Random House, 1982.

Scope and Contents

The Robert Lowell Papers, ca. 1845-1988, consist mainly of Lowell's working papers for the period 1970-1977. As such the papers include heavily revised drafts of manuscripts, galleys, and page proofs for Notebook (1970), The Dolphin (1973), For Lizzie and Harriet (1973), History (1973), and Day By Day (1977). Also present are an early notebook, manuscripts for a few earlier works such as "Endecott and the Red Cross" (1965) and "Prometheus Bound" (1969), manuscripts for works published posthumously such as The Oresteia of Aeschylus (1978) and Collected Prose (1987), as well as some unfinished and/or unpublished items. The balance of the collection contains manuscripts by friends, colleagues, and students, as well as correspondence, clippings, financial and legal papers, honorary degrees, medical papers, music scores, photographs, school publications and yearbooks, and sound recordings.
The bulk of this collection was acquired in 1982 and came in two large suitcases, largely unorganized and unlabelled. Lowell was frequently assisted by the poet Frank Bidart during the 1970s, who was consulted for advice regarding the organization and arrangement of manuscripts in this collection. The collection has been arranged into four series: I. Works, ca. 1930s-1987 (14 boxes), II. Correspondence, 1938-1977 (2 boxes), III. Personal Papers, 1845-1988 (5 boxes), and IV. Sound Recordings and Music Scores, 1958-1987 (19 items).
The papers serve to document various aspects of Robert Lowell's life, chiefly his activities as poet, translator, and playwright, especially during the last seven years of his life. His working practices as a poet, his propensity for revision, and his evolving style during this later period are especially well represented in his manuscripts. His correspondence from colleagues and friends deals in part with his divorce from Elizabeth Hardwick and subsequent marriage to Caroline Blackwood, and his controversial treatment of these events in his poetry. Among Lowell's correspondents in this collection are William Alfred, Rolando Anzilotti, Frank Bidart, Elizabeth Bishop, Caroline Blackwood, Blair Clark, Elizabeth Hardwick, Stanley Kunitz, Harriet Winslow Lowell, Eugene J. McCarthy, Mary McCarthy, William Meredith, Marcia Nardi, Adrienne Cecile Rich, I. A. Richards, W. D. Snodgrass, Jean Stafford, Allen Tate, Peter Hillsman Taylor, Robert Penn Warren, and others.
In addition to the manuscripts and correspondence, various clippings of reviews and other critical assessments of Lowell's life and works are present, which further understanding of Lowell and his work. Some clippings, programs, handbills and other materials concerning productions of Lowell's plays ( "Benito Cereno," "Endecott and the Red Cross," "The Old Glory," "The Oresteia," and "Phaedra") are present, as are reviews and recordings of some musical settings of his work (Elliott Carter's In Sleep, In Thunder, Benjamin Britten's Phaedra, and John Hopkins' White Winter, Black Spring).
Lowell's early life is documented by photographs, family documents, school publications, and medical files which detail Merrill Moore's psychiatric treatment of Lowell, ca. 1935-1941. Correspondence to Moore includes letters from Lowell, as well as from family members and friends: Blair Clark, Anne Dick, Richard Eberhart, James Laughlin, Charlotte Winslow Lowell, Robert Traill Spence Lowell III, David McDowell, Frank Parker, John Crowe Ransom, Robb Ransom, Jean Stafford, Milton Starr, Allen Tate, Peter Hillsman Taylor, and Robert Penn Warren, and others.
His life in later years is chiefly detailed by the aforementioned manuscripts and correspondence, but further documentation of his activities is found among the financial and legal papers. Obituaries and items collected from various memorial services round out the collection, recording the response to Lowell's death by his contemporaries and the press.
There is also substantial information in the correspondence from other poets and writers which will assist the researcher interested in these various figures. Additionally, there are manuscripts present by some of these writers, such as Elizabeth Bishop, Seamus Heaney, Stanley Kunitz, Marcia Nardi, I. A. Richards, Peter Hillsman Taylor, and Robert Penn Warren. To a lesser extent, there are also manuscripts from some of Lowell's students, as well as his own notes regarding students, which relate to his role as educator.

Series Descriptions

Related Material

For other Robert Lowell materials at the HRC, see the following manuscript collections:
  • Andrews, Lyman - Recip.
  • Blunden, Edmund Charles - Recip.
  • Burnshaw, Stanley - see Archival Inventory
  • Hardwick, Elizabeth - see Archival Inventory
  • Jacobson, Dan - see Archival Inventory
  • Lehmann, John - Letters
  • London Magazine - Recip., Misc.
  • Lowell, Robert - Misc.
  • Macauley, Robie - Recip.
  • Malanga, Gerard - Recip.
  • Moore, Marianne - Misc.
  • Santayana, George - Recip., Misc.
  • Sexton, Anne - Letters, Recip.
The Elizabeth Hardwick Papers at the HRC form an important adjunct to this collection, as they contain Lowell's letters to Hardwick, 1949-1977, and to his daughter Harriet, 1968-1977. Also present are numerous letters of condolence received by Hardwick upon Lowell's death.
The HRC Library also holds numerous published works both by and about Lowell (accessible through the book card catalog and the online catalog, UTCAT), as well as information in the Vertical File Collection.
The HRC Art Collection includes a watercolor and pastel caricature of Robert Lowell with Allen Ginsberg, W. H. Auden, and Lawrence Ferlinghetti by Zdzislaw Czermanski.
The HRC Theatre Arts Collection has costume and property designs by Robert LaVigne for the 1968 American Place Theater production of "Endecott and the Red Cross."
Harvard University has a major collection of Robert Lowell Papers, spanning approximately 1935-1970. The collection is described in The Robert Lowell Papers at the Houghton Library, Harvard University: A Guide to the Collection, compiled by Patrick K. Miehe. New York: Greenwood Press, 1990.

Index Terms


Alfred, William, 1923- .
Alvarez, A. (Alfred), 1929- .
Anzilotti, Rolando.
Belitt, Ben, 1911- .
Bidart, Frank, 1939- .
Bishop, Elizabeth, 1911-1979.
Blackwood, Caroline.
Clark, Blair, 1917- .
Cousins, Norman.
Cowley, Malcolm, 1898- .
Davie, Donald.
Eberhart, Richard, 1904- .
Ewart, Gavin.
Ginsberg, Allen, 1926- .
Giroux, Robert.
Hamilton, Ian, 1938- .
Hardwick, Elizabeth.
Hazo, Samuel John.
Heaney, Seamus.
Hellman, Lillian, 1906- .
Jarrell, Mary.
Joyce, Lucia, d. 1982.
Kazin, Alfred, 1915- .
Kennedy, Robert F., 1925-1968.
Kunitz, Stanley, 1905- .
Larkin, Philip.
Laughlin, James, 1914- .
Lish, Gordon.
McCarthy, Eugene J., 1916- .
McCarthy, Mary, 1912- .
Macauley, Robie.
McClatchy, J.D., 1945- .
Malanga, Gerard.
Meredith, William, 1919- .
Moore, Merrill, 1903-1957.
Nardi, Marcia.
Nemerov, Howard.
Nolan, Sidney, 1917- .
Onassis, Jacqueline Kennedy, 1929- .
Parker, Francis.
Powers, J.F. (James Farl), 1917- .
Rahv, Philip, 1908-1973.
Ransom, John Crowe, 1888-1974.
Rich, Adrienne Cecile.
Richards, I.A. (Ivor Armstrong), 1893- .
Schlesinger, Arthur Meier, 1917- .
Snodgrass, W.D. (William De Witt), 1926- .
Stafford, Jean, 1915- .
Tate, Allen, 1899- .
Taylor, Eleanor Ross, 1920- .
Taylor, Peter Hillsman, 1917- .
Trilling, Diana.
Van Duyn, Mona.
Voznesenskii, Andrei, 1933- .
Walcott, Derek.
Warren, Robert Penn, 1905- .
Weeks, Edward, 1898- .
Wilbur, Richard, 1921- .
Wilson, Edmund, 1895-1972.


Poets, American--20th century.

Document Types

Galley proofs.
Medical records.
School yearbooks.
Sound recordings.

Robert Lowell Papers--Folder List