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Robert Lowell:

An Inventory of His Collection at the Harry Ransom Center

Creator: Lowell, Robert, 1917-1977
Title: Robert Lowell Collection (bulk 1970-1977)
Dates: circa 1845-1988, (bulk 1970-1977)
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.
Call Number: Manuscript Collection MS-02563
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, The 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

Scope and Contents

The Robert Lowell Collection, circa 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, circa 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, circa 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

Series I. Works, circa 1930s-1987, bulk 1970-1977 (14 boxes)
Heavily revised drafts of manuscripts, galleys, and page proofs for Lowell's major works published between 1973-1977 ( The Dolphin, For Lizzie and Harriet, History, and Day By Day) form the majority of this series. Less complete is the material present for the revised edition of Notebook (1970), which is represented by galleys and page proofs. Additional major works present include the plays "Endecott and the Red Cross" (scripts and production materials for a 1968 staging) and "Prometheus Bound" (manuscripts and page proofs). Drafts of several prose pieces, such as "A Moment in American History" and "New England and Further," which formed the basis for the posthumous Collected Prose (1987), are also part of this collection.
Numerous unidentified and/or unpublished poems, such as the late poem "Summer Tides" and an unpublished poem to Randall Jarrell are also among these papers, as are unpublished essays on John Crowe Ransom, Lieutenant William L. Calley, and others. There is one early undated notebook of Lowell's, probably dating back to his school days, which appears to contain Latin and Greek texts, translations, transcriptions of poems, and some original poems.
The Works are arranged alphabetically by title, except for several folders of manuscripts gathered after Lowell's death by Frank Bidart and Elizabeth Hardwick, which have been left intact and have been placed at the end of the series. For the published volumes of poetry, the manuscripts of individual poems are generally arranged according to the order in which they appear in the publication. Some drafts of the poetry reflect a variant order of poems from the final published version, and the presumed original order of these drafts has been left intact. Individual manuscripts are grouped by title or first line in alphabetic folders, i.e. A-D, E, F, etc. An outline of the arrangement of the manuscripts appears on page 21 of this guide. An index to all manuscripts, by title or by first line (if untitled), has been compiled and also forms a part of this guide.
Lowell's scrupulous attention to detail and propensity for revision is amply demonstrated in the multiple drafts of most of his poems: frequently there are more than ten versions, and some have as many as one hundred different renditions. Numerous revisions and corrections to the manuscripts appear in Lowell's hand, as well as those of Frank Bidart and Caroline Blackwood. Lowell sometimes left drafts of poems untitled, though frequently he also revised the titles of poems as he progressed through these drafts. Often these are manuscript pages with a draft of one poem on the front, and a draft of a different poem on the verso. Due to the large number of revisions, the index to manuscripts in this guide should be consulted as a first step to locate variants of individual poems which are scattered amongst the manuscripts for these books.
The manuscripts for Notebook (1970) and for the three works published in 1973 ( The Dolphin, For Lizzie and Harriet, and History) document the complexities of Lowell's changing poetic style during this period and his perceptions of his poetry. Notebook (1970) included revisions of about 100 poems from Notebook 1967-1968, along with 97 new poems. Lowell himself sheepishly admitted in a note to the publication"I am loath to display a litter of variants... I couldn't stop writing and have handled my published book as if it were manuscript." His continuing dissatisfaction with the work resulted in yet further revision, breaking Notebook (1970) up into two new volumes, For Lizzie and Harriet (67 poems) and History (which incorporated 283 Notebook poems among its 368 poems). Careful analysis of the manuscripts of For Lizzie and Harriet and History will illuminate the evolution of these works, especially in regard to which of the Notebook poems in what sequences appeared in which drafts as compared with their final published versions.
Lowell further revised some poems that had appeared in The Dolphin, For Lizzie and Harriet, and History when Selected Poems was compiled and published in 1976. While Selected Poems is not represented in this collection by a group of manuscripts, it is possible that some of the drafts identified as belonging to one of the three 1973 works could represent the earlier discarded versions Lowell indicated he used for this publication.
The materials gathered by Frank Bidart largely concern Day By Day, although there are numerous poems from other works or some which may be unpublished. Manuscripts that were published after Lowell's death, such as The Oresteia of Aeschylus (1978), are also present, as is Lowell's "Cursory list of errors with HarrietCursory list of errors with Harriet" in which Lowell enumerated what he thought were his mistakes on his daughter's visit to England.
Manuscript items gathered by Elizabeth Hardwick also contain materials relating to Day By Day, various poems from other works, and unpublished poems, as well as several prose pieces including "Art and Evil" and "New England and Further," which appeared in Collected Prose (1987). Several of these manuscripts are photocopies, and may represent copies of originals held by other repositories.
Series II. Correspondence, 1938-1977, bulk 1970-1977 (2 boxes)
The majority of this series consists of incoming correspondence, often addressed to both Lowell and Caroline Blackwood, his third wife. It is arranged alphabetically by author.
Among the correspondents are William Alfred, A. (Alfred) Alvarez, Rolando Anzilotti, Ben Belitt, Frank Bidart, Elizabeth Bishop, Caroline Blackwood, Blair Clark, Norman Cousins, Malcolm Cowley, Donald Davie, Richard Eberhart, Gavin Ewart, Allen Ginsberg, Robert Giroux, Ian Hamilton, Elizabeth Hardwick, Samuel John Hazo, Seamus Heaney, Lillian Hellman, Mary Jarrell, Lucia Joyce, Alfred Kazin, Robert F. Kennedy, Stanley Kunitz, Philip Larkin, James Laughlin, Gordon Lish, Harriet Winslow Lowell, Robie Macauley, Eugene J. McCarthy, Mary McCarthy, J. D. McClatchy, Gerard Malanga, William Meredith, Marcia Nardi, Howard Nemerov, Sidney Nolan, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Frank Parker, J. F. Powers, Philip Rahv, Adrienne Cecile Rich, I. A. Richards, Arthur Schlesinger, W. D. Snodgrass, Jean Stafford, Allen Tate, Eleanor Ross Taylor, Peter Hillsman Taylor, Diana Trilling, Mona Van Duyn, Andrei Voznesenskii, Derek Walcott, Robert Penn Warren, Edward Weeks, Richard Wilbur, Edmund Wilson, and others. A complete index of correspondents is included in this guide.
The letters cover a broad range of subjects, the most important of which deal with Lowell's relationship and divorce from his second wife, Elizabeth Hardwick, and his interpretation of their separation in The Dolphin. Other topics covered in the correspondence include requests for assistance from struggling poets, family letters, opinions on literary and political movements of the 1970s, letters of congratulation on the birth of his son, requests for literary contributions to magazines or festivals, personal letters, and news about friends and acquaintances. It should be noted that a few of the letters have notes or lines of poetry scribbled by Lowell on the back. Some correspondents enclosed manuscripts of articles or poems with their letters. A separate index of manuscripts by other authors appears at the end of this guide.
Also found in this series is a folder of outgoing mail from Lowell, a folder of letters to Caroline Blackwood, and a folder of correspondence addressed to persons other than Lowell or Blackwood. Further outgoing correspondence from Lowell will be found in the Personal Papers series, among the medical files of Merrill Moore.
Series III. Personal Papers, circa 1845-1988 (5 boxes)
A variety of personal papers concerning Lowell or of interest to him makes up this series. These papers are arranged alphabetically by format: Clippings, Critical Essays, Documents, Financial Papers, Honorary Degrees, Interviews, Legal Papers, Medical Files, Memorials, Notes and Sketches, Photographs, School Publications, Works by Other Writers, and Miscellaneous.
Various aspects of Lowell's life are documented by the personal records. Chronologically speaking, these include the Photographs (1845-1980s), Documents (1933-1945), School Publications (1933-1935), Medical Files (1935-1950s), Honorary Degrees (1961-1977), Financial Papers (1970-1977), Legal Papers (1972-1977), and Memorials (1977-1987).
The photographs include images of Lowell's grandparents and parents, and depict Lowell from his childhood through his adult life. Pictured with him are his wife Elizabeth Hardwick, children Harriet and Sheridan, and colleagues and friends, including Elizabeth Bishop, Ezra Pound, John Crowe Ransom, Allen Tate, Peter Hillsman Taylor, and Robert Penn Warren. The photographs that include Lowell are arranged chronologically. Those which do not include him are grouped separately as family photographs. Another folder includes photographs of illustrations intended for The Dolphin, For Lizzie and Harriet, and History.
Among the documents are copies of family birth and death certificates, as well as Lowell's own certificate of parole dated 1944. The school publications date from Lowell's days at St. Mark's School and include class yearbooks as well as a 1935 issue of The Vindex with an article by Lowell entitled "The Iliad."
Of special note among these personal records are the medical files created by Dr. Merrill Moore, a poet and psychiatrist who treated Lowell from 1935 to 1941. The bulk of these files cover the years 1937-1939, though there is a gap for the period June through November, 1937.
The files consist of correspondence, internal memoranda, photographs, clippings, a report card from Kenyon College, and various internal office forms (such as psychotherapy records, telephone calls, etc.), all of which serve to document the case. Lowell's problems and his relationship with his parents are major topics, as are Lowell's relationships with others, such as Frank Parker, Anne Dick, and Jean Stafford. The files have been left in their original chronological order and include carbon copies of outgoing correspondence from Moore along with incoming correspondence from Lowell, his parents, other doctors, and friends. Correspondents include 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. All correspondents in this subseries are included in the correspondents index in this guide.
One additional folder contains items identified by Elizabeth Hardwick as concerning Lowell's treatment by Dr. Vernon Williams during the 1950s.
Lowell's honorary degrees from several colleges and universities are also included in these papers.
The financial and legal papers are arranged chronologically and all date from the 1970s. Included are such items as Lowell's 1972 will, a copy of his divorce decree from Elizabeth Hardwick, banking papers, bills, book contracts, royalty statements, tax documents, and trust statements.
Materials collected by Elizabeth Hardwick from various memorial services for Robert Lowell are arranged chronologically by service, and include programs, invitations, and texts for readings.
The Clippings (1965-1988), Critical Essays (1970-1987), and Interviews (1971) all consist of writings about Lowell and his work. The clippings are predominately reviews of published works, productions of plays, and musical settings of his work. A few of the plays are also represented by other materials, such as programs and handbills. Review clippings and related materials are arranged alphabetically by title of the work. One folder consists of clippings of obituaries upon Lowell's death in 1977. Manuscripts, reprints, and clippings of various critical essays about Lowell occupy one folder. Two interviews, with Ian Hamilton and V. S. Naipaul, are also included.
Works by other writers include some of the manuscripts Lowell received from students, colleagues, and friends. Included are manuscripts by writers such as Elizabeth Bishop, Seamus Heaney, Stanley Kunitz, Marcia Nardi, I. A. Richards, Peter Hillsman Taylor, and Robert Penn Warren. These are arranged alphabetically by author. It should be noted that some of the manuscripts remain where they were originally located with incoming letters in the Correspondence Series. Locations for all manuscripts by other writers are included in a separate index at the end of this guide.
The Notes and Sketches include Lowell's typed chronology of Caroline Blackwood's marriage to Israel Citkowitz, notes about his students, and other miscellaneous notes. Other miscellany, including various clippings and ephemera saved by Lowell, are found in the Miscellaneous folder at the end of this Series.
Series IV. Sound Recordings and Music Scores, 1958-1987, undated (19 items)
This group of 18 sound recordings consists of cassettes, reels, and discs, including several commercially produced recordings, which were acquired from Elizabeth Hardwick. Several are spoken word recordings of Lowell and/or other poets (such as Ezra Pound) reading from his poetry or translations. The rest are recordings of plays by Lowell ( "Benito Cereno") or of musical settings of his work ( In Sleep, In Thunder by Elliott Carter, Phaedra by Benjamin Britten, and White Winter, Black Spring, by John Hopkins). One music score, for White Winter, Black Spring, is also present. Items are arranged by format, and then alphabetically by title or artist.

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