Robert Lowell

(1917 - 1977 / Boston / United States)

After The Surprising Conversions - Poem by Robert Lowell

September twenty-second, Sir: today
I answer. In the latter part of May,
Hard on our Lord’s Ascension, it began
To be more sensible. A gentleman
Of more than common understanding, strict
In morals, pious in behavior, kicked
Against our goad. A man of some renown,
An useful, honored person in the town,
He came of melancholy parents; prone
To secret spells, for years they kept alone—
His uncle, I believe, was killed of it:
Good people, but of too much or little wit.
I preached one Sabbath on a text from Kings;
He showed concernment for his soul. Some things
In his experience were hopeful. He
Would sit and watch the wind knocking a tree
And praise this countryside our Lord has made.
Once when a poor man’s heifer died, he laid
A shilling on the doorsill; though a thirst
For loving shook him like a snake, he durst
Not entertain much hope of his estate
In heaven. Once we saw him sitting late
Behind his attic window by a light
That guttered on his Bible; through that night
He meditated terror, and he seemed
Beyond advice or reason, for he dreamed
That he was called to trumpet Judgment Day
To Concord. In the latter part of May
He cut his throat. And though the coroner
Judged him delirious, soon a noisome stir
Palsied our village. At Jehovah’s nod
Satan seemed more let loose amongst us: God
Abandoned us to Satan, and he pressed
Us hard, until we thought we could not rest
Till we had done with life. Content was gone.
All the good work was quashed. We were undone.
The breath of God had carried out a planned
And sensible withdrawal from this land;
The multitude, once unconcerned with doubt,
Once neither callous, curious nor devout,
Jumped at broad noon, as though some peddler groaned
At it in its familiar twang: “My friend,
Cut your own throat. Cut your own throat. Now! Now!”
September twenty-second, Sir, the bough
Cracks with the unpicked apples, and at dawn
The small-mouth bass breaks water, gorged with spawn.

Comments about After The Surprising Conversions by Robert Lowell

  • Gold Star - 6,563 Points Michael Morgan (5/3/2015 12:21:00 PM)

    Spell-binding capture of the Puritan idiom. Maybe a verbatim culling, like the Bishop Trollope poem. (Report) Reply

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  • Gold Star - 50,061 Points Chinedu Dike (5/3/2015 11:43:00 AM)

    A well articulated narrative piece nicely penned with insight. Thanks for sharing. (Report) Reply

  • Gold Star - 6,563 Points Michael Morgan (5/3/2015 9:24:00 AM)

    An impressive insight into the impulse to self-mutilation. Wonderfully historically informed. The Once we saw him...' bit is shrewd theater and re-focuses the reader's visual attention at just the right moment (Report) Reply

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Poem Submitted: Thursday, April 8, 2010

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