Robert Lowell

(1917 - 1977 / Boston / United States)

The Old Flame


My old flame, my wife!
Remember our lists of birds?
One morning last summer, I drove
by our house in Maine. It was still
on top of its hill -

Now a red ear of Indian maize
was splashed on the door.
Old Glory with thirteen stripes
hung on a pole. The clapboard
was old-red schoolhouse red.

Inside, a new landlord,
a new wife, a new broom!
Atlantic seaboard antique shop
pewter and plunder
shone in each room.

A new frontier!
No running next door
now to phone the sheriff
for his taxi to Bath
and the State Liquor Store!

No one saw your ghostly
imaginary lover
stare through the window
and tighten
the scarf at his throat.

Health to the new people,
health to their flag, to their old
restored house on the hill!
Everything had been swept bare,
furnished, garnished and aired.

Everything's changed for the best -
how quivering and fierce we were,
there snowbound together,
simmering like wasps
in our tent of books!

Poor ghost, old love, speak
with your old voice
of flaming insight
that kept us awake all night.
In one bed and apart,

we heard the plow
groaning up hill -
a red light, then a blue,
as it tossed off the snow
to the side of the road.

Submitted: Friday, January 03, 2003

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  • Rookie Ludlow Balderdash (10/23/2012 2:08:00 AM)

    It also helps to know a good poem when you see one, and you're no Elizabeth Bishop. You don't have to know Lowell to enjoy this poem; you just have to have empathy, a good ear, and a soul. Here's a dunce cap for you. It's snow white and fancy, like a waffle cone for your frozen brain. Do you like that image? (Report) Reply

  • Rookie Ludlow Balderdash (10/23/2012 2:07:00 AM)

    It also helps to know a good poem when you see one, and you're no Elizabeth Bishop. You don't have to know Lowell personally to understand this poem; you just have to have empathy, an ear, and a soul. Here's a dunce cap for you. It's snow white and fancy, like a waffle cone for your frozen brain. Do you like that image? (Report) Reply

  • Rookie Ludlow Balderdash (10/23/2012 2:05:00 AM)

    It also helps to know a good poem when you see one, and you're no Elizabeth Bishop. You don't have to know Lowell; you just have to have empathy, an ear, and a soul. Here's a dunce cap for you. It's snow white and fancy, like a waffle cone for your frozen brain. Do you like that image? (Report) Reply

  • Rookie Ludlow Balderdash (10/23/2012 2:04:00 AM)

    It also helps to know a good poem when you see one, and you're no Elizabeth Bishop. You don't have to know Lowell; you just have to have empathy, an ear, and a soul. Here's a dunce cap for you. It's snow white and fancy, like a waffle cone for your frozen brain. Do you like that image? (Report) Reply

  • Rookie Cath Nichols (11/22/2008 11:24:00 AM)

    Elizabeth Bishop said this poem reduced her to tears (I'm reading her selected letters and checking out poems as I go) . Didn't get me like that, though I like some of the images. Guess it helps to have lived there/ know the locale (or maybe it's that she knows Lowell) . (Report) Reply

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