Poetry & prose

The self-absorbed speaker in Robert Lowell’s “Eye and Tooth” who can’t connect with his surroundings reminds me of the narrator in The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.  Both narrators have poetic flights that fall into prosaic prose – a sort of never fully getting off the runway.  Prufrock’s attempts are based more on imagery and are more the product of an active imagination.  Eliot keeps up the meter even in the most prosaic expressions.  But Lowell collapses the meter to emphasize his narrator’s inability to get beyond himself.  Compare, for instance:

I grow old . . .  I grow old . . .
I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.

Shall I part my hair behind?  Do I dare to eat a peach?
I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach.
I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each.

I do not think that they will sing to me.


Outside, the summer rain,
a simmer of rot and renewal,
fell in pinpricks.
Even new life is fuel.

My eyes throb.

I’ve read that Lowell is widely credited with making poetry personal again after the likes of Browning and Eliot focused on dramatic monologue.  I don’t see that clean of a break, though.  Four Quartets is as personal, in its way, as “Eye and Tooth” is.  And a poem’s narrator is never exactly the poet.

I’ve selected Robert Lowell’s “Eye and Tooth” for my celebration of SoloPoMo.


  1. To me it’s hilarious that Eliot took up the anti-personal banner as a critic, since he never successfully used any but his own, immediately identifiable, totally personal voice, and never wrote about anything but his interior landscape. I dare you to try to find a single fact to learn about the external world from Eliot’s poetry. It’s all about Thomas Stearns and the books he’s read and how hard it is for a fussy timid guy to find God and get laid.

    (You know I love Eliot, that’s why I allow myself to talk about him like this.)

    1. The objective correlative! What good is the external world, after all, if not to get across a poet’s emotion? (For me, it’s worse than love: I’m a product of Eliot and New Criticism.)

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