A fragment from Robert Lowell

Christ, let me die at night
with a semblance of my senses,
like the full moon that fails.

I'll never forget watching a visibly shaken Joseph Brodsky, who was a good friend of Robert Lowell's, read these lines during the poet's funeral at the Church of the Advent in Boston in September 1977.

This fragment was found among the papers Lowell left at his home in Britain when he departed from there earlier in the month, bound for the United States. On September 12 he died of heart failure in a taxi on the way from Kennedy Airport to Manhattan. Of course, we were struck by Lowell's uncanny prophesy, but we were also moved by the fact that these lines, some of the last he wrote, had the same startling clarity as the poems in his final book, Day by Day, published the year before his death.

In the decades since then, Lowell's work--especially his collection, For the Union Dead--has continued to inspire our poets who want to probe the full range of American life--our public, or political lives, as well as our most personal experiences.

The photograph above of Lowell and his wife, Caroline Blackwood, was taken by Walker Evans in 1973. The portrait of Lowell below was taken by Evans at Milgate House, the couple's home in Kent.

Lowell in his days as Poetry Consultant at the Library of Congress (1947-48)

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