. Skunk Hour Summary. Carefully placed punctuation helps moderate pace. While Bishop comments on her friend Lowell’s rage against humanity’s cruelty, Lowell writes of Bishop’s isolation and inner darkness, yet also resilience to persevere. The speaker has moved from depression to the spiritual rebirth of his natural energies, from a decadent world to individual revitalization. Nautilus Island’s hermit heiress still lives through winter in her Spartan cottage; her sheep still graze above the sea. The scene is set by first introducing the old and frail heiress of the island who is a stickler for tradition, a conservative, fading aristocrat landowner with a bishop for a son and ruins for the future. The poem is essentially obscure like the thought and express of a mental patient. This is a dark and thought provoking poem, with religious anxieties surfacing, and raises issues that are universal and relevant for today. From "On Skunk Hour," in Robert Lowell: A Collection of Critical Essays, ed. So there is an atmosphere of doubt, failure and poverty of spirit, relieved temporarily by the actions of the courageous if slightly disgusting skunks. Poetry analysis: Skunk Hour, by Robert Lowell In beginning of “Skunk Hour” (the first four stanzas to be more precise), Robert Lowell gives the sense of a Maine sea town that is slowly declining. The four dots at the end of this line are poignant and pregnant with possibility. Published by Emma Watson on October 18, 2019. Using words like lost, leap, and auctioned off all point to a person permanently not returning, his boat now belonging to locals who will put it to better use. I stand on top of our back steps and breathe the rich air— a mother skunk with her column of kittens swills the garbage pail She jabs her wedge-head in a cup of sour cream, drops her ostrich tail, and will not scare. Even her farmer is a traditional administrator (selectman) in the speaker's own village of all places. Illness Lowell suffered from manic depression and was hospitalized many times throughout his adult life for this mental illness. His mind is not right. It's well known that famous poets Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell were very close friends, and it's even rumored that he proposed to her once and she refused – we wouldn't keep you out of the gossip loop! Then the dark revelation - this guy goes up the hill to peek on couples having sex in their cars. Oh to break loose, like the chinook salmon jumping and falling back, (…) to clear the top on the last try, alive enough to spawn and die. Sample Papers; Tags . He must fight and struggle against degradation and artificiality. Her farmer is first selectman in our village;she’s in her dotage. For example, note the recurrence of ill and all, ell and ail and ull throughout the poem, in these words: still/still/village/all/fall/ill/millionaire/Hill/fall/filled/awl/hill's skull/hull/hull/ill-spirit/cell/hell/swills/pail/tail/will. The poem focuses initially on several prominent inhabitants of Nautilus Island, Maine; from the hermit heiress to the gay decorator. Tags . ...Poetry analysis: Skunk Hour, by Robert Lowell In beginning of "Skunk Hour" (the first four stanzas to be more precise), Robert Lowell gives the sense of a Maine sea town that is slowly declining. There is no reference to people, only the bodies of the cars, hull to hull, as if it's the vehicles that are mating. The poet's diction - language - reflects this refusal to move on by using the word still twice to emphasise the longevity of her reign. Robert Lowell famously wrote “Skunk Hour” for Elizabeth Bishop, who just as famously had written “The Armadillo” for him. Read through this stanza several times and the full end rhymes help it to become memorable, perhaps the poet's intention. For Elizabeth Bishop Nautilus Island's hermit heiress still lives through winter in her Spartan cottage; her sheep still graze above the sea. The second part begins with “the season is ill”, an expression of frustration. The plot thickens as a third character is presented, this time a poor, homosexual decorator (fairy is a derogatory term for a gay person) who uses orange to liven up his shop and who would prefer being married to working for little money. The title of the poem means “disgusting period”: the word ‘skunk’ denotes to a small and badly smelling rat like animal, but as an adjective (before the noun ‘hour’) it means ‘extremely hateful’; the word ‘hour’ must mean ‘period’, ‘time’ or ‘phase’. At this point the speaker feels completely alone, even though he's close to the love-cars? It was the last poem in an important volume of poetry titled Life Studies, one of Lowell's most influential creations. The speaker is revealed, at last, having 'hidden' behind the first four stanzas, but note the wording of the second line: Somehow the car is driving itself up that hill, with the speaker absent, as if there's no personal responsibility for the action. Categories . Thirsting for the hierarchie privacy It could be blood, it could be the sheen grass takes on at a certain time of year, which is known as fox stain. Skunk Hour Introduction. It was the last poem in an important volume of poetry titled Life Studies, one of Lowell's most influential creations. His nine-knot yawl was auctioned off to lobstermen.A red fox stain covers Blue Hill. He learns a lesson, and a new life begins for him. But when he himself reached the climax of frustration and depression, he one day, fortunately, learn the right lesson by looking at a skunk that is still living with full zeal an active and meaningful life, in its original and natural way. The narrative, a personal take on the island's more controversial citizens, gains more momentum and darkness. His spirit cries. He must have the determination and spirit to live. But the poem ends with a deep realization about why his life was becoming meaningless and painful: he sees a dirty small animal enjoying life, having the physical, mental and spiritual strength to live on. That process is also suggested by the pattern of the poem that moves from a dying old human mother who is failing to maintain her values to a young animal mother which is able to live so fully and actively. . Only the realization and use of these potentials for revitalization of the inner energy will rescue modern man from his suicidal frustration. The poem begins with the speaker describing a number of the town’s residents. In the last two stanzas, we find the speaker looking at a skunk and its kittens fearlessly coming to a city street and eating garbage. Brief descriptions set the scene until the main protagonist, the sad, lonely speaker, begins his rather … This poem raises the themes of separation and love. . Skunk Hour by Robert Lowell: Summary and Critical Analysis. The rhyme scheme changes as the speaker becomes aware that he is not alone - skunks are out in the moonlight. The revelation or epiphany at the end is unbelievable. But she fails. Thus, we see that the theme of the poem is the quest of the speaker, his journey through failure to success. He's falling apart, just like the island. The two were great friends. When he saw the others, he only generalized that all of them were railing to maintain their old values, and failing to live. Skunk Hour is a free verse poem of eight sestets (six line stanzas), that's forty eight lines in total. The fox stain is ambiguous. The skunk serves as a symbol of fertility (creativity), the persistence of life, independence, naturalness and the like. Note the way the poet uses end half-rhyme (slant or near or imperfect rhyme) in cottage/village/dotage which suggests that things are not making full sense, there is little harmony. Each part is in two stanzas. The poem is dedicated to his friend and junior poetess Elizabeth Bishop, who also wrote poetry about the necessity of simple powers of the mind and spirit to … Robert Lowell - 1917-1977. Privacy and Cookie Policy For example, lines 4 through 6 state the following: “Her farmer / is first selectman in our village; / … His poems are published online and in print. Lights turned down, they lay together, hull to hull, where the graveyard shelves on the town. The poem focuses initially on several prominent inhabitants of Nautilus Island, Maine; from the hermit heiress to the gay decorator. So Nature comes to the rescue in the form of the instinctive skunk, a mother no less with her young in tow out looking for food. The first part presents an old woman in a lonely island trying to maintain her old ways by buying cultural antiques. In the context of the entire Volume, "Skunk Hour" articulates a ground of values that make it possible to endure, if not to overcome, the anxieties of contemporary life and the loss of traditional grounds for value. Skunk Hour Analysis 1108 Words5 Pages Confessional poet Robert Lowell expresses his personal trauma in his poem Skunk Hour through his syntax, multiple themes, and his gothic tone. Andrew has a keen interest in all aspects of poetry and writes extensively on the subject. They might be smelly, distasteful creatures but at least they're confident; they march right up Main Street on their soles (soles- souls), brazen, searching for one thing, food. She lives in a small house, buys up all the ugly houses across from her and tears them down. What couldn’t be healed by anything is revealed to the sufferer in a simple incident. hill's skull - a suggestion of Golgotha, the hill Christ was crucified on? As the poem progresses the reader is fed mostly factual information but the undercurrent of personal pessimism is just strong enough to elicit the thought - something strange is going on here. American culture was changing rapidly and dynamically in those postwar years, and Lowell—due in part to his encounters with Allen Ginsberg and Beat culture—was beginning to feel that his work was archaic and staid. Skunk Hour is a confessional poem. Steven Gould Axelrod and James E. B. Breslin's criticisms of Robert Lowell's “Skunk Hour” agree about the significance and meaning of the first four stanzas. “Skunk Hour” depicts a man at a moment of crisis. There is no set rhyme scheme but there are interesting end rhymes and some internal rhymes that help solidify the whole, adding a seam of sense/sound. . Probably the most influential poem in the mid twentieth century. The theme of the poem is the loss and gain of spiritual powers by the poet, or his speaker, representing the modern American or modern man. The speaker seems almost relieved as he watches this family go about their business of surviving in an urban environment, an unnatural one for these animals. And now our fairy decorator brightens his shop for fall; his fishnet’s filled with orange cork, orange, his cobbler’s bench and awl; there is no money in his work, he’d rather marry.One dark night, my Tudor Ford climbed the hill’s skull;I watched for love-cars . The poem starts with the speaker reflecting on a coastal town in Maine. The poem can be divided into four main parts or stages of development of images. Jackson Barry's "Robert Lowell: The Poet as Sign" contends that "in Lowell we find a very complex sign function where a physical signifier, the figure chosen, stands for a cluster of meanings attributed to but not inherent in the actual person" (180). The title points to the disgusting phase of life that the poet was living when he had lost the courage, desire and purpose of living life. The Poem “Skunk Hour” is written in free verse, but with a formal pattern of eight six-line stanzas (sestets) with a loosely regular rhyme scheme. In the early 1950s, Robert Lowell was a successful, even famous poet, yet was writing few poems. He was losing hope and faith. The season’s ill— we’ve lost our summer millionaire, who seemed to leap from an L. L. Bean catalogue. Skunk Hour. Skunk Hour is a confessional poem written in 1957. The speaker is self-reflecting. John R. Reed "Skunk Hour" is important not only because it is a good poem but also because it is a firm acceptance of the things of this world in all their ambiguous excellence. .” I hear my ill-spirit sob in each blood cell, as if my hand were at its throat. The Quaker Graveyard in Nantucket: Analysis, To Speak of Woe that is in Marriage: Analysis, About Us Again, rhyme cannot be ignored but is used unusually by the poet. The last two stanzas bring some redemption for the sad, mad speaker, whose meaningless existence in a Maine backwater is put on hold temporarily by the simple act of scavenging by a lowly skunk. These sounds, a variation on a theme of ill, are half-rhymes and produce an echo that keeps the reader in touch with the voice of the speaker, alive in a season that is itself ill. | Summary of Skunk Hour ‘Skunk Hour’ by Robert Lowell describes a speaker’s fascination with a Maine town and the secret night-time activities he participates in. The third part of the poem shows how the persona wanders in intense agony and spiritual crisis. This is the therapy for an ill soul, of modern man. Her farmer is first selectman in our village; she's in her dotage. Has he done anything wrong? He's a type of voyeur - a victim of a modern, uncaring, materialistic community or a loner who will resort to crazy things for a buzz. In between is a half-rhyme. Her son's a bishop. | The speaker, an ambiguous “we” dangling over the story, tells the readers bluntly that the heiress' son is a bishop, a farmer on her farm holds a place in the local government, and that she is beginning to grow senile. For example, lines 4 through 6 state the following: "Her farmer / is first selectman in our village; / she's in her dotage." The alternative interpretation of Skunk Hour, according to one school of thought, is that each individual mentioned in the first part of the poem - the heiress, the millionaire and the decorator - represents a Lowell family member. The poet uses full end rhyme - for/shore - all/fall - to continue this theme of ongoing tradition but note the contrasting complicated and simple shortened lines of iambic and especially dactylic rhythms which fall off : the voice pitched higher on the stress, then lower on the unstressed. Published in 1957, Skunk Hour is a part of Lowell’s fourth book, Life Studies. “ Skunk Hour ” by Robert Lowell starts in New England, where a “hermit heiress” acts as the poem’s initial focus. Imprisoned for being a conscientious objector in the second world war, he had a torrid personal life, got through three marriages and was treated for various episodes of manic depression. 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