“We leap for the sublime.…I always think there are two great symbolic figures that stand behind American ambition and culture,” Robert Lowell told the English writer A. Alvarez in 1965. “One is Milton's Lucifer and the other is Captain Ahab: these two sublime ambitions that are doomed and ready, for their idealism, to face any amount of violence.” In another interview with Alvarez, Lowell made a similar remark about American culture: “I'm very conscious of belonging to the country I do, which is a very powerful country and, if I have an image of it, it would be one taken from Melville's Moby-Dick: the fanatical idealist who brings the world down in ruins through some sort of simplicity of mind. I believe that's in our character and in my own personal character; I reflect that it's a danger for us.” Throughout his career, Lowell conceived of himself as an American Everyman, an idealist engaged in tragic battles against figures of awesome strength, and he conceived of American history similarly—as a series of calamitous struggles for sublime power. In the tradition of Walt Whitman and Hart Crane, he set out to become an expositor of the American psyche, judging his country's past, recording its present, and prophesying its future.Less
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