Robert Lowell’s Culturally Coded Lexis

  • Lidija Davidovska European University, Skopje, Macedonia


In this paper, I will examine how a vital ele­ment of Robert Lowell’s descriptive and narrative struc­tures, i.e., the lexis, promise to unfold the “layers” of the culture that served as context for Life Studies. This in­volves exploring both the denotations and connotations of his culturally encoded lexis, that is, the external mean­ings of certain words and phrases before they “en­ter” the poem and the internal meanings they acquire after entering the poem. This process of “verbal osmo­sis”, when words absorb meaning from these different contexts, is, what I believe, critic and linguist Winifred Nowottny describes as “give and take between those patterns” (Fowler, 2009: 31). My analysis will focus on the sociolinguistic patina accrued on certain units of Lowell’s poetic lexis, such as names of historical people, events and concepts belonging to American and Euro­pean spiritual cultures and traditions, as well as brand names from popular material culture of the first half of the twentieth century. The analysis will also dwell on the use of idioms, catch phrases and other verbal clichés which reflect the culture that generated them. They func­tion as verbal “ready-mades” that additionally rein­force Lowell’s well-known anecdotal, colloquial and infor­mal poetic language. The choice of these particular lexical items is significant as they reflect the categoriza­tion of the world and the experience of the poetic voice or the “language user” in broader linguistic terms. At the same time, the categorization of the experience reflects the ideational position, the worldview of the language user. In the context of his poetics of immanence and experi­ence, this culturally coded poetic diction is ana­lyzed as another authentic and documented presenta­tion of immanent narrator’s “lived experience”.


1] W. Nowottny, The Language Poets Use, 5th ed. London, England: University of London-Athlone Press, 1975.

[2] R. Fowler, Linguistic Criticism, 2nd ed. Oxford, England: Oxford UP, 2009.

[3] M. Perloff, “The Return of Robert Lowell”. Rev. of Robert Lowell:Collected Poems, eds. Frank Bidartand David Gewanter. 2 Nov. 2010.[Online]. Available: /authors/perloff /articles/ lowell/.

[4] F. Bidart, and D.Gewanter, eds., Robert Lowell: Collected Poems. New York, USA: Farrar,Straus and Giroux, 2003.

[5] M. Perloff, The Radical Artifice: Writing Poetry in the Age of Media. Chicago, USA: University of ChicagoPress, 1991.

[6] L. Kramer, “Freud and the Skunks: Genre and Language
In Life Studies” in Robert Lowell: Essays on the Poetry, Eds. Steven Gould Axelrod and Helen Deese, Cambridge, England: Cambridge UP, 1986.

[7] D. Chandler, Semiotics for Beginners.1994 [WWW document]. 18 August 2012. [Online]. Available: dgc/Documents/S4B/sem08.html/.

[8] R. Lowell, Life Studies and For the Union Dead, New York, USA: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1964.

[9] P. Simpson, Stylistics: A Resources Book for Students, London, England: Routledge, 2004.
How to Cite
DAVIDOVSKA, Lidija. Robert Lowell’s Culturally Coded Lexis. Култура/Culture, [S.l.], n. 7, p. 83-92, dec. 2014. ISSN 1857-7725. Available at: <>. Date accessed: 19 july 2019.
English Articles


Robert Lowell, immanence, lexis, culture, ready-mades, immanence, experience