Robert Lowell, the Boston-born poet whose bleak and brilliant verse has ranked for more than 30 years among the major works of American letters, died yesterday after an apparent heart attack in a New York City taxicab. He was 60.
Mr. Lowell, who mvoed to England in the early 1970s, had spent the last week with his son in Ireland and flew yesterday afternoon to New York, according to his former wife, Elizabeth Hardwick.
He entered a taxi at Kennedy Airport and gave the driver directions to Miss Hardwick's home on New York's West Side. But when the cab arrived the driver was unable to rouse Mr. Lowell, Miss Hardwick said.
He was pronounced dead on arrival at Roosevelt Hospital.
Mr. Lowell was awarded he Pulitzer Prize in 1947, following publication of his second work, "Lord Weary's Castle," and in the years following won nearly every major honor American letters can bestow. He received the 1960 National Book Award, the 1974 Copernicus Award, the 1959 Guiness Prize, two Guggenheim Fellowships, and many other accolades - a steady stream of critical acclaim through a career that produced 17 volumes of taut, often savage verse.
In the first years of his work, the external drama of war and religion dominated Mr. Lowell's poetry; in later years, he turned to a searing poetic exploration of his own life. His 1959 book, "Life Studies," was the first of these intense autobiographical works. And his most recent, "Day By Day," published Sept. 7, held echoes of a man moving gently toward summation:
I seek leave unimpassioned by my body,
I am too weak to strain to remember, or give recollection the eye of a microscope.
I see horse and meadow, duck and pond, universal consolatory discription, without significance, transcribed verbatim by eye.
(from "Shifting Colors")
Robert Traill Spence Lowell Jr. was born March 1, 1917, into a Boston family already distinguised in American letters. He was a great-grand-nephew of poet and diplomat James Russell Lowell and a distant cousin of the poet Amy Lowell.
The young Lowell graduated form St. Mark's School in Southboro, Mass., for a short time, he graduated in 1940 -summa cum laude - from Kenyon College in Ohio.
Kenyon was a center of literary criticism and poetic and poetic exploration during those years and Mr. Lowell published one of his earliest poems in the Kenyon Review while still in college. He converted to Roman Catholicism in 1940, and as World War II figured more and more prominently in American life, both religion and war came to dominate Mr. Lowell's growing output of poetry.
Mr. Lowell had tried twice to enlist in the armed forces but by the time he was called for service he had become a conscientious objector to war carried out under any justification. In October, 1943, he was sentenced to jail for his refusal to serve, and the the young poet's six months ardent antimilitaristic stance that he held throughout his career.
Mr. Lowell's first volume of poetry was published in 1944.It was called "Land of Unlikeness," and its formal, melodramatic verses, rich with the mystery and symbolism of the Catholic Church were highly praised by the critics. The book was followed two year later by "Lord Weary's Castle," the celebrated work for which Mr. Lo was followed two year later by "Lord Weary's Castle," Lowell was awarded the Pulitzer Prize.
In 1959 he published his pivotal work, "Life Studies," which inaugurated the "confessional" and openly autobiographical style of contemporary American poetry.
In 1948 Mr. Lowell was divorced from writer Jean Stafford, his wife of eight years and the following year he married Elizabeth Hardwick, also a writer, with whom he had one daughter, Harriet.
Mr. Lowell and Miss Hardwick were divorced in 1972. He then married Caroline Blackwood, and English novelist, and fathered a second child, a son named Sheridan. At the time of his death he was returning to the United States to teach at Harvard this fall.