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Reader’s Den, Poetry Month

The Reader's Den: Discussing Lowell's "To a Friend"


Week 3 of National Poetry Month

To a “Friend”? Are you sure he/she is just a friend, Ms. Lowell?

This week The Reader’s Den offers up an Amy Lowell sonnet, originally published in the year 1912. Check out discussion questions after the break, and post a comment if the spirit moves you!

TO A FRIEND by Amy Lowell

I ask but one thing of you, only one,
That always you will be my dream of you;
That never shall I wake to find untrue
All this I have believed and rested on,
Forever vanished, like a vision gone
Out into the night. Alas, how few
There are who strike in us a chord we knew
Existed, but so seldom heard its tone
We tremble at the half-forgotten sound.
The world is full of rude awakenings
And heaven-born castles shattered to the ground,
Yet still our human longing vainly clings
To a belief in beauty through all wrongs.
O stay your hand, and leave my heart its songs!

Click on for questions, and to learn about Amy Lowell: Rock Star. All posts will be read and responded to.

Non-Obligatory Discussion Questions

1. What are these "heaven-born castles" to which the speaker refers?
2. What does the speaker mean by “stay your hand”?
3. How would you describe the mood of this poem?

In a 2007 New Criterion article Carl Rollyson said Amy Lowell “went on lecture tours the way rock bands roll from town to town today, with an entourage, a suite at the best hotel, and a gathering of reporters awaiting her latest outrage. On the lecture platform, she would read a poem and then pause, looking out at her audience: ‘Well, hiss or applaud! But do something!’” Right on, Amy.

Read more articles and reviews about this fascinating and controversial poet in the Literature Resource Center, a database you can access from any internet computer with your NYPL library card.

Don't miss the final installment of National Poetry Month with The Reader's Den next Wednesday! Thanks for reading.


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I daresay that this is quite

I daresay that this is quite a lot of pressure to put on one's friend! It strikes me as better to foster and perfect the beauty in one's own heart than it is to seek such beauty outside oneself. Yes, yes - beauty's merit lay not in contemplation of it, but by its engendering. To create beauty in the face of the world and against the pornography of violence and greed that are endemic to it, that is a castle build of solid rock. - Dr. Thaddeus P. Tingleberry

The poem recognizes that

The poem recognizes that when you have high expectations for one person, and create virtues for that one person that inevitably they will not live up to them. All man is faulty, and eventually they will disappoint you. The writer recognizes that in all likelihood their dear friend will in some way let them down, and that she will be devastated when it comes.

To a Friend by Amy Lowell

I read somewhere that this poem was written as the 17 casualties of the Veracruz situation in April and May of 1914 were returned to New York City aboard the Battleship Montana. A huge state funeral was held, led by Pres. Woodrow Wilson. Does anyone know if this is true?

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