Revisited is a series in which writers look back on a work of art they first encountered long ago. Here, Jacob Bacharach revisits Robert Lowell’s poem “Beyond the Alps.”
I think I must have first read Robert Lowell’s poem “Beyond the Alps” the summer before my junior year of high school, when I was at the Young Writers Workshop at the University of Virginia. I know I bought a copy of his Life Studies and For the Union Dead at one of the used bookstores there. I’d read “For the Union Dead” in some anthology or other, and it seemed to me that there was something intensely apropos about rereading this contemplation on a union colonel “and his bell-cheeked Negro infantry,” as depicted in Saint-Gauden’s civil war sculpture, on the Boston Common while living a poetical teenage summer in Charlottesville, surrounded by so much evidence of Jefferson’s cruel, horrible vision of a utopia with slaves.
At the time, I gave “Beyond the Alps” very little thought, because it rhymed, and I’d recently learned from my peers that rhyming poetry was extremely silly. I was actually at the workshop as a songwriter, and I was able to smuggle my interest in rhyme past their censorious gaze by writing song lyrics, which existed in a weird zone of exclusion. Otherwise, I took their exaggerated disdain to heart. Read More