Amy Lowell was born in Brookline, Massachusetts, in 1874, into a prominent New England family—her brother, Percival Lowell, was a well-known astronomer.
In August of 1910, at the age of thirty-six, Lowell saw her first poem, “Fixed Idea,” published in the Atlantic. Other poems appeared regularly in various periodicals over the next several years. Her first collection of poetry, A Dome of Many-Coloured Glass, was termed by Dictionary of Literary Biography essayists E. Claire Healey and Laura Ingram “a typical first book, characterized by conventional themes, traditional forms, and the limitations inherent in the work of a solitary poet who had no contact with other practitioners of her art.” However, the critics noted that “Lowell’s honesty of expression and an occasional brilliant image provided a glimpse of what was to come.” 1921’s Legends would be the last collection of her own work published before her death. In it, she uses eleven legends from around the globe as a basis for eleven poems.
During a career that spanned just over a dozen years, she wrote and published over 650 poems, yet scholars cite Lowell’s tireless efforts to awaken American readers to contemporary trends in poetry as her more influential contribution to literary history. “Poet, propagandist, lecturer, translator, biographer, critic . . . her verve is almost as remarkable as her verse,” opined poet Louis Untermeyer in his 1923 work American Poetry since 1900. A collection of Lowell’s work, published posthumously as What’s O’Clock?, was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1926.
In the early 1920s Lowell took a break from the art and business of poetry to write a biography of Keats. In John Keat ‘s 1300 pages, she attempted to show why she felt the English writer, who died in 1821, was the spiritual forebear of imagist poetry. Lowell’s in-depth chronicle of Keats’s short life was structured into a near day-to-day chronology, and through the wealth of Keatsiana she had amassed over the years her biography managed to clarify some issues about the poet’s personal life.
Some critics felt it a bit too lengthy—Leonard Woolf faulted Lowell for reconstructing scenes from Keats’s life and manufacturing the inner thoughts that might have accompanied them. “This is an ancient biographical convention which eventually wraps the reader’s brain in coil upon coil of psychological conjecture,” Woolf remarked in the Nation. Other critics praised its depth and tone. “The biography as a whole showed remarkable insight into poetic psychology, such as was possible only for one poet writing on another,” Damon wrote in Amy Lowell. However, Lowell’s exhaustive scholarship into Keats had extracted a physical toll, including severe eyestrain. Winfield Townley Scott, writing in the New England Quarterly, declared that the tremendous effort she put into the biography “certainly killed Amy Lowell.”
She died in 1925, aged only 51
The above was extracted from the Poetry Foundation