Robert Lowell

Robert Lowell

Finally, Robert Lowell, in “As a Plane Tree by the Water,” recalls from Whitman the lyric notion of the enveloping repeated line, however, unlike Whitman, Lowell uses this repetition in a systematic fashion, repeating the phrase “Flies, flies are on the plane tree, on the streets” at the end of each of the three ten-line stanzas of his poem as both a reflective and unifying device.

As a Plane Tree by the Water

by Robert Lowell

Darkness has called to darkness, and disgrace

Elbows about our windows in this planned

Babel of Boston where our money talks

And multiplies the darkness of a land

Of preparation where the Virgin walks

And roses spiral her enamelled face

Or fall to splinters on unwatered streets.

Our Lady of Babylon, go by, go by,

I was once the apple of your eye;

Flies, flies are on the plane tree, on the streets.

The flies, the flies, the flies of Babylon

Buzz in my ear-drums while the devil’s long

Dirge of the people detonates the hour

For floating cities where his golden tongue

Enchants the masons of the Babel Tower

To raise tomorrow’s city to the sun

That never sets upon these hell-fire streets

Of Boston, where the sunlight is a sword

Striking at the withholder of the Lord:

Flies, flies are on the plane tree, on the streets

Flies strike the miraculous waters of the iced

Atlantic and the eyes of Bernadette

Who saw Our Lady standing in the cave

At Massablelle, saw her so squarely that

Her vision put out reason’s eyes.

The grave Is open-mouthed and swallowed up in Christ.

O walls of Jericho! And all the streets

To our Atlantic wall are singing: “Sing,

Sing for the resurrection of the King.”

Flies, flies are on the plane tree, on the streets.


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