Lowell once wrote to his friend Elizabeth Bishop: “My trouble is to bring together in me the Puritanical iron hand of constraint and the gushes of pure wildness. One can’t survive or write without both but they need to come to terms.”
This seems to get at the heart of his poetic output. Between bouts of manic-depressive illness, Lowell wrote extended examinations of the influence of the past on New England history and culture. He also probed into his own illustrious family and his relationships with his wives, in sometimes searing and sometimes more meditative verses.
Maxine Kumin was one of his students, along with Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton, but she was spared the mental instability of her teacher and those classmates. Though also politically engaged and very anti-war, she was deeply connected to nature. Kumin celebrated the quotidian and often humorous and ironic details of the rural landscape of New Hampshire, where she lived most of her life. One doesn’t feel such strong tension as with Lowell, but Kumin expresses greater acceptance of life’s dichotomies.