“Dolphin” by Robert Lowell

While looking at some well-known confessional poetry, I found “Dolphin” by Robert Lowell. Here is the poem:

Dolphin
My Dolphin, you only guide me by surprise,
a captive as Racine, the man of craft,
drawn through his maze of iron composition
by the incomparable wandering voice of Phèdre.
When I was troubled in mind, you made for my body
caught in its hangman’s-knot of sinking lines,
the glassy bowing and scraping of my will. . . .
I have sat and listened to too many
words of the collaborating muse,
and plotted perhaps too freely with my life,
not avoiding injury to others,
not avoiding injury to myself–
to ask compassion . . . this book, half fiction,
an eelnet made by man for the eel fighting
my eyes have seen what my hand did.

I also found an analysis of the poem here: http://americanconfessionalpoetry.wikispaces.com/Robert+Lowell’s+The+Dolphin+Analysis . The writer of the analysis, Emily, says “The thirteenth line suggests that Lowell considers asking for others around him to pity him. However he knows that their pity may not be true; this could be due to the fact that they don’t understand or they don’t believe it is true.” I thought this was a great description of confessional poetry in general. For a lot of these poets, it seems like they would ideally like for the reader to feel compassion for whatever it is they are confessing, but they are saying it without the expectation that compassion will be given. I do not think that pity or compassion is necessarily the goal of confessional poetry, even if it is the hope.

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1 Response to “Dolphin” by Robert Lowell

  1. Andrea Kirby says:

    I agree with you that the poets may hope for a certain response to a poem that they write, and in the case of confessional poetry the response is likely to be compassion.
    However, I wonder if poets ever write a poem without any thought for the response of the reader? After all, poems are usually a reflection of that poets own personal thoughts and feelings. They could be writing the poem simply as an outlet for themselves. If the poem happens to connect with a reader somewhere, then so be it.
    I realize that the situation is different for every poet, but I am sure some couldn’t care less about the response they may or may not get to a poem.

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