Friday, January 29, 2010

Representing Amy Lowell


You are ice and fire,
The touch of you burns my hands like snow.
You are cold and flame.
You are the crimson of amaryllis,
The silver of moon-touched magnolias.
When I am with you,
My heart is a frozen pond
Gleaming with agitated torches.

by Amy Lowell

What is it about this poem that seems both to invite us inside of it, but also remind us that we cannot ever fully enter that inside?

I feel a similar (though never less thrilling) surprise every time I read the first line of this poem: "You are ice and fire." The certainty of the speaker alarms me into recognition, into agreement. As if: "How could you not have known this?" It is perhaps the speaker's proclamation "You are [...]," which is repeated three times, that lures the reader into certitude. We believe, or rather, we trust Lowell's speaker.

And yet, who is "you?" Who is the "you" relative to the "I" of the last three lines? The opal, some other?

Syntactical certitude echoes across layers of representation (though never phrased as metaphor or simile): "You are [...] The silver of moon-touched magnolias." You are not the moon. You are not the magnolia. You are the reflection of moon on magnolia. You are neither objects. You are what happens between them. "My heart is a frozen pond / Gleaming with agitated torches." Dear Amy, is it really so cold there, beside the opal? From where do these (your?) torches "gleam?"

1 comment: said...

I'm delighted to see this discussion of Amy Lowell's poem. I'm writing a biography of her supported by the National Endowment for the Arts, and I'm interested in hearing from Amy Lowell readers. In the meantime, you can read my collection of essays about her in "Amy Lowell Among Her Contemporaries," available from,, and