The Old Flame Poem by Robert Lowell

The Old Flame

Rating: 3.2

My old flame, my wife!
Remember our lists of birds?
One morning last summer, I drove
by our house in Maine. It was still
on top of its hill -

Now a red ear of Indian maize
was splashed on the door.
Old Glory with thirteen stripes
hung on a pole. The clapboard
was old-red schoolhouse red.

Inside, a new landlord,
a new wife, a new broom!
Atlantic seaboard antique shop
pewter and plunder
shone in each room.

A new frontier!
No running next door
now to phone the sheriff
for his taxi to Bath
and the State Liquor Store!

No one saw your ghostly
imaginary lover
stare through the window
and tighten
the scarf at his throat.

Health to the new people,
health to their flag, to their old
restored house on the hill!
Everything had been swept bare,
furnished, garnished and aired.

Everything's changed for the best -
how quivering and fierce we were,
there snowbound together,
simmering like wasps
in our tent of books!

Poor ghost, old love, speak
with your old voice
of flaming insight
that kept us awake all night.
In one bed and apart,

we heard the plow
groaning up hill -
a red light, then a blue,
as it tossed off the snow
to the side of the road.

Susan Williams 20 March 2016

It sounds like a very tumultuous love he and his wife shared- -loved the sense of knowing two people I have never met

24 2 Reply
Kim Barney 22 April 2016

Very much agree, Susan. I have read this poem several times before and have enjoyed it every time.

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Ludlow Balderdash 23 October 2012

It also helps to know a good poem when you see one, and you're no Elizabeth Bishop. You don't have to know Lowell to enjoy this poem; you just have to have empathy, a good ear, and a soul. Here's a dunce cap for you. It's snow white and fancy, like a waffle cone for your frozen brain. Do you like that image?

9 11 Reply
Cath Nichols 22 November 2008

Elizabeth Bishop said this poem reduced her to tears (I'm reading her selected letters and checking out poems as I go) . Didn't get me like that, though I like some of the images. Guess it helps to have lived there/ know the locale (or maybe it's that she knows Lowell) .

10 7 Reply
Rose Marie Juan-austin 28 September 2021

A poignant and deeply touching poem of love. A vivid depiction of the many intricacies of love embellished with superb imagery.

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Chinedu Dike 15 October 2019

Well expressed thoughts and feelings. An insightful work of art..............................................................

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Michael Walker 05 August 2019

Lowell succeeds in revisiting the house which he used to live with his ex-wife, and finds that new people live there and they have renovated and improved the house on the hill. He still has a kind word for his old love when they shared the same bed. Balanced and authentic.

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Sam Gilthe 22 April 2018

i dont know this one's kinda gay

5 4 Reply
Glithe Sam 15 April 2019

Yeah, maybe

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Gene S 01 March 2018

What can you say about this beautiful piece. I adore and admire the Robert's capacity for acceptance in the lines, Health to the new people, health to their flag, to their old restored house on the hill! How many hearts might be embittered at such a realization, but instead he wishes them well, I imagine when he stood there, he saw himself in them and has the ability wish the happiness he felt on others despite his pain. Gorgeous.

1 0 Reply
Robert Lowell

Robert Lowell

Boston / United States
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