The Years of Our Friendship
Robert Lowell and Allen Tate
This well-informed study examines the complexly faceted and often troubled friendship of two poets united by the bonds of imagination and mutual needs.
Here is a book that shows how Lowell was both a charismatic figure and a trial to his friends. His relationships were tense, and although the friends he made in school remained consistently loyal through his bouts of madness, and although his wives repeatedly forgave seemingly unforgivable acts, not all, including Lowell himself, were aware that his behavior often bordered an outrage.
His forty-year friendship with Tate, perhaps more than any other, exemplifies the tension that was generated by a close friendship with Lowell. The varied strands of this relationship constitute the substance of this the compelling book as it exposes and explores the complex psychological and literary bonds that linked Lowell and Tate.
It assesses an ambivalent friendship beginning with Lowell as student and younger friend of Tate, as well as Tate as literary mentor who considered the younger poet to be his protégé even when Lowell was fifty-three. It shows also their mutual love of the formal aspects of poetry and a faith in inspiration that, for Lowell, not only bordered on but sometimes crossed the line into madness. It shows, as well, a Tate sometimes hostile to Lowell's shifting poetics.
Certain aspects of their relationship, particularly Lowell's attempt to find in Tate an intellectual and literary father figure, are of less interest to the author of this study than the powerful impact of Tate's life and work. In The Years of Our Friendship he focuses chiefly upon this result of their intense literary bond.