Robert Lowell's 'Skunk Hour': A Reading

C.A. Runcie


In "The Epistemology of Metaphor", Paul de Man declares figurative language a "recognised source of embarrassment" for philosophy, historiography and literary analysis. With regard to literary analysis, this is no overstatement and the embarrassment is all too frequently avoided by calling nearly every figure a symbol. This is a particular failing in the analysis of poems. A forced or careless "symbolic" interpretation leads to a distortion of meaning and this must lead to an invalid notion both of the poem's method and its achievement. To read all literary figure as symbol is to misread. The poem probably the most abused by so-called "symbolic" interpretation, that is, seeing symbols where there are not any, is Robert Lowell's "Skunk Hour".

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