To the Editors:
In his review of Robert Lowell’s Collected Poems, James Fenton quotes this passage:
Apollo plant his heels
on terra firma through the morning’s thigh…
and comments “Why dawn plants his heels through the morning’s thigh I don’t know. It is the kind of overwriting that, at this point in the Collected Poems, one hopes to find Lowell leaving behind.”
Fenton is not obliged to like the passage, but the reason why Apollo (not dawn, as Fenton has it) behaves in this way should be clear enough. The reference to Apollo signals that we are in the realm of the mythological, and Aurora, the goddess of dawn, has not been invariably referred to in literature as “rosy-fingered.” Consider for example Andrew Marvell’s poem “The Gallery,” with its reference to
Aurora in the dawn; When in the East she slumbering lies,
And stretches out her milky thighs.
Lowell’s lines may well incorporate a not-quite-subliminal memory of this passage. Since Aurora represents the “rising light of the morning” (OED), the foot of Apollo, the sun-god, is going to have to go through some part of her before it can be planted on terra firma.
Department of English
Simon Fraser University
Burnaby, British Columbia
October 9, 2003