Robert Lowell





After The Surprising Conversions

September twenty-second, Sir: today 
I answer. In the latter part of May, 
Hard on our Lord’s Ascension, it began 
To be more sensible. A gentleman 
Of more than common understanding, strict 
In morals, pious in behavior, kicked 
Against our goad. A man of some renown, 
An useful, honored person in the town, 
He came of melancholy parents; prone 
To secret spells, for years they kept alone— 
His uncle, I believe, was killed of it: 
Good people, but of too much or little wit. 
I preached one Sabbath on a text from Kings; 
He showed concernment for his soul. Some things 
In his experience were hopeful. He 
Would sit and watch the wind knocking a tree 
And praise this countryside our Lord has made. 
Once when a poor man’s heifer died, he laid 
A shilling on the doorsill; though a thirst 
For loving shook him like a snake, he durst 
Not entertain much hope of his estate 
In heaven. Once we saw him sitting late 
Behind his attic window by a light 
That guttered on his Bible; through that night 
He meditated terror, and he seemed 
Beyond advice or reason, for he dreamed T
hat he was called to trumpet Judgment Day 
To Concord. In the latter part of May 
He cut his throat. And though the coroner 
Judged him delirious, soon a noisome stir 
Palsied our village. At Jehovah’s nod 
Satan seemed more let loose amongst us: God 
Abandoned us to Satan, and he pressed 
Us hard, until we thought we could not rest 
Till we had done with life. Content was gone. 
All the good work was quashed. We were undone. 
The breath of God had carried out a planned 
And sensible withdrawal from this land; 
The multitude, once unconcerned with doubt, 
Once neither callous, curious nor devout, 
Jumped at broad noon, as though some peddler groaned 
At it in its familiar twang: “My friend, 
Cut your own throat. Cut your own throat. Now! Now!”
September twenty-second, Sir, the bough 
Cracks with the unpicked apples, and at dawn 
The small-mouth bass breaks water, gorged with spawn.