Robert Lowell’s poem ‘Notice’ uses imagery and figurative language to make the readers dwell on the nature that surrounds them. In this poem, the speaker appears to be depressed in the beginning and bears a simple question of beauty that he could not bear: “Will they help me to notice/ what I cannot bear to look at?” This poem is a beautiful narrative of capturing the present moment. It has relevance in modern times.
‘Notice’ by Robert Lowell describes the beauty of each moment of our lives and how to capture them with the mind’s eyes.
At the beginning of the poem, Lowell expresses his concerns about his mental health to a resident doctor. He is self-aware and knows that there are things around him that he cannot bear to look at, perhaps because they are too overwhelming for him.
In the second verse, the speaker explains that the doctor is forgotten, and he is “free” from the ailment. The tone in the second verse is much happier and lighter than in the first verse. Then, he describes a ride on a train during rush hours. He does not feel overwhelmed; instead, he is at peace. He can write a line or two in solitude amidst the jostling crowd.
Furthermore, he describes the scenery of spring coming to life and how he could walk home blindfolded because he is comfortable with his way home. He has subconsciously memorized the route.
The speaker proposes another question, perhaps to himself, “Is this what you would call a blossom?” This rhetorical remark describes the beauty of the scenery and hints at his better mental state.
In the end, he says that people are designed for living in “the moment” where they can finally see the beauty around them. In this way, they fall in love with their life again.
You can read the full poem here.
The resident doctor said,
“We are not deep in ideas, imagination, or enthusiasm –
Will they help me to notice
what I cannot bear to look at?”
In the first stanza of ‘Notice,’ Lowell shares a short conversation with a resident doctor. His poetic persona converses with a resident doctor regarding his mental state. The doctor could not offer any help to his condition. Instead, he provided a climactic remark, “We are not deep in ideas, imagination, or enthusiasm.”
To his terse reply, the speaker desperately asked if he could ever be able to look at the things he could not bear. Besides, those days he could not even think of anything else except writing poems flooded with his depressing thoughts. His remarks show that he was aware of his mental state. He was trying to get better.
The line “These days of only poems and depression” refers to how the poet’s source of writing was his melancholy and depression, which is overturned in the next verse.
The doctor is forgotten now
like a friend’s wife’s maiden-name.
I am free
Then home – I can walk it blindfold.
But we must notice –
we are designed for the moment.
In the second verse, the speaker hints at his recovery. He says that his doctor is forgotten now, and he is “free” from his mental illness. Now, he can think of riding a rush-hour train elbowing with the passengers. Even though he takes such a ride during rush hour, he feels as though he is in solitude instead of feeling overwhelmed. Amidst the cacophony of passengers, he can turn his focus on writing.
The sheer joy and ecstasy he gets from the scenery of the spring are reflected in the following lines. He quotes a couplet to describe the month of spring and its impact on nature. These lines describe how the trees close their branches in the spring by shedding off the remnants of last winter. Like the trees of spring, the speaker has also recovered.
The end of the poem has a nostalgic tone, as the speaker describes how the long day comes to an end. The train has passed by the quiet part of the city. While returning to his home, the speaker thinks that he is so used to this routine that he could go home blindfolded.
The last two lines contain the very essence of this poem. Through these lines, the poet implies that humans are made for/of moments as such, which makes them feel alive. The term “notice” is repeated here to emphasize the fact that we should focus on our surroundings, no matter how mundane they are.
Lowell’s ‘Notice’ is written in free-verse. It has 24 lines which are divided into two verses. The first verse has 8 lines, and the second verse has 16 lines. The poem has no set rhyme scheme or metrical pattern since it is similar to spoken word poetry. Besides, the poem is written from the perspective of a first-person speaker who is none other than the poet himself. His tone in the first verse is melancholic and dull, but it is happier and lighter in the second verse. It reflects the betterment of his mental state.
The poetic devices used in Lowell’s poem ‘Notice’ include the following ones:
- Rhetorical Question: It occurs in the lines, “Will they help me to notice/ what I cannot bear to look at?”, “Is this what you would call a blossom?”. These questions are directed at readers or the speaker himself.
- Imagery: Lowell describes the scenery from the train with visual imagery. For example, the lines, “When the trees close branches and redden,/ their winter skeletons are hard to find—” visually depict the scene of spring.
- Hyperbole: This device is used in the line, “Then home – I can walk it blindfold.” By reading this line, it seems the speaker could return home blindfolded.
- Juxtaposition: In the lines, “Then home – I can walk it blindfold./ But we must notice,” Lowell juxtaposes two contrasting ideas. It is an example of antithesis.
- Enjambment: It occurs throughout the text. Readers can find the use of this device in the following lines: “I am free/ to ride elbow to elbow on the rush-hour train.”
- Simile: Lowell uses this device in “The doctor is forgotten now/ like a friend’s wife’s maiden-name.” These lines hint at the speaker’s forgetfulness of the doctor’s name.
Born to a Boston Brahmin family, Robert Lowell is famous for his astonishing variety of literary works. He is regarded as one of the most influential American poets of the 20th-century. His notable poetry collections include Lord Weary’s Castle, which was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1947, The Mills of the Kavanaughs, Life Studies, which won the 1960 National Book Award for poetry, etc. He was considered a prominent figure of the literary movement called “Confessionalism.” His poem ‘Notice’ alludes to the impact of bipolar disorder or “manic depression” on his life and how he recovered momentarily from the illness. Explore more Robert Lowell poems.
Robert Lowell’s poem ‘Notice’ is about the beauty of nature and how to heal oneself from depression. This poem shares the art of living “freely.” In order to do that, one must “notice” each and every detail of their life.
Lowell’s ‘Notice’ is a free-verse lyric that is written from the perspective of a first-person speaker who is none other than the poet himself. The text consists of two sections with 8 and 16 lines each. Besides, there is no regular rhyme scheme or meter in the poem.
This poem taps on a number of themes that include depression, healing, spring, nature, and observation. The main idea of the poem orbits around the art of noticing each detail of life, no matter how disturbing or mundane it is.
The tone of the poem is dark and dull in the beginning and lighter and happier in the end. It showcases the speaker’s gradual improvement from the phase of depression.
The message of the poem is to notice the minute details around us. Lowell advises us to observe nature closely and appreciate its beauty.
The following list contains a number of poems that showcase similar themes present in Robert Lowell’s lyric ‘Notice.’
- ‘There’s a certain Slant of light’ by Emily Dickinson — This thoughtful poem depicts a metaphorical slant of light and how it influences the speaker’s mind.
- ‘Patience Taught By Nature’ by Elizabeth Barrett Browning — This Miltonic sonnet is a reminder to readers that there is a whole world beyond one’s own, uninfluenced by everyday problems.
- ‘Night Sweat’ by Robert Lowell — This poem is about Lowell’s anguish and frustration as he struggles through “life’s fever.”
- ‘Wrong Train’ by Ted Berrigan — This piece connects a speaker’s experiences while waiting for a train to the afterlife.
You can also explore these heartfelt poems about depression.