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Weekly Poem: ‘July in Washington’

By Robert Lowell

The stiff spokes of this wheel
touch the sore spots of the earth.

On the Potomac, swan-white
power launches keep breasting the sulphurous wave.

Otters slide and dive and slick back their hair,
raccoons clean their meat in the creek.

On the circles, green statues ride like South American
liberators above the breeding vegetation—

prongs and spearheads of some equatorial
backland that will inherit the globe.

The elect, the elected . . . they come here bright as dimes,
and die disheveled and soft.

We cannot name their names, or number their dates—
circle on circle, like rings on a tree—

but we wish the river had another shore,
some further range of delectable mountains,

distant hills powdered blue as a girl’s eyelid.
It seems the least little shove would land us there,

that only the slightest repugnance of our bodies
we no longer control could drag us back.

“July in Washington” is from Robert Lowell’s “Collected Poems” (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2003). Lowell, who died in 1977, is best known for his volume “Life Studies,” “but his true greatness as an American poet lies in the astonishing variety of his work,” the Poetry Foundation notes.

Poetry Foundation's DC Poetry Tour“July in Washington” is also included in the Poetry Foundation’s DC Poetry Tour, a multimedia tour that reveals our nation’s capital through the eyes of its great poets. Lowell, who was Poet Laureate from 1947-48, spent time in the nation’s capital.

From the halls of the federal buildings to neighborhood side streets, the tour features poems written in and about Washington, D.C., as well as photographs by poet Thomas Sayers Ellis. The tour can be taken online or downloaded at www.poetryfoundation.org/gallery/walking-tours, and is available for download via iTunes. (Disclosure: The Poetry Foundation also funds the NewsHour’s poetry coverage.)

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