THE DOLPHIN is a collection of 14-line "love poems" by Robert Lowell published in 1973. At the time Lowell was writing these poems, a great storm was going on in his personal life, as he had left his wife Elizabeth Hardwick and their teenager daughter Harriet behind in New York and gone to London to live with Lady Caroline Blackwood. His relationship with these three forms the subject matter of the poems in THE DOLPHIN.
I don't particularly like Robert Lowell's poetry in general here. The man was a neurotic, and this is reflected in his poetry, which rarely seems to wield that neuroticism into something more. Still, there are a few good poems here. Lowell returns a few times to the subject of dreams, including the thought-provoking meditation "Is there an ur-dream better than words, an almost / work of art I commonplace in retelling / through the fearfulness of memory?". The final "Dolphin" addresses Caroline Blackwood to seek a way out of the pain that has produced the earlier poems to no relief: "When I was troubled in mind / you made for my body / caught in its hangman's-knot of sinking lines, / the glassy bowing and scraping of my will..."
But what particularly weakens this collection is that a great many of the poems are derived from letters from his ex-wife. Lowell has simply transformed into verse Elizabeth Hardwick's prose, but left it blatantly obvious what the source is. It's a cheap shot to publicize your ex-wife's perfectly valid concerns, and none of these make for good poetry. Take, for example, the poem "Records" which begins "'...I was playing records on Sunday, / arranging all my records, and I came on some of your voice, and started to suggest / that Harriet listen: then immediately / we both shook our heads."