The Literarian – Robert Lowell & The Acts of the Apostles

Poet Robert Lowell, in  “New Year’s Day,” encompasses iambic- and rhyme-wrought lines in search of some escapable truth beneath “resolutions.” A mythic parallel to the birth of the early church in Acts Chapter 2 is striking, especially considering Lowell’s reference to St. Peter and his “distorted key” that opens the church doors, barricaded as they are against the “snake-tailed sea-winds.” Following a symbolic logic meted out in the transition from Old to New Covenant–from Law to Love, self-preservation to neighborliness–the connections are well worth reflecting on historically and personally.


Again and then again . . . the year is born
To ice and death, and it will never do
To skulk behind storm-windows by the stove
To hear the postgirl sounding her French horn
When the thin tidal ice is wearing through.
Here is the understanding not to love
Our neighbor, or tomorrow that will sieve
Our resolutions. While we live, we live

To snuff the smoke of victims. In the snow
The kitten heaved its hindlegs, as if fouled,
And died. We bent it in a Christmas box
And scattered blazing weeds to scare the crow
Until the snake-tailed sea-winds coughed and howled
For alms outside the church whose double locks
Wait for St. Peter, the distorted key.
Under St. Peter’s bell the parish sea

Swells with its smelt into the burlap shack
Where Joseph plucks his hand-lines like a harp,
And hears the fearful Puer natus est
Of Circumcision, and relives the wrack
And howls of Jesus whom he holds. How sharp
The burden of the Law before the beast:
Time and the grindstone and the knife of God.
The Child is born in blood, O child of blood.

—Robert Lowell

Link to Acts Chapter 2

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