A Gleam of Hope in a Decaying Society.
The decay of life is a reality we all face today. Particularly, we realize and observe the decay of nature while analyzing our own lives. For example, when one walks into a nursing home the average person sees despair, isolation, and an uninspiring way to live. Most of the residents we see in the home start to analyze their lives and wonder what went wrong (why are they there? Why has my family done this to me?). Many people with slight mental disorders describe the places they lived in as dark, drab, ugly, and decaying. In Robert Lowell's poem "Skunk Hour," the speaker carries these same qualities. He sees his own town decaying and then sees in himself the decay in his life, with only one gleam of hope to contrast it with: a skunk.
To help the reader interpret the decline and decay in his life, Lowell begins the poem by setting the scen in a New England fishing town. The speaker starts by describing the people that live there and how they themselves have declined in their lives. The heiress, who is "in her dotage" (6), is the first person the speaker describes. As he describes her we instinctively feel that she is losing her mind. Why would she be this way? Could it be because her son is a bishop? If this is her only son, then her family line could quite possibly end with him. For most people, this would be a depressing situation and so to help cope with her emotions, she thrives on buying things that aren't of value to her. The speaker talks of how she is "thirsting for the hierarchic privacy" (8). This also helps to describe why she collects these useless valuables. She wants the land around her to have the ambiance of a royal kingdom, but instead it works against her. By letting the things she buys fall it shows that she is in decline in her life. The summer millionaire has also passed away. His yacht was sold to some lobstermen and now "a red fox stain covers Blue Hill" (18).