Study Guide

Skunk Hour Quotes

  • Madness

    The season's ill – (line 13)

    This doesn't exactly scream, "my mind's not right!" but it's the first major sign of our speaker projecting his mental illness on the state of the town.

    One dark night,
    my Tudor Ford climbed the hill's skull, (lines 25-26)

    The speaker is going into the dark, dreary place in his memory.

    My mind's not right. (line 30)

    Here's the hard evidence. He admits to feeling off.

    I hear
    my ill-spirit sob in each blood cell, (lines 32-33)

    Again, the speaker admits to being ill – his spirit is crying. He seems to be jumping out of his skin with sadness.

    as if my hand were at its throat . . . . (line 34)

    This is an image of self-destruction. If we break it down, we see it's as if his hand is at his own soul's throat – it's a figurative image, but a pretty disturbing one nonetheless.

    I myself am hell, (line 35)

    Such a sad line! He thinks the worst fate he can encounter is being himself.

  • Isolation

    Nautilus Island's hermit (line 1)

    This line isn't about our speaker, but reflects the isolation of the townspeople. The old lady stays in alone all the time.

    the hierarchic privacy (line 8)

    Again, Lowell reinforces that this a place where people like to keep to themselves. It doesn't exactly give us a warm and fuzzy feeling about the town.

    we've lost our summer millionaire, (line 14)

    OK, so this isn't the most serious part of the poem, but it gives us the sense that the population decreases on the island during the off-season, and that it gets a little lonelier.

    I watched for love-cars. Lights turned down, (line 27)

    Sad and lonely! Our speaker drives up the hill looking for signs of love and activity in his town, because he is all by himself.

    'Love, O careless Love . . . .' I hear
    my ill-spirit sob in each blood cell, (lines 32-33)

    Hearing the love song on another's car radio reminds our speaker of how loveless and lonely he is.

    nobody's here – (line 36)

    This is a literal example of his isolation. Nobody's around.

    only skunks, that search (line 37)

    That the skunks are there further reinforces the fact that there are no people around. In fact, they're free to roam the streets because it's so darn empty in the town!

    I stand on top
    of our back steps and breathe the rich air – (lines 43-44)

    This mystery "you" (implied in the "our") that's missing throughout the poem makes our speaker seems even sadder. It makes us think that maybe he once had a companion that he now longs for on those lonely nights.

  • Home

    heiress still lives through winter in her Spartan cottage; (line 2)

    Here's the beginning of the "not home" feeling we get in the poem. She lives in a modest, spare, austere cottage through winter. Doesn't sound super cozy.

    she buys up all
    the eyesores facing her shore, (lines 10-11)

    Those "eyesores" are very likely homes! The heiress buys them all up so she can continue her shut-in, cold-as-ice lifestyle in peace.

    there is no money in his work,
    he'd rather marry. (lines 23-24)

    This seems to have an indirect connection to home – kind of like the shopkeeper doesn't want to do what he's doing so much as he'd like to just make a home with somebody.

    nobody's here – (line 36)

    Back to the "not home" feeling. Is it getting chilly in here?

    I stand on top
    of our back steps and breathe the rich air – (lines 43-44)

    This is the first time we see our speaker at his house. But, again, with the other person gone, it seems too lonely to feel like a home.

  • Society and Class

    heiress still lives through winter in her Spartan cottage; (line 2)

    This is a mixed up line, because heiress means she's inherited something, but Spartan means simple and spare. So she's trying to keep up the appearance of being "old money" but probably doesn't have that much.

    Her son's a bishop. Her farmer
    is first selectman in our village, (lines 3-4)

    What the old woman does seem to have a lot of is pride. Her son's profession in the church and her farmer's small political office are points of pride for the woman, elevating her above "common folk."

    the hierarchic privacy
    of Queen Victoria's century, (lines 8-9)

    Again, it seems the woman considers herself the queen of this small town, and doesn't want anyone to challenge her.

    she buys up all
    the eyesores facing her shore, (lines 10-11)

    Instead of being bothered by people not worthy of her, she buys their houses and then knocks them down, so she can keep her big piece of land and her ocean view.

    we've lost our summer millionaire, (line 14)

    So this is a town that draws really rich people, but maybe its year-round residents aren't quite as wealthy.

    who seemed to leap from an L. L. Bean
    catalogue. His nine-knot yawl
    was auctioned off to lobstermen. (lines 15-17)

    Here Lowell is making fun of this rich, picture-perfect New England sailor. He's also saying that the man left his boat behind (because he's probably so rich he doesn't need it) to lobstermen who are working-class people.

    there is no money in his work,
    he'd rather marry. (lines 23-34)

    This poor shopkeeper doesn't make any money from his job and obviously doesn't love it enough to want to stay – he'd rather spend his time starting a family.