Unlike the other poems in part four of Life Studies, Skunk Hour receives a special dedication to Elizabeth Bishop, which speaks to its ability to provide overall closure to the collection.
The poem itself opens on the typical Lowell landscape: a splattering of maladjusted individuals shoved up against a backdrop of ill seasons and dark nights. The old familiar suspects remain - each skinny attention to detail, the ever threatening sickness [a not right everywhere], the slowly decaying empire [an allusion here to Paradise Lost], etc. In this way, Skunk Hour fits neatly within its own family tree.
This poem is somehow not weighed down - like many of the other poems in the collection ultimately become - by the illness that still warps the comprehensive vision. Counterintuitive as it might be, the skunks are the big heroes of the hour. The poet, though seemingly alone - distanced from humanity by the forces outlined in earlier poems, is not alone. Enter the night creatures: waste-feeding, disease-carrying varmints that cause passersby to plug their noses. Even the cream in which they submerge their heads is sour. Which brings us back to Elizabeth Bishop. There is something concordant between the two: despite the dead and dying relatives, despite the bleak surroundings, despite the terminal decline of the family's reputation, despite the rampant madness, they will not scare. The correspondence continues; the skunks dig deeper and deeper into the garbage pail. The same can be said of the readers and writers of confessional poetry. With this final poem, Lowell seems to usher in their hour. He stands on top, breathing air rich with creative potential, himself the mother skunk leading a column of kittens into the muck. And despite the personal and sometimes uncomfortable nature of the subject matter, the personal failures and dissolution, they persist.