Epilogue by Robert Lowell d. 1977

Robert Lowell was one of the Boston Lowells, noted in the John Collins Bossidy doggerel, Boston Toast:

And this is good old Boston,
The home of the  bean and the cod,
Where the Lowells talk only to the Cabots,
And the Cabots talk only to God.

This fact of Lowell’s life made fame natural for him, but his achievement as a poet was genuine. In this poem he has hold of a troublesome fact for the artist who wants to create something new. Old forms fail the poet who hears a language of ordinary speech and of raw experience and tries to get that into the poem. For the poet who wants to create a fact and not report a fact, language and tradition may not be sufficient. The disappointment for Lowell–near the end of this poem–is that we human beings are “poor passing facts”. Art may last as we pass away.


Those blessèd structures, plot and rhyme—
why are they no help to me now
I want to make
something imagined, not recalled?
I hear the noise of my own voice:
The painter’s vision is not a lens,
it trembles to caress the light.
But sometimes everything I write
with the threadbare art of my eye
seems a snapshot,
lurid, rapid, garish, grouped,
heightened from life,
yet paralyzed by fact.
All’s misalliance.
Yet why not say what happened?
Pray for the grace of accuracy
Vermeer gave to the sun’s illumination
stealing like the tide across a map
to his girl solid with yearning.
We are poor passing facts,
warned by that to give
each figure in the photograph
his living name.

Girl with a Pearl Earring, Johan Vermeer d. 1675, The Hague

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s