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By Robert Lowell

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.


Robert Lowell, “Epilogue” from Day by Day. Copyright © 1977 by Robert Lowell. Used by permission of Farrar, Straus & Giroux, LLC, http://us.macmillan.com/fsg. All rights reserved.

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Source: Day by Day (1977)

Poet Bio

The most celebrated and ambitious American poet of his era, Robert Lowell transformed the particulars of his prominent New England family’s background and turbulent private life into controversial art. Lowell’s book Life Studies (1959), which reveals his struggles with madness, alcohol, and marital infidelity, gave rise to the so-called “confessional” school. In subsequent works he explored political issues and historical figures while extending his experiments in verse technique.

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