* all’s misalliance with robert lowell

The more time you spend around words, the more they keep moving around.

When I first read this week’s poem, “Epilogue” by Robert Lowell, I focused on the line: Yet why not say what happened? This line gave me permission and nerve at a time when I needed it.

Reading the poem again years later, a shorter sentence strikes me: All’s misalliance. I’m moved by the way the word “all” is in there twice, once mostly solitary, and then immediately crowded in, the letters playing out the concept of the line.

As I’m sure is clear by now, I’m awfully in my head this week.

I come back to this poem every time I do a long stretch of revisions, a stretch that usually involves some sort of paradigm shift, a change in outlook in my approach to the line.

There’s so much in here that is good. The poem throughout has the feel of advice given between conspirators. The conspiracy is the finding out and articulating of “living names.” Which is why we revise, to say it better.

You must revise your life, Rilke says in a poem, at least in one translation. In another translation, the same line reads: You must change your life. See what I mean? Words keep moving, and you must keep moving words.

I’ll try and be a little more grounded next week 🙂

* Vermeer's veneer *
* Vermeer’s veneer *

Epilogue – 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.


Happy moving!


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 )

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

%d bloggers like this: