Poor passing facts: Why not say what happened?

Robert Lowell by Elsa DorfmanSocial media hopping led inadvertently to Epilogue by Robert Lowell, a poem that puzzles primarily over the unpredictabilities of poetic technique and poetry’s purpose.


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 paralysed 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.

Ironically, some family portraits are contrived to exclude any reference, recalled or imagined, to the fullest aspect of their own members’ lives, lurid snapshots grouped to paralyse fact, choosing to be blind to some other poor passing fact. Why not say what happened, give to me my living name, and the devil take your hate?