It is worth noting that Robert Lowell was a poet who did not use rhyme and rhythmic units to give his writings traditional sounding. Many of his works can be regarded as experimental poetry, and the author resorted to his creative method to produce the necessary impression on the reader. The purpose of this paper is to analyze the poem “Epilogue” and provide arguments to prove that the author considers the form one of the most important aspects of writing.
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Before decomposing the main arguments made by the poet, it is necessary to analyze the intonation of the entire work. This poem is not rhetorical, and the author intentionally avoids conventions to give his writing a conversational intonation. The work combines common notions and something magnificent and sublime through the use of familiar examples and the rejection of hidden allusions. Lowell uses traditional rhyme in some lines, but the plainspoken manner pushes the reader to embrace the text as a kind of melody. It is crucial to emphasize that the violation of the stanza structure has allowed the author to come up with a new improvisational form and create the effect of confessional poetry. This approach has enabled Lowell to expose the agonizing internal problems with the utmost honesty.
Author’s Failure of Vision
In his writing, the poet attempts to express the limitations of his art, and this is a moment of exposure. Lowell explains that he is incapable of creating the kind of poem he wants even though he has all the necessary tools, which are “plot and rhyme”. The first four lines express the feeling of artistic helplessness experienced by the poet. The two italicized lines, which come next, prove that the author has thought of this text as of a spoken epilogue:
“The painter’s vision is not a lens,
It trembles to caress the light.”
These two lines serve a dual purpose since they are a form of abstraction and also add an extra syllable. Moreover, this explanatory statement made by the author gives the text an additional argumentative force. Overall, the first sentences of the poem are important for understanding the efforts made by the poet when creating a work of art. Lowell has intentionally made specific word choices so that every reader can associate these artistic suffering with themselves.
The author feels upset and worried because of the failure of vision claiming that “All’s misalliance”. It can be assumed that this grief can be both artistic and political, but it is also indeed personal. The poet considers himself myopic when he writes the following lines: “I hear the noise of my own voice”. Nevertheless, he does not want the reader to sympathize with him but to be a witness to the absence of his poetic vision.
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Diction and Imagery
The poem vividly explains the efforts made by Lowell when creating works of art. The poet is eager to write something new, but he does not want to repeat someone else’s work. Lowell associates writing with painting, which means that a poem can also capture a moment in its full color. In that matter, it is necessary to discuss the notion of a “snapshot” proposed by the author. He believes that he uses these snapshots to create his descriptive writings. At the same time, these snapshots also exist in his poetry, so the author is worried that his texts are single surfaced.
From the thematic point of view, the poem reveals the author’s worldview and viewpoint. He writes the following lines: “We are poor passing facts, warned by that to give each figure in the photograph his living name”. By saying this, Lowell demonstrates that those instances (when he writes poetry) are the most significant and bright events of his life. The lines allow assuming that writing poetry is the meaning of his life. Also, the structure of the writing is complex and intricate while the rhythm is mixed. The combination of the unusual metrical rhythm with the author’s ideology revealed and illustrated with examples allows stating that the poem is not single-surfaced but just the reverse.
Importantly, the imagery and diction should be analyzed together since they allow decomposing the meaning and argumentation of the writing. The first half of the text is very accurate and specific in the word choice to ensure the reader can understand the efforts made by Lowell when creating his works of art. As stated in the text, the author wants to write “something imagined, not recalled”. The second part is different since the poet resorts to imagery to support his arguments made in the first part and to reveal what true art is. He uses the example of Vermeer to explain his points further.
Memory and Imagination
Lowell reveals the artistic challenge he has failed to face. He claims that oftentimes his writings seem garish to him and he wishes to have the skills or knowledge to reveal the images in his mind the way painters do. As it comes from the text, the poet is unable to “caress the light”. Lowell wants to “say what happened” but is afraid that his memory may let him down. At that point, it is necessary to determine whether memory is based on facts or it is something a person imagines or if it is both. On the one hand, a snapshot recollects the fact like a flashback. On the other hand, the painter’s vision is a contrasting notion since it implies imagining an object. Therefore, it can be supposed that the poet’s memory is a combination of both. Moreover, the poem turns opposing notions of imagination and memories into complementary ones while the author’s imagination and artistic grace transform reality into art.
Thus, the poet wants to regard himself as an artist and create works of art. The writing is a self-analysis and a form of critical poetics in which the author questions his memory and abilities. Also, Lowell feels distressed by the fact that he does not have the right words to express what he has intended. Nonetheless, the writing style and imagery employed by Lowell vividly show how multi-faceted and artistically graceful his poem is.
It can be concluded that the poem “Epilogue” by Lowell is one of the greatest examples of confessional poetry. The main argument proposed by the poet is that the art form is the main aspect of writing. In addition, the text is a self-critique, which immerses the reader into the inner world of the artist. The skillful combination of diction and imagery accompanied by a plainspoken manner ensures the reader can imagine as if the poet is telling them his thoughts and concerns in person.