Lowell's Day by Day returns to direct expression of autobiographical experience and memory. Day by Day resembles Life Studies in that it has distinct sections each of which includes introductory poems ("Ulysses and Circe"), Poems concerning other writes such as Robert Penn Warren and John Berryman, and poems concerning Lowell's relationship with his family. Day by Day further resembles Life Studies in showing the imaginative process that transforms his personal experiences into art. This imaginative process of memory helps him to know himself and others better.
In "Epilogue", Lowell addresses the issue of the intention of his art. At first, he expresses dissatisfaction of that art.
Those Blessed structures, Plot and thyme--
Why are they no help to me now
I want to make
Something imagined, not recalled?
I hear the noise of 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. (1-14)
In these lines, Lowell acknowledges that he has failed to caress the light. His criticism of himself reminds me of that of several of his critics. When Day by Day was published, it was harshly criticized for being too personal.
In other words, the poetry of Day by Day was too close to real lives. In the above lines, Lowell says that his threadbare art deems a mere snapshot and "paralyzed by fact.' [A.Alavare2-1988] Here. We can raise the question whether memory is factual or is something imagined. Or is it half-fiction, half truth? The above lines figure the photographer's lens as the recollection of fact; by contrast the painter's vision is related to the 'imagined' which illuminates the subjects. Lowell's art of memory is neither wholly fabricated nor merely a recollection of fact.
While valuing Vermeer's art of illumination, Lowell tries to defend to say what actually happened. Beyond this, however, Lowell prays for the grace of accuracy. "Accuracy" [Robert Lowell-1977] is to grasp truth which is more than fact.
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. (15-23)
Lowell takes Vermeer's painting as an analogue for the artistic vision. As Vermeer gave a grace to the sun's illumination, memories of real life are illuminated by graceful accuracy. Lowell hopes to express the figure in his poems as Vermeer's girl is painted realistically rather than ideally. As the phrase" solid with yearning [Daniel schaxter-1996] illustrates, Lowell's art transforms memories of a daily life into art with artistic imagination.
Although imagination and memory here appear as an opposition--"imagined, not recalled." [Seidel frederick-1961] the two activities of imagination and memory seem to be complementary rather than contradictory in Lowell's poetry.
The poem "clearheadedly and self-defeating points out an inherent limitation in nostalgia: that it can become a means by which one ignores necessary truths about other human beings Vereen Bell-1983]. He overcomes the danger of a falsifying memory by acknowledge that Stafford's art has its own value apart from his memory of it.
In Day by Day, Lowell confesses frankly the secrets that he feels constrain his heart. Lowell hopes to resolves his lifelong conflicts and frees himself from the emotional bondage of past experiences. The title Day by Day makes the reader expect to see how the past leads into the present and, likewise the present into the future. One might ssexperiences and coming to recognize the meaning of the life and make a move toward reconciliation. 'The past", Lowell says, 'changes more than the present' ('To Frank Parker" 33). This does not mean that the past experience itself changes but that the meaning of the past changes again and again with relation to other experiences, and the changed meaning clarifies the present. Lowell's remark on the changeability of the past suggest that he departs from his past determination to define and understand his self buy fixing his past experience.
Memory is essential to the creation of the self in that the construction of the past justifies the self's attitude to past events. As Bartlett and Schacter state, memory involves the self's present awareness of the past. In 91 Revere Street, Lowell recollects the incidents and things that seem to be essential to the formation of his self. In Life Studies, he also explores his lost self by remembering his personal past. As in 91 Revere Street, he situates his self-examination in the context of American culture. He recollects his personal past in such a way to transform it into American cultural memory. In 'memories of West Street and Lepke,' Lowell's private memory is presented as part of the board American cultural situation. In 'waking in the Blue', Lowell regards himself as one of the mental cases. As in recent models of the constitution of the subject, Lowell's self is culturally constituted and dominated. Lowell seems to discard the essentialist idea of self and instead adopts the idea of a self recreated through remembering.
Bell, vareen M. Robert Lowell: Nihilist as hero. Cambridge: Harvard Up, 1990.99-138.
Halbwachs, Maurice. On Collective Memory. Trans. Lewis A. Coser. Chicago: U of Chicago p, 1992.
Johnston, Alan." modes if return: Memory and Remembering in the poetry of Robert Lowell." Twentieth Century Literature 36(1990):73-94.
Lowell, Robert. Day by Day. New York: Farrar, 1977.
Schacter, Daniel L. Searching for Memory. New York: Basic, 1996.
Seidel, Frederick. "The Art of Poetry: Robert Lowell." The Paris Review 15(1961): 56-95.
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