Friday, February 11, 2022

Give Each Figure a Living Name


"We are poor passing facts,
warned by that to give
each figure in the photograph
his living name."


from "Epilogue"
by Robert Lowell

My mother and her mother were both very good about labeling the backs of photographs with names and dates and family connections. Still, even with the pertinent information readily available, it's not always clear what we owe to these distant figures whose portraits have one way or another come into our possession. As I studied the faces of these two on their long ago wedding day, the words of Lowell's poem seemed to capture the viewer's dilemma, a century hence:

Epilogue

Those bless├Ęd 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.


Found in Day by Day
by American poet Robert Lowell (1917 - 1977)

When reading "Epilogue,"
some are reminded of Vermeer;
I give you Celia Beaux
Dressing Dolls
by Celia Beaux (1855 - 1942)
~ See More Portraits ~

1 comment:

  1. Inscription on back:

    "Mr. & Mrs. B. J. De Rooi ~ 1915

    To Rovilla [my grandmother]

    From Artie Elsloo
    and Benjamin J. De Rooi
    R.F.D. #3
    Oskaloosa, Iowa"

    https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/21772919/artie-de_rooi

    ReplyDelete