Courtney Johnston's Reviews > Day by Day

Day by Day by Robert Lowell
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's review
Apr 05, 2011

it was ok
bookshelves: borrowed, poetry
Read from January 01, 2001 to April 04, 2011

Robert Lowell didn't ring my bells. It's not because it's free verse, but more the tail-off endings, the lack of grip, the detachment of these poems.

I did rather like his elegy for John Berryman, which ends with surprising sweetness:

To my surprise, John,
I pray to not for you,
think of you not myself,
smile and fall asleep.

For me, redemption was found at the end of the book, with three poems Lowell translated or adapted. One is a little folktale called 'Rabbit, Weasel, and Cat', adapted from La Fontaine. One he calls a translation, due to its influence by another writer - it's a linkage of Mad King George and Richard Nixon.

The third is a translation of Sextus Propertius's 'Arethusa to Lycotas' - a wife writing to her husband away at the frontier wars. The translation made me want to seek out Ezra Pound, who's done a whole series of Propertius's poems. The poem has the voice, the intimacy, that I wanted elsewhere in the book (and, reminds me of Auden's 'Roman Wall Blues', which I've always had a soft spot for - I blame too much Kipling and Rosemary Sutcliff as a child).

Anyway - Arethusa to Lycotas ends like this:

Is glory taking Bactra's walls by force,
or tearing the turban from a perfumed king,
while the bow twangs from their hypocrite flying horse,
and lead scatters like hailstones from the twisted slings?

When their young men are gone, and slavery heals
their widows, and the spear without a head
drags your triumphant horse's heels -
remember the vow that binds you to our bed.

If you come back to me by day or night,
and make us for a moment man and wife,
I'll bring your arms to the Capua Gate, and write:
From a girl grateful for her husband's life.

I might go back to Lowell's earlier work (the internet tells me to steer clear of the two decades that precede 'Day by Day') but I won't be rushing. Next up: William Faulkner.

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