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Edward Arlington Robinson was a widely read and respected poet during his lifetime--he won three Pulitzers--and we all know at least one of his poems, typically Miniver Cheevy or Richard Cory, but his reputation slipped badly after his death.  He seems to have been the victim of having a foot in two different worlds.  On the one hand, he is one of the first literary figures to move from 19th century sentimentalism to Modern themes of psychological despair and maudlin realism.  But, on the other hand, he wrote in rigid traditional forms, expertly one might add.  Thus, his subject matter was too bleak for the practitioners of structured poetry, but the forms he wrote in were too hide bound for the new generation of free form stylists.  But as the selections below show, he was a careful craftsman and his poems, while dark, are relieved by a sort of mordant ironic humor.  He deserves to be read, especially because he demonstrated that modern themes and concerns could be addressed in classical forms; it was not necessary to abandon rhyme & meter, it was merely convenient.

Richard Cory

                        Whenever Richard Cory walked downtown
                        We people on the pavement looked at him:
                        He was a gentleman from soul to crown,
                        Clean favored and imperially slim.

                        And he was always quietly arrayed,
                        And he was always human when he talked;
                        But still, he fluttered pulses when he said,
                        "Good morning," and he glittered when he walked.

                        And he was rich -- yes, richer than a king --
                        And admirably schooled in every grace:
                        In fine, we thought he was everything
                        To make us wish we were in his place

                        So on we worked, and waited for the light,
                        And went without the meat, and cursed the bread;
                        And Richard Cory, one calm summer night,
                        Went home and put a bullet through his head.

Miniver Cheevy

                        Miniver Cheevy, child of scorn
                        Grew lean while he assailed the seasons;
                        He wept that he was ever born
                        And he had reasons.

                        Miniver loved the days of old
                        When swords were bright and steeds were prancing;
                        The sight of a warrior bold
                        Would set him dancing.

                        Miniver sighed for what was not,
                        And dreamed, and rested from his labours;
                        He dreamed of Thebes and Camelot,
                        And Priam's neighbours.

                        Miniver mourned the ripe renown
                        That made so many a name so fragrant;
                        He mourned Romance, now on the town,
                        And Art, a vagrant.

                        Miniver loved the Medici,
                        Albeit he had never seen one;
                        He would have sinned incessantly
                        Could he have been one.

                        Miniver cursed the commonplace
                        And eyed a khaki suit with loathing;
                        He missed the medieval grace
                        Of iron clothing.

                        Miniver scorned the gold he sought
                       But sore annoyed was he without it;
                        Miniver thought, and thought, and thought,
                        And thought about it.

                        Miniver Cheevy, born too late
                        Scratched his head and kept on thinking;
                        Miniver coughed and called it fate,
                        And kept on drinking.

            The House on the Hill

                        1     They are all gone away,
                        2         The House is shut and still,
                        3     There is nothing more to say.

                        4     Through broken walls and gray
                        5         The winds blow bleak and shrill:
                        6     They are all gone away.

                        7     Nor is there one to-day
                        8         To speak them good or ill:
                        9     There is nothing more to say.

                        10   Why is it then we stray
                        11       Around the sunken sill?
                        12   They are all gone away,

                        13   And our poor fancy-play
                        14       For them is wasted skill:
                        15   There is nothing more to say.

                        16   There is ruin and decay
                        17       In the House on the Hill:
                        18   They are all gone away,
                        19   There is nothing more to say.

                        Mr. Flood's Party

                        1     Old Eben Flood, climbing alone one night
                        2     Over the hill between the town below
                        3     And the forsaken upland hermitage
                        4     That held as much as he should ever know
                        5     On earth again of home, paused warily.
                        6     The road was his with not a native near;
                       7     And Eben, having leisure, said aloud,
                        8     For no man else in Tilbury Town to hear:

                        9     "Well, Mr. Flood, we have the harvest moon
                        10   Again, and we may not have many more;
                        11   The bird is on the wing, the poet says,
                        12   And you and I have said it here before.
                        13   Drink to the bird." He raised up to the light
                        14   The jug that he had gone so far to fill,
                        15   And answered huskily: "Well, Mr. Flood,
                        16   Since you propose it, I believe I will." 17   Alone, as if enduring to the
                        18   A valiant armor of scarred hopes outworn,
                        19   He stood there in the middle of the road
                        20   Like Roland's ghost winding a silent horn.
                        21   Below him, in the town among the trees,
                        22   Where friends of other days had honored him,
                        23   A phantom salutation of the dead
                        24   Rang thinly till old Eben's eyes were dim.

                        25   Then, as a mother lays her sleeping child
                        26   Down tenderly, fearing it may awake,
                        27   He set the jug down slowly at his feet
                        28   With trembling care, knowing that most things break;
                        29   And only when assured that on firm earth
                        30   It stood, as the uncertain lives of men
                        31   Assuredly did not, he paced away,
                        32   And with his hand extended paused again:

                        33   "Well, Mr. Flood, we have not met like this
                        34   In a long time; and many a change has come
                        35   To both of us, I fear, since last it was
                        36   We had a drop together. Welcome home!"
                        37   Convivially returning with himself,
                        38   Again he raised the jug up to the light;
                        39   And with an acquiescent quaver said:
                        40   "Well, Mr. Flood, if you insist, I might.

                        41   "Only a very little, Mr. Flood --
                        42   For auld lang syne. No more, sir; that will do."
                        43   So, for the time, apparently it did,
                        44   And Eben evidently thought so too;
                        45   For soon amid the silver loneliness
                        46   Of night he lifted up his voice and sang,
                        47   Secure, with only two moons listening,
                        48   Until the whole harmonious landscape rang --

                        49   "For auld lang syne." The weary throat gave out,
                        50   The last word wavered; and the song being done,
                        51   He raised again the jug regretfully
                       52   And shook his head, and was again alone.
                        53   There was not much that was ahead of him,
                        54   And there was nothing in the town below --
                        55   Where strangers would have shut the many doors
                        56   That many friends had opened long ago.

            The Sheaves

                                Where long the shadows of the wind had rolled,
                                Green wheat was yielding to the change assigned;
                                And as by some vast magic undivined
                                The world was turning slowly into gold.
                                Like nothing that was ever bought or sold
                                It waited there, the body and the mind;
                                And with a mighty meaning of a kind
                                That tells the more the more it is not told.

                                So in a land where all days are not fair,
                                Fair days went on till on another day
                                A thousand golden sheaves were lying there,
                                Shining and still, but not for long to stay --
                                As if a thousand girls with golden hair
                                Might rise from where they slept and go away.


Grade: (C+)


See also:

Edwin Robinson Links:

    -Edwin Arlington Robinson (
    -Edwin Arlington Robinson, American Poet
    - Edwin Arlington Robinson (Library of Congress)
    -City of Gardiner, ME - Celebration of Edwin Arlington Robinson
    -Special Collections: Robinson Room (Colby College)

Book-related and General Links:
    -Selected Poetry of Edwin Arlington Robinson (1869-1935)