20140818

Thomas Hood

by Edwin Arlington Robinson

The man who cloaked his bitterness within
This winding-sheet of puns and pleasantries,
God never gave to look with common eyes
Upon a world of anguish and of sin:
His brother was the branded man of Lynn;
And there are woven with his jollities
The nameless and eternal tragedies
That render hope and hopelessness akin.

We laugh, and crown him; but anon we feel
A still chord sorrow-swept,--a weird unrest;
And thin dim shadows home to midnight steal,
As if the very ghost of mirth were dead--
As if the joys of time to dreams had fled,
Or sailed away with Ines to the West.

20140816

The Clerks

by Edwin Arlington Robinson

I did not think that I should find them there
When I came back again; but there they stood,
As in the days they dreamed of when young blood
Was in their cheeks and women called them fair.
Be sure, they met me with an ancient air,--
And yes, there was a shop-worn brotherhood
About them; but the men were just as good,
And just as human as they ever were.

And you that ache so much to be sublime,
And you that feed yourselves with your descent,
What comes of all your visions and your fears?
Poets and kings are but the clerks of Time,
Tiering the same dull webs of discontent,
Clipping the same sad alnage of the years.

Note:  A recitation can be heard here.

20140815

Fleming Helphenstine

by Edwin Arlington Robinson

At first I thought there was a superfine
Persuasion in his face; but the free flow
That filled it when he stopped and cried, "Hollo!"
Shone joyously, and so I let it shine.
He said his name was Fleming Helphenstine,
But be that as it may;--I only know
He talked of this and that and So-and-So,
And laughed and chaffed like any friend of mine.

But soon, with a queer, quick frown, he looked at me,
And I looked hard at him; and there we gazed
In a strained way that made us cringe and wince:
Then, with a wordless clogged apology
That sounded half confused and half amazed,
He dodged,--and I have never seen him since.

Note:  A recitation can be heard here.

20140814

Reuben Bright

by Edwin Arlington Robinson

Because he was a butcher and thereby
Did earn an honest living (and did right),
I would not have you think that Reuben Bright
Was any more a brute than you or I;
For when they told him that his wife must die,
He stared at them, and shook with grief and fright,
and cried like a great baby half that night,
And made the women cry to see him cry.

And after she was dead, and he had paid
The singers and the sexton and the rest,
He packed a lot of things that she had made
Most mournfully away in an old chest
Of hers, and put some chopped-up cedar boughs
In with them, and tore down the slaughter-house.

Note:  A recitation can be heard here.

20140813

Horace to Leuconoƫ

by Edwin Arlington Robinson

I pray you not, LeuconoĆ«, to pore
With unpermitted eye on what may be
Appointed by the gods for you and me,
Nor on Chaldean figures any more.
'T were infinitely better to implore
The present only:--whether Jove decree
More winters yet to come, or whether he 
Make even this, whose hard, wave-eaten shore
Shatters the Tuscan seas to-day, the last--
Be wise withal, and rack your wine, nor fill
Your bosom with large hopes; for while I sing,
The envious close of time is narrowing;
So seize the day, or ever it be past,
And let the morrow come for what it will.

Note:  A recitation can be heard here.

20140812

George Crabbe

by Edwin Arlington Robinson

Give him the darkest inch your shelf allows,
Hide him in the lonely garrets, if you will,
But his hard, human pulse is throbbing still
With the sure strength that fearless truth endows.
In spite of all fine science disavows,
Of his plain excellence and stubborn skill
There yet remains what fashion cannot kill,
Though years have thinned the laurel from his brows.

Whether or not we read him, we can feel
From time to time the vigor of his name
Against us like a finger for the shame
And emptiness of what our souls reveal
In books that are as altars where we kneel
To consecrate the flicker, not the flame.

20140811

The Altar

by Edwin Arlington Robinson

Alone, remote, nor witting where I went,
I found an altar builded in a dream--
A fiery place, whereof there was a gleam
So swift, so searching, and so eloquent
Of upward promise, that love's murmur, blent
With sorrow's warning, gave but a supreme
Unending impulse to that human stream
Whose flood was all for the flame's fury bent.

Alas!  I said,--the world is in the wrong.
But the same quenchless fever of unrest
That thrilled the foremost of that martyred throng
Thrilled me, and I awoke…and was the same
Bewildered insect plunging for the flame
That burns, and must burn somehow for the best.

Note:  A recitation can be heard here.