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Short poem

Edwin Arlington Robinson (1869-1935)


              1We thrill too strangely at the master's touch;
              2We shrink too sadly from the larger self
              3Which for its own completeness agitates
              4And undetermines us; we do not feel --
              5We dare not feel it yet -- the splendid shame
              6Of uncreated failure; we forget,
              7The while we groan, that God's accomplishment
              8Is always and unfailingly at hand.

              9Tumultuously void of a clean scheme
            10Whereon to build, whereof to formulate,
            11The legion life that riots in mankind
            12Goes ever plunging upward, up and down,
            13Most like some crazy regiment at arms,
            14Undisciplined of aught but Ignorance,
            15And ever led resourcelessly along
            16To brainless carnage by drunk trumpeters.

            17To me the groaning of world-worshippers
            18Rings like a lonely music played in hell
            19By one with art enough to cleave the walls
            20Of heaven with his cadence, but without
            21The wisdom or the will to comprehend
            22The strangeness of his own perversity,
            23And all without the courage to deny
            24The profit and the pride of his defeat.

            25While we are drilled in error, we are lost
            26Alike to truth and usefulness. We think
            27We are great warriors now, and we can brag
            28Like Titans; but the world is growing young,
            29And we, the fools of time, are growing with it: --
            30We do not fight to-day, we only die;
            31We are too proud of death, and too ashamed
            32Of God, to know enough to be alive.

            33There is one battle-field whereon we fall
            34Triumphant and unconquered; but, alas!
            35We are too fleshly fearful of ourselves
            36To fight there till our days are whirled and blurred
            37By sorrow, and the ministering wheels
            38Of anguish take us eastward, where the clouds
            39Of human gloom are lost against the gleam
            40That shines on Thought's impenetrable mail.

            41When we shall hear no more the cradle-songs
            42Of ages -- when the timeless hymns of Love
            43Defeat them and outsound them -- we shall know
            44The rapture of that large release which all
            45Right science comprehends; and we shall read,
            46With unoppressed and unoffended eyes,
            47That record of All-Soul whereon God writes
            48In everlasting runes the truth of Him.

            49The guerdon of new childhood is repose: --
            50Once he has read the primer of right thought,
            51A man may claim between two smithy strokes
            52Beatitude enough to realize
            53God's parallel completeness in the vague
            54And incommensurable excellence
            55That equitably uncreates itself
            56And makes a whirlwind of the Universe.

            57There is no loneliness: -- no matter where
            58We go, nor whence we come, nor what good friends
            59Forsake us in the seeming, we are all
            60At one with a complete companionship;
            61And though forlornly joyless be the ways
            62We travel, the compensate spirit-gleams
            63Of Wisdom shaft the darkness here and there,
            64Like scattered lamps in unfrequented streets.

            65When one that you and I had all but sworn
            66To be the purest thing God ever made
            67Bewilders us until at last it seems
            68An angel has come back restigmatized, --
            69Faith wavers, and we wonder what there is
            70On earth to make us faithful any more,
            71But never are quite wise enough to know
            72The wisdom that is in that wonderment.

            73Where does a dead man go? -- The dead man dies;
            74But the free life that would no longer feed
            75On fagots of outburned and shattered flesh
            76Wakes to a thrilled invisible advance,
            77Unchained (or fettered else) of memory;
            78And when the dead man goes it seems to me
            79'T were better for us all to do away
            80With weeping, and be glad that he is gone.

            81So through the dusk of dead, blank-legended,
            82And unremunerative years we search
            83To get where life begins, and still we groan
            84Because we do not find the living spark
            85Where no spark ever was; and thus we die,
            86Still searching, like poor old astronomers
            87Who totter off to bed and go to sleep,
            88To dream of untriangulated stars.

            89With conscious eyes not yet sincere enough
            90To pierce the glimmered cloud that fluctuates
            91Between me and the glorifying light
            92That screens itself with knowledge, I discern
            93The searching rays of wisdom that reach through
            94The mist of shame's infirm credulity,
            95And infinitely wonder if hard words
            96Like mine have any message for the dead.

            97I grant you friendship is a royal thing,
            98But none shall ever know that royalty
            99For what it is till he has realized
          100His best friend in himself. 'T is then, perforce,
          101That man's unfettered faith indemnifies
          102Of its own conscious freedom the old shame,
          103And love's revealed infinitude supplants
          104Of its own wealth and wisdom the old scorn.

          105Though the sick beast infect us, we are fraught
          106Forever with indissoluble Truth,
          107Wherein redress reveals itself divine,
          108Transitional, transcendent. Grief and loss,
          109Disease and desolation, are the dreams
          110Of wasted excellence; and every dream
          111Has in it something of an ageless fact
          112That flouts deformity and laughs at years.

          113We lack the courage to be where we are: --
          114We love too much to travel on old roads,
          115To triumph on old fields; we love too much
          116To consecrate the magic of dead things,
          117And yieldingly to linger by long walls
          118Of ruin, where the ruinous moonlight
          119That sheds a lying glory on old stones
          120Befriends us with a wizard's enmity.

          121Something as one with eyes that look below
          122The battle-smoke to glimpse the foeman's charge,
          123We through the dust of downward years may scan
          124The onslaught that awaits this idiot world
          125Where blood pays blood for nothing, and where life
          126Pays life to madness, till at last the ports
          127Of gilded helplessness be battered through
          128By the still crash of salvatory steel.

          129To you that sit with Sorrow like chained slaves,
          130And wonder if the night will ever come,
          131I would say this: The night will never come,
          132And sorrow is not always. But my words
          133Are not enough; your eyes are not enough;
          134The soul itself must insulate the Real,
          135Or ever you do cherish in this life --
          136In this life or in any life -- repose.

          137Like a white wall whereon forever breaks
          138Unsatisfied the tumult of green seas,
          139Man's unconjectured godliness rebukes
          140With its imperial silence the lost waves
          141Of insufficient grief. This mortal surge
          142That beats against us now is nothing else
          143Than plangent ignorance. Truth neither shakes
          144Nor wavers; but the world shakes, and we shriek.

          145Nor jewelled phrase nor mere mellifluous rhyme
          146Reverberates aright, or ever shall,
          147One cadence of that infinite plain-song
          148Which is itself all music. Stronger notes
          149Than any that have ever touched the world
          150Must ring to tell it -- ring like hammer-blows,
          151Right-echoed of a chime primordial,
          152On anvils, in the gleaming of God's forge.

          153The prophet of dead words defeats himself:
          154Whoever would acknowledge and include
          155The foregleam and the glory of the real,
          156Must work with something else than pen and ink
          157And painful preparation: he must work
          158With unseen implements that have no names,
          159And he must win withal, to do that work,
          160Good fortitude, clean wisdom, and strong skill.

          161To curse the chilled insistence of the dawn
          162Because the free gleam lingers; to defraud
          163The constant opportunity that lives
          164Unchallenged in all sorrow; to forget
          165For this large prodigality of gold
          166That larger generosity of thought, --
          167These are the fleshly clogs of human greed,
          168The fundamental blunders of mankind.

          169Forebodings are the fiends of Recreance;
          170The master of the moment, the clean seer
          171Of ages, too securely scans what is,
          172Ever to be appalled at what is not;
          173He sees beyond the groaning borough lines
          174Of Hell, God's highways gleaming, and he knows
          175That Love's complete communion is the end
          176Of anguish to the liberated man.

          177Here by the windy docks I stand alone,
          178But yet companioned. There the vessel goes,
          179And there my friend goes with it; but the wake
          180That melts and ebbs between that friend and me
          181Love's earnest is of Life's all-purposeful
          182And all-triumphant sailing, when the ships
          183Of Wisdom loose their fretful chains and swing
          184Forever from the crumbled wharves of Time.


28] Titans: giants defeated by the gods of Olympus.

29] the fools of time: Shakespeare's sonnet 124, line 13.

48] runes: the Germanic futhork, characters especially designed for inscribing on stone.

143] plangent: plaintive sounding.

169] Recreance: cowardice.

Online text copyright © 2003, Ian Lancashire for the Department of English, University of Toronto.
Published by the Web Development Group, Information Technology Services, University of Toronto Libraries.

Original text: Collected Poems, with an introduction by John Drinkwater (London: Cecil Palmer, 1922): 100-107. PS 3535 O25A17 1922 Robarts Library.
First publication date: 1890 - 1897
Publication date note: The Children of the Night (1890-97), pp. 91-115. Originally in 25 parts; nos. I and III were omitted in 1922
RPO poem editor: Ian Lancashire
RP edition: RPO 1998.
Recent editing: 2:2002/4/3

Form note: unrhyming octaves

Other poems by Edwin Arlington Robinson