Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Edwin Arlington Robinson

Edwin Arlington Robinson is one of those great poets you've probably never heard of. He was an American, lived in the late 19th Century and wrote long poems, epic poems and short poems. He was; in short; a poet. He did write some plays in verse but I am not familiar with them, so I can’t say if they are any good. I suspect that they are.

The poem here is called “Ballad By the Fire” and is considered; at least by me; to be one of his best. He wrote quite a few. Almost all of them end with a 4 line summary under the heading of ENVOY. I only mention this because if you have never read his stuff before it might throw you.

This is one of my favorite of his many ballads, as it speaks to my own self-doubts. Curiously I have the same ability as the author does, in that I can also feel myself shedding those doubts with each passing year. The more I get to know me the more comfortable I am with being me. Now, that’s easier said than done.

And that’s the beauty in this poem. A poet’s job is to distill complex feelings into as few, potent words as possible. The reader fills in the missing pieces, which is what makes poetry so personal. What this poem means to me may not mean the same thing to you. And neither one of us is probably even close to knowing what the poet felt when he wrote it. So, without further ado, I give you Edwin Arlington Booth.

Ballad by the Fire

Slowly I smoke and hug my knee,
The while a witless masquerade
Of things that only children see
Floats in a mist of light and shade:

They pass, a flimsy cavalcade,
And with a weak, remindful glow,
The falling embers break and fade,
As one by one the phantoms go.

Then, with a melancholy glee
To think where once my fancy strayed,
I muse on what the years may be
Whose coming tales are all unsaid,

Till tongs and shovel, snugly laid
Within their shadowed niches, grow
By grim degrees to pick and spade,
As one by one the phantoms go.

But then, what though the mystic Three
Around me ply their merry trade? --
And Charon soon may carry me
Across the gloomy Stygian glade? --

Be up, my soul! nor be afraid
Of what some unborn year may show;
But mind your human debts are paid,
As one by one the phantoms go.


Life is the game that must be played:
This truth at least, good friend, we know;
So live and laugh, nor be dismayed
As one by one the phantoms go.

For more poetry by Edwin Arlington Robinson, use the following links. You will find them all encompassing.  (Whatever the others don’t have you can find here.)

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