Edwin Arlington Robinson

EdwinArlingtonRobinson

Rereading Edwin Arlington Robinson can be a cause for celebration. His voice is distinct and full of that quiet ferocity that quickens the mind. As in his poem on George Crabbe:

George Crabbe

GIVE him the darkest inch your shelf allows,
Hide him in 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.1

Harold Bloom would say in his usual laconic exuberance of Robinson: “It is not that Robinson believed, with Melville, that the invisible spheres were formed in fright, but he shrewdly suspected that the ultimate world,
though existent, was nearly as destitute as this one. He is an Emersonian
incapable of transport, an ascetic of the Transcendental spirit, contrary to
an inspired saint like Jones Very or to the Emerson of “The Poet,” but a
contrary, not a negation, to use Blake’s distinction.” (Poets, 239) Which is only to say with Nietzsche – that he was in love with fate’s, “amor fati”. The Love of Ananke or Necessity gathered his flickering flame into its dark knot.

We know that he received his first Pulitzer Prize in 1922, followed by two more in 1925 and 1928. In his time he was considered the greatest living American Poet. T.S. Eliot was barely recognized and Wallace Stevens was just embarking. Hart Crane had yet to make his mark. Even the likable and cantankerous Robert Frost was still a spellbound poet of the wilderness of New England. While William Carlos Williams was in his early years as a doctor. So many great poets of that era: Marianne Moore, H.D., Elizabeth Bishop… a feast in the world of landscape and the mind’s proclivities.

Beyond the favored poems of “George Crabbe,” “Luke Havergal,” “The Clerks, along with the remarkable “Credo,” “Walt Whitman” (uncompleted or abandoned), and “The Children of Night” we have the darker tones of Robinson’s later years influenced by Emerson’s late essays in Conduct of Life: “Eros Turannos” and “For a Dead Lady,” both of which even now convey an almost Frostian tone as they waver between a full blown love of Ananke (“Fate”) or Necessity and the Orphic Seer’s deep and abiding essays on “Experience,” and “Fate”.

But I admit a weakness. To me the poem that I keep returning to is “Ben Jonson Entertains a Man from Stratford”. It’s a little too long to add to this short post, yet I leave a little of its lustre as a singular spark of its power to raise the dead among the dead:

He’ll not be going yet. There’s too much yet
Unsung within the man. But when he goes,
I’d stake ye coin o’ the realm his only care
For a phantom world he sounded and found wanting
Will be a portion here, a portion there,  
Of this or that thing or some other thing
That has a patent and intrinsical
Equivalence in those egregious shillings.
And yet he knows, God help him!
Tell me, now, If ever there was anything let loose  
On earth by gods or devils heretofore
Like this mad, careful, proud, indifferent Shakespeare!
Where was it, if it ever was? By heaven,
’Twas never yet in Rhodes or Pergamon —
In Thebes or Nineveh, a thing like this! 
No thing like this was ever out of England;
And that he knows. I wonder if he cares.
Perhaps he does.… O Lord, that House in Stratford!

What he said of George Crabbe might be said of him as well:

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.


 

 

  1. Robinson, Edwin Arlington (2015-01-21). Delphi Poetical Works and Plays of Edwin Arlington Robinson (Illustrated) (Delphi Poets Series Book 46) (Kindle Locations 1992-2000). Delphi Classics. Kindle Edition.

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