Edwin Arlington Robinson (1869–1935). Collected Poems. 1921.

V. The Town Down the River

1. The Master


A FLYING word from here and there

Had sown the name at which we sneered,

But soon the name was everywhere,

To be reviled and then revered:

A presence to be loved and feared,

We cannot hide it, or deny

That we, the gentlemen who jeered,

May be forgotten by and by.

He came when days were perilous

And hearts of men were sore beguiled;

And having made his note of us,

He pondered and was reconciled.

Was ever master yet so mild

As he, and so untamable?

We doubted, even when he smiled,

Not knowing what he knew so well.

He knew that undeceiving fate

Would shame us whom he served unsought;

He knew that he must wince and wait—

The jest of those for whom he fought;

He knew devoutly what he thought

Of us and of our ridicule;

He knew that we must all be taught

Like little children in a school.

We gave a glamour to the task

That he encountered and saw through,

But little of us did he ask,

And little did we ever do.

And what appears if we review

The season when we railed and chaffed?

It is the face of one who knew

That we were learning while we laughed.

The face that in our vision feels

Again the venom that we flung,

Transfigured to the world reveals

The vigilance to which we clung.

Shrewd, hallowed, harassed, and among

The mysteries that are untold,

The face we see was never young

Nor could it wholly have been old.

For he, to whom we had applied

Our shopman’s test of age and worth,

Was elemental when he died,

As he was ancient at his birth:

The saddest among kings of earth,

Bowed with a galling crown, this man

Met rancor with a cryptic mirth,

Laconic—and Olympian.

The love, the grandeur, and the fame

Are bounded by the world alone;

The calm, the smouldering, and the flame

Of awful patience were his own:

With him they are forever flown

Past all our fond self-shadowings,

Wherewith we cumber the Unknown

As with inept, Icarian wings.

For we were not as other men:

’Twas ours to soar and his to see;

But we are coming down again,

And we shall come down pleasantly;

Nor shall we longer disagree

On what it is to be sublime,

But flourish in our perigee

And have one Titan at a time.