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

VII. The Three Taverns

11. John Brown

THOUGH for your sake I would not have you now

So near to me tonight as now you are,

God knows how much a stranger to my heart

Was any cold word that I may have written;

And you, poor woman that I made my wife,

You have had more of loneliness, I fear,

Than I—though I have been the most alone,

Even when the most attended. So it was

God set the mark of his inscrutable

Necessity on one that was to grope,

And serve, and suffer, and withal be glad

For what was his, and is, and is to be,

When his old bones, that are a burden now,

Are saying what the man who carried them

Had not the power to say. Bones in a grave,

Cover them as they will with choking earth,

May shout the truth to men who put them there,

More than all orators. And so, my dear,

Since you have cheated wisdom for the sake

Of sorrow, let your sorrow be for you,

This last of nights before the last of days,

The lying ghost of what there is of me

That is the most alive. There is no death

For me in what they do. Their death it is

They should heed most when the sun comes again

To make them solemn. There are some I know

Whose eyes will hardly see their occupation,

For tears in them—and all for one old man;

For some of them will pity this old man,

Who took upon himself the work of God

Because he pitied millions. That will be

For them, I fancy, their compassionate

Best way of saying what is best in them

To say; for they can say no more than that,

And they can do no more than what the dawn

Of one more day shall give them light enough

To do. But there are many days to be,

And there are many men to give their blood,

As I gave mine for them. May they come soon!

May they come soon, I say. And when they come,

May all that I have said unheard be heard,

Proving at last, or maybe not—no matter—

What sort of madness was the part of me

That made me strike, whether I found the mark

Or missed it. Meanwhile, I’ve a strange content,

A patience, and a vast indifference

To what men say of me and what men fear

To say. There was a work to be begun,

And when the Voice, that I have heard so long,

Announced as in a thousand silences

An end of preparation, I began

The coming work of death which is to be,

That life may be. There is no other way

Than the old way of war for a new land

That will not know itself and is tonight

A stranger to itself, and to the world

A more prodigious upstart among states

Than I was among men, and so shall be

Till they are told and told, and told again;

For men are children, waiting to be told,

And most of them are children all their lives.

The good God in his wisdom had them so,

That now and then a madman or a seer

May shake them out of their complacency

And shame them into deeds. The major file

See only what their fathers may have seen,

Or may have said they saw when they saw nothing.

I do not say it matters what they saw.

Now and again to some lone soul or other

God speaks, and there is hanging to be done,—

As once there was a burning of our bodies

Alive, albeit our souls were sorry fuel.

But now the fires are few, and we are poised

Accordingly, for the state’s benefit,

A few still minutes between heaven and earth.

The purpose is, when they have seen enough

Of what it is that they are not to see,

To pluck me as an unripe fruit of treason,

And then to fling me back to the same earth

Of which they are, as I suppose, the flower—

Not given to know the riper fruit that waits

For a more comprehensive harvesting.

Yes, may they come, and soon. Again I say,

May they come soon!—before too many of them

Shall be the bloody cost of our defection.

When hell waits on the dawn of a new state,

Better it were that hell should not wait long,—

Or so it is I see it who should see

As far or farther into time tonight

Than they who talk and tremble for me now,

Or wish me to those everlasting fires

That are for me no fear. Too many fires

Have sought me out and seared me to the bone—

Thereby, for all I know, to temper me

For what was mine to do. If I did ill

What I did well, let men say I was mad;

Or let my name for ever be a question

That will not sleep in history. What men say

I was will cool no cannon, dull no sword,

Invalidate no truth. Meanwhile, I was;

And the long train is lighted that shall burn,

Though floods of wrath may drench it, and hot feet

May stamp it for a slight time into smoke

That shall blaze up again with growing speed,

Until at last a fiery crash will come

To cleanse and shake a wounded hemisphere,

And heal it of a long malignity

That angry time discredits and disowns.

Tonight there are men saying many things;

And some who see life in the last of me

Will answer first the coming call to death;

For death is what is coming, and then life.

I do not say again for the dull sake

Of speech what you have heard me say before,

But rather for the sake of all I am,

And all God made of me. A man to die

As I do must have done some other work

Than man’s alone. I was not after glory,

But there was glory with me, like a friend,

Throughout those crippling years when friends were few,

And fearful to be known by their own names

When mine was vilified for their approval.

Yet friends they are, and they did what was given

Their will to do; they could have done no more.

I was the one man mad enough, it seems,

To do my work; and now my work is over.

And you, my dear, are not to mourn for me,

Or for your sons, more than a soul should mourn

In Paradise, done with evil and with earth.

There is not much of earth in what remains

For you; and what there may be left of it

For your endurance you shall have at last

In peace, without the twinge of any fear

For my condition; for I shall be done

With plans and actions that have heretofore

Made your days long and your nights ominous

With darkness and the many distances

That were between us. When the silence comes,

I shall in faith be nearer to you then

Than I am now in fact. What you see now

Is only the outside of an old man,

Older than years have made him. Let him die,

And let him be a thing for little grief.

There was a time for service and he served;

And there is no more time for anything

But a short gratefulness to those who gave

Their scared allegiance to an enterprise

That has the name of treason—which will serve

As well as any other for the present.

There are some deeds of men that have no names,

And mine may like as not be one of them.

I am not looking far for names tonight.

The King of Glory was without a name

Until men gave Him one; yet there He was,

Before we found Him and affronted Him

With numerous ingenuities of evil,

Of which one, with His aid, is to be swept

And washed out of the world with fire and blood.

Once I believed it might have come to pass

With a small cost of blood; but I was dreaming—

Dreaming that I believed. The Voice I heard

When I left you behind me in the north,—

To wait there and to wonder and grow old

Of loneliness,—told only what was best,

And with a saving vagueness, I should know

Till I knew more. And had I known even then—

After grim years of search and suffering,

So many of them to end as they began—

After my sickening doubts and estimations

Of plans abandoned and of new plans vain—

After a weary delving everywhere

For men with every virtue but the Vision—

Could I have known, I say, before I left you

That summer morning, all there was to know—

Even unto the last consuming word

That would have blasted every mortal answer

As lightning would annihilate a leaf,

I might have trembled on that summer morning;

I might have wavered; and I might have failed.

And there are many among men today

To say of me that I had best have wavered.

So has it been, so shall it always be,

For those of us who give ourselves to die

Before we are so parcelled and approved

As to be slaughtered by authority.

We do not make so much of what they say

As they of what our folly says of us;

They give us hardly time enough for that,

And thereby we gain much by losing little.

Few are alive to-day with less to lose.

Than I who tell you this, or more to gain;

And whether I speak as one to be destroyed

For no good end outside his own destruction,

Time shall have more to say than men shall hear

Between now and the coming of that harvest

Which is to come. Before it comes, I go—

By the short road that mystery makes long

For man’s endurance of accomplishment.

I shall have more to say when I am dead.