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

VII. The Three Taverns

12. The False Gods

“WE are false and evanescent, and aware of our deceit,

From the straw that is our vitals to the clay that is our feet.

You may serve us if you must, and you shall have your wage of ashes,—

Though arrears due thereafter may be hard for you to meet.

“You may swear that we are solid, you may say that we are strong,

But we know that we are neither and we say that you are wrong;

You may find an easy worship in acclaiming our indulgence,

But your large admiration of us now is not for long.

“If your doom is to adore us with a doubt that’s never still,

And you pray to see our faces—pray in earnest, and you will.

You may gaze at us and live, and live assured of our confusion:

For the False Gods are mortal, and are made for you to kill.

“And you may as well observe, while apprehensively at ease

With an Art that’s inorganic and is anything you please,

That anon your newest ruin may lie crumbling unregarded,

Like an old shrine forgotten in a forest of new trees.

“Howsoever like no other be the mode you may employ,

There’s an order in the ages for the ages to enjoy;

Though the temples you are shaping and the passions you are singing

Are a long way from Athens and a longer way from Troy.

“When we promise more than ever of what never shall arrive,

And you seem a little more than ordinarily alive,

Make a note that you are sure you understand our obligations—

For there’s grief always auditing where two and two are five.

“There was this for us to say and there was this for you to know,

Though it humbles and it hurts us when we have to tell you so.

If you doubt the only truth in all our perjured composition,

May the True Gods attend you and forget us when we go.”