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

V. The Town Down the River

16. But for the Grace of God

“There, but for the grace of God, goes…”

THERE is a question that I ask,

And ask again:

What hunger was half-hidden by the mask

That he wore then?

There was a word for me to say

That I said not;

And in the past there was another day

That I forgot:

A dreary, cold, unwholesome day,

Racked overhead,—

As if the world were turning the wrong way,

And the sun dead:

A day that comes back well enough

Now he is gone.

What then? Has memory no other stuff

To seize upon?

Wherever he may wander now

In his despair,

Would he be more contented in the slough

If all were there?

And yet he brought a kind of light

Into the room;

And when he left, a tinge of something bright

Survived the gloom.

Why will he not be where he is,

And not with me?

The hours that are my life are mine, not his,—

Or used to be.

What numerous imps invisible

Has he at hand,

Far-flying and forlorn as what they tell

At his command?

What hold of weirdness or of worth

Can he possess,

That he may speak from anywhere on earth

His loneliness?

Shall I be caught and held again

In the old net?—

He brought a sorry sunbeam with him then,

But it beams yet.