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

I. The Man Against the Sky

19. The Poor Relation

NO longer torn by what she knows

And sees within the eyes of others,

Her doubts are when the daylight goes,

Her fears are for the few she bothers.

She tells them it is wholly wrong

Of her to stay alive so long;

And when she smiles her forehead shows

A crinkle that had been her mother’s.

Beneath her beauty, blanched with pain,

And wistful yet for being cheated,

A child would seem to ask again

A question many times repeated;

But no rebellion has betrayed

Her wonder at what she has paid

For memories that have no stain,

For triumph born to be defeated.

To those who come for what she was—

The few left who know where to find her—

She clings, for they are all she has;

And she may smile when they remind her,

As heretofore, of what they know

Of roses that are still to blow

By ways where not so much as grass

Remains of what she sees behind her.

They stay a while, and having done

What penance or the past requires,

They go, and leave her there alone

To count her chimneys and her spires.

Her lip shakes when they go away,

And yet she would not have them stay;

She knows as well as anyone

That Pity, having played, soon tires.

But one friend always reappears,

A good ghost, not to be forsaken;

Whereat she laughs and has no fears

Of what a ghost may reawaken,

But welcomes, while she wears and mends

The poor relation’s odds and ends,

Her truant from a tomb of years—

Her power of youth so early taken.

Poor laugh, more slender than her song

It seems; and there are none to hear it

With even the stopped ears of the strong

For breaking heart or broken spirit.

The friends who clamored for her place,

And would have scratched her for her face,

Have lost her laughter for so long

That none would care enough to fear it.

None live who need fear anything

From her, whose losses are their pleasure;

The plover with a wounded wing

Stays not the flight that others measure;

So there she waits, and while she lives,

And death forgets, and faith forgives,

Her memories go foraging

For bits of childhood song they treasure.

And like a giant harp that hums

On always, and is always blending

The coming of what never comes

With what has past and had an ending,

The City trembles, throbs, and pounds

Outside, and through a thousand sounds

The small intolerable drums

Of Time are like slow drops descending.

Bereft enough to shame a sage

And given little to long sighing,

With no illusion to assuage

The lonely changelessness of dying,—

Unsought, unthought-of, and unheard,

She sings and watches like a bird,

Safe in a comfortable cage

From which there will be no more flying.