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

V. The Town Down the River

2. The Town Down the River


SAID the Watcher by the Way

To the young and the unladen,

To the boy and to the maiden,

“God be with you both to-day.

First your song came ringing,

Now you come, you two,—

Knowing naught of what you do,

Or of what your dreams are bringing.

“O you children who go singing

To the Town down the River,

Where the millions cringe and shiver,

Tell me what you know to-day;

Tell me how far you are going,

Tell me how you find your way.

O you children who go dreaming,

Tell me what you dream to-day.”

“He is old and we have heard him,”

Said the boy then to the maiden;

“He is old and heavy laden

With a load we throw away.

Care may come to find us,

Age may lay us low;

Still, we seek the light we know,

And the dead we leave behind us.

“Did he think that he would blind us

Into such a small believing

As to live without achieving,

When the lights have led so far?

Let him watch or let him wither,—

Shall he tell us where we are?

We know best who go together,

Downward, onward, and so far.”


SAID the Watcher by the Way

To the fiery folk that hastened,

To the loud and the unchastened,

“You are strong, I see, to-day.

Strength and hope may lead you

To the journey’s end,—

Each to be the other’s friend

If the Town should fail to need you.

“And are ravens there to feed you

In the Town down the River,

Where the gift appalls the giver

And youth hardens day by day?

O you brave and you unshaken,

Are you truly on your way?

And are sirens in the River,

That you come so far to-day?”

“You are old, and we have listened,”

Said the voice of one who halted;

“You are sage and self-exalted,

But your way is not our way.

You that cannot aid us

Give us words to eat.

Be assured that they are sweet,

And that we are as God made us.

“Not in vain have you delayed us,

Though the River still be calling

Through the twilight that is falling

And the Town be still so far.

By the whirlwind of your wisdom

Leagues are lifted as leaves are;

But a king without a kingdom

Fails us, who have come so far.”


SAID the Watcher by the Way

To the slower folk who stumbled,

To the weak and the world-humbled,

“Tell me how you fare to-day.

Some with ardor shaken,

All with honor scarred,

Do you falter, finding hard

The far chance that you have taken?

“Or, do you at length awaken

To an antic retribution,

Goading to a new confusion

The drugged hopes of yesterday?

O you poor mad men that hobble,

Will you not return, or stay?

Do you trust, you broken people,

To a dawn without the day?”

“You speak well of what you know not,”

Muttered one; and then a second:

“You have begged and you have beckoned,

But you see us on our way.

Who are you to scold us,

Knowing what we know?

Jeremiah, long ago,

Said as much as you have told us.

“As we are, then, you behold us:

Derelicts of all conditions,

Poets, rogues, and sick physicians,

Plodding forward from afar;

Forward now into the darkness

Where the men before us are;

Forward, onward, out of grayness,

To the light that shone so far.”


SAID the Watcher by the Way

To some aged ones who lingered,

To the shrunken, the claw-fingered,

“So you come for me to-day.”—

“Yes, to give you warning;

You are old,” one said;

“You have old hairs on your head,

Fit for laurel, not for scorning.

“From the first of early morning

We have toiled along to find you;

We, as others, have maligned you,

But we need your scorn to-day.

By the light that we saw shining,

Let us not be lured alway;

Let us hear no River calling

When to-morrow is to-day.”

“But your lanterns are unlighted

And the Town is far before you:

Let us hasten, I implore you,”

Said the Watcher by the Way.

“Long have I waited,

Longer have I known

That the Town would have its own,

And the call be for the fated.

“In the name of all created,

Let us hear no more, my brothers;

Are we older than all others?

Are the planets in our way?”—

“Hark,” said one; “I hear the River,

Calling always, night and day.”—

“Forward, then! The lights are shining,”

Said the Watcher by the Way.