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

V. The Town Down the River

31. The Revealer


He turned aside to see the carcase of the lion: and behold, there was a swarm of bees and honey in the carcase of the lion … And the men of the city said unto him, What is sweeter than honey? and what is stronger than a lion?—Judges, 14.

THE PALMS of Mammon have disowned

The gift of our complacency;

The bells of ages have intoned

Again their rhythmic irony;

And from the shadow, suddenly,

’Mid echoes of decrepit rage,

The seer of our necessity

Confronts a Tyrian heritage.

Equipped with unobscured intent

He smiles with lions at the gate,

Acknowledging the compliment

Like one familiar with his fate;

The lions, having time to wait,

Perceive a small cloud in the skies,

Whereon they look, disconsolate,

With scared, reactionary eyes.

A shadow falls upon the land,—

They sniff, and they are like to roar;

For they will never understand

What they have never seen before.

They march in order to the door,

Not knowing the best thing to seek,

Nor caring if the gods restore

The lost composite of the Greek.

The shadow fades, the light arrives,

And ills that were concealed are seen;

The combs of long-defended hives

Now drip dishonored and unclean;

No Nazarite or Nazarene

Compels our questioning to prove

The difference that is between

Dead lions—or the sweet thereof.

But not for lions, live or dead,

Except as we are all as one,

Is he the world’s accredited

Revealer of what we have done;

What You and I and Anderson

Are still to do is his reward;

If we go back when he is gone—

There is an Angel with a Sword.

He cannot close again the doors

That now are shattered for our sake;

He cannot answer for the floors

We crowd on, or for walls that shake;

He cannot wholly undertake

The cure of our immunity;

He cannot hold the stars, or make

Of seven years a century.

So Time will give us what we earn

Who flaunt the handful for the whole,

And leave us all that we may learn

Who read the surface for the soul;

And we’ll be steering to the goal,

For we have said so to our sons:

When we who ride can pay the toll,

Time humors the far-seeing ones.

Down to our nose’s very end

We see, and are invincible,—

Too vigilant to comprehend

The scope of what we cannot sell;

But while we seem to know as well

As we know dollars, or our skins,

The Titan may not always tell

Just where the boundary begins.