Home  »  Collected Poems by Robinson, Edwin Arlington  »  4. Aunt Imogen

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

III. Captain Craig, Etc.

4. Aunt Imogen

AUNT IMOGEN was coming, and therefore

The children—Jane, Sylvester, and Young George—

Were eyes and ears; for there was only one

Aunt Imogen to them in the whole world,

And she was in it only for four weeks

In fifty-two. But those great bites of time

Made all September a Queen’s Festival;

And they would strive, informally, to make

The most of them.—The mother understood,

And wisely stepped away. Aunt Imogen

Was there for only one month in the year,

While she, the mother,—she was always there;

And that was what made all the difference.

She knew it must be so, for Jane had once

Expounded it to her so learnedly

That she had looked away from the child’s eyes

And thought; and she had thought of many things.

There was a demonstration every time

Aunt Imogen appeared, and there was more

Than one this time. And she was at a loss

Just how to name the meaning of it all:

It puzzled her to think that she could be

So much to any crazy thing alive—

Even to her sister’s little savages

Who knew no better than to be themselves;

But in the midst of her glad wonderment

She found herself besieged and overcome

By two tight arms and one tumultuous head,

And therewith half bewildered and half pained

By the joy she felt and by the sudden love

That proved itself in childhood’s honest noise.

Jane, by the wings of sex, had reached her first;

And while she strangled her, approvingly,

Sylvester thumped his drum and Young George howled.

But finally, when all was rectified,

And she had stilled the clamor of Young George

By giving him a long ride on her shoulders,

They went together into the old room

That looked across the fields; and Imogen

Gazed out with a girl’s gladness in her eyes,

Happy to know that she was back once more

Where there were those who knew her, and at last

Had gloriously got away again

From cabs and clattered asphalt for a while;

And there she sat and talked and looked and laughed

And made the mother and the children laugh.

Aunt Imogen made everybody laugh.

There was the feminine paradox—that she

Who had so little sunshine for herself

Should have so much for others. How it was

That she could make, and feel for making it,

So much of joy for them, and all along

Be covering, like a scar, and while she smiled,

That hungering incompleteness and regret—

That passionate ache for something of her own,

For something of herself—she never knew.

She knew that she could seem to make them all

Believe there was no other part of her

Than her persistent happiness; but the why

And how she did not know. Still none of them

Could have a thought that she was living down—

Almost as if regret were criminal,

So proud it was and yet so profitless—

The penance of a dream, and that was good.

Her sister Jane—the mother of little Jane,

Sylvester, and Young George—might make herself

Believe she knew, for she—well, she was Jane.

Young George, however, did not yield himself

To nourish the false hunger of a ghost

That made no good return. He saw too much:

The accumulated wisdom of his years

Had so conclusively made plain to him

The permanent profusion of a world

Where everybody might have everything

To do, and almost everything to eat,

That he was jubilantly satisfied

And all unthwarted by adversity.

Young George knew things. The world, he had found out,

Was a good place, and life was a good game—

Particularly when Aunt Imogen

Was in it. And one day it came to pass—

One rainy day when she was holding him

And rocking him—that he, in his own right,

Took it upon himself to tell her so;

And something in his way of telling it—

The language, or the tone, or something else—

Gripped like insidious fingers on her throat,

And then went foraging as if to make

A plaything of her heart. Such undeserved

And unsophisticated confidence

Went mercilessly home; and had she sat

Before a looking glass, the deeps of it

Could not have shown more clearly to her then

Than one thought-mirrored little glimpse had shown,

The pang that wrenched her face and filled her eyes

With anguish and intolerable mist.

The blow that she had vaguely thrust aside

Like fright so many times had found her now:

Clean-thrust and final it had come to her

From a child’s lips at last, as it had come

Never before, and as it might be felt

Never again. Some grief, like some delight,

Stings hard but once: to custom after that

The rapture or the pain submits itself,

And we are wiser than we were before.

And Imogen was wiser; though at first

Her dream-defeating wisdom was indeed

A thankless heritage: there was no sweet,

No bitter now; nor was there anything

To make a daily meaning for her life—

Till truth, like Harlequin, leapt out somehow

From ambush and threw sudden savor to it—

But the blank taste of time. There were no dreams,

No phantoms in her future any more:

One clinching revelation of what was

One by-flash of irrevocable chance,

Had acridly but honestly foretold

The mystical fulfilment of a life

That might have once … But that was all gone by:

There was no need of reaching back for that:

The triumph was not hers: there was no love

Save borrowed love: there was no might have been.

But there was yet Young George—and he had gone

Conveniently to sleep, like a good boy;

And there was yet Sylvester with his drum,

And there was frowzle-headed little Jane;

And there was Jane the sister, and the mother,—

Her sister, and the mother of them all.

They were not hers, not even one of them:

She was not born to be so much as that,

For she was born to be Aunt Imogen.

Now she could see the truth and look at it;

Now she could make stars out where once had palled

A future’s emptiness; now she could share

With others—ah, the others!—to the end

The largess of a woman who could smile;

Now it was hers to dance the folly down,

And all the murmuring; now it was hers

To be Aunt Imogen.—So, when Young George

Woke up and blinked at her with his big eyes,

And smiled to see the way she blinked at him,

’T was only in old concord with the stars

That she took hold of him and held him close,

Close to herself, and crushed him till he laughed.