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

II. The Children of the Night

42. Octaves


WE thrill too strangely at the master’s touch;

We shrink too sadly from the larger self

Which for its own completeness agitates

And undetermines us; we do not feel—

We dare not feel it yet—the splendid shame

Of uncreated failure; we forget,

The while we groan, that God’s accomplishment

Is always and unfailingly at hand.


TUMULTUOUSLY void of a clean scheme

Whereon to build, whereof to formulate,

The legion life that riots in mankind

Goes ever plunging upward, up and down,

Most like some crazy regiment at arms,

Undisciplined of aught but Ignorance,

And ever led resourcelessly along

To brainless carnage by drunk trumpeters.


TO me the groaning of world-worshippers

Rings like a lonely music played in hell

By one with art enough to cleave the walls

Of heaven with his cadence, but without

The wisdom or the will to comprehend

The strangeness of his own perversity,

And all without the courage to deny

The profit and the pride of his defeat.


WHILE we are drilled in error, we are lost

Alike to truth and usefulness. We think

We are great warriors now, and we can brag

Like Titans; but the world is growing young,

And we, the fools of time, are growing with it:—

We do not fight to-day, we only die;

We are too proud of death, and too ashamed

Of God, to know enough to be alive.


THERE is one battle-field whereon we fall

Triumphant and unconquered; but, alas!

We are too fleshly fearful of ourselves

To fight there till our days are whirled and blurred

By sorrow, and the ministering wheels

Of anguish take us eastward, where the clouds

Of human gloom are lost against the gleam

That shines on Thought’s impenetrable mail.


WHEN we shall hear no more the cradle-songs

Of ages—when the timeless hymns of Love

Defeat them and outsound them—we shall know

The rapture of that large release which all

Right science comprehends; and we shall read,

With unoppressed and unoffended eyes,

That record of All-Soul whereon God writes

In everlasting runes the truth of Him.


THE GUERDON of new childhood is repose:—

Once he has read the primer of right thought,

A man may claim between two smithy strokes

Beatitude enough to realize

God’s parallel completeness in the vague

And incommensurable excellence

That equitably uncreates itself

And makes a whirlwind of the Universe.


THERE is no loneliness:—no matter where

We go, nor whence we come, nor what good friends

Forsake us in the seeming, we are all

At one with a complete companionship;

And though forlornly joyless be the ways

We travel, the compensate spirit-gleams

Of Wisdom shaft the darkness here and there,

Like scattered lamps in unfrequented streets.


WHEN one that you and I had all but sworn

To be the purest thing God ever made

Bewilders us until at last it seems

An angel has come back restigmatized,—

Faith wavers, and we wonder what there is

On earth to make us faithful any more,

But never are quite wise enough to know

The wisdom that is in that wonderment.


WHERE does a dead man go?—The dead man dies;

But the free life that would no longer feed

On fagots of outburned and shattered flesh

Wakes to a thrilled invisible advance,

Unchained (or fettered else) of memory;

And when the dead man goes it seems to me

’T were better for us all to do away

With weeping, and be glad that he is gone.


STILL through the dusk of dead, blank-legended,

And unremunerative years we search

To get where life begins, and still we groan

Because we do not find the living spark

Where no spark ever was; and thus we die,

Still searching, like poor old astronomers

Who totter off to bed and go to sleep,

To dream of untriangulated stars.


WITH conscious eyes not yet sincere enough

To pierce the glimmered cloud that fluctuates

Between me and the glorifying light

That screens itself with knowledge, I discern

The searching rays of wisdom that reach through

The mist of shame’s infirm credulity,

And infinitely wonder if hard words

Like mine have any message for the dead.


I GRANT you friendship is a royal thing,

But none shall ever know that royalty

For what it is till he has realized

His best friend in himself. ’T is then, perforce,

That man’s unfettered faith indemnifies

Of its own conscious freedom the old shame,

And love’s revealed infinitude supplants

Of its own wealth and wisdom the old scorn.


THOUGH the sick beast infect us, we are fraught

Forever with indissoluble Truth,

Wherein redress reveals itself divine,

Transitional, transcendent. Grief and loss,

Disease and desolation, are the dreams

Of wasted excellence; and every dream

Has in it something of an ageless fact

That flouts deformity and laughs at years.


WE lack the courage to be where we are:—

We love too much to travel on old roads,

To triumph on old fields; we love too much

To consecrate the magic of dead things,

And yieldingly to linger by long walls

Of ruin, where the ruinous moonlight

That sheds a lying glory on old stones

Befriends us with a wizard’s enmity.


SOMETHING as one with eyes that look below

The battle-smoke to glimpse the foeman’s charge,

We through the dust of downward years may scan

The onslaught that awaits this idiot world

Where blood pays blood for nothing, and where life

Pays life to madness, till at last the ports

Of gilded helplessness be battered through

By the still crash of salvatory steel.


TO you that sit with Sorrow like chained slaves,

And wonder if the night will ever come,

I would say this: The night will never come,

And sorrow is not always. But my words

Are not enough; your eyes are not enough;

The soul itself must insulate the Real,

Or ever you do cherish in this life—

In this life or in any life—repose.


LIKE a white wall whereon forever breaks

Unsatisfied the tumult of green seas,

Man’s unconjectured godliness rebukes

With its imperial silence the lost waves

Of insufficient grief. This mortal surge

That beats against us now is nothing else

Than plangent ignorance. Truth neither shakes

Nor wavers; but the world shakes, and we shriek.


NOR jewelled phrase nor mere mellifluous rhyme

Reverberates aright, or ever shall,

One cadence of that infinite plain-song

Which is itself all music. Stronger notes

Than any that have ever touched the world

Must ring to tell it—ring like hammer-blows,

Right-echoed of a chime primordial,

On anvils, in the gleaming of God’s forge.


THE PROPHET of dead words defeats himself:

Whoever would acknowledge and include

The foregleam and the glory of the real,

Must work with something else than pen and ink

And painful preparation: he must work

With unseen implements that have no names,

And he must win withal, to do that work,

Good fortitude, clean wisdom, and strong skill.


TO curse the chilled insistence of the dawn

Because the free gleam lingers; to defraud

The constant opportunity that lives

Unchallenged in all sorrow; to forget

For this large prodigality of gold

That larger generosity of thought,—

These are the fleshly clogs of human greed,

The fundamental blunders of mankind.


FOREBODINGS are the fiends of Recreance;

The master of the moment, the clean seer

Of ages, too securely scans what is,

Ever to be appalled at what is not;

He sees beyond the groaning borough lines

Of Hell, God’s highways gleaming, and he knows

That Love’s complete communion is the end

Of anguish to the liberated man.


HERE by the windy docks I stand alone,

But yet companioned. There the vessel goes,

And there my friend goes with it; but the wake

That melts and ebbs between that friend and me

Love’s earnest is of Life’s all-purposeful

And all-triumphant sailing, when the ships

Of Wisdom loose their fretful chains and swing

Forever from the crumbled wharves of Time.