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

II. The Children of the Night

5. Ballade by the Fire

SLOWLY I smoke and hug my knee,

The while a witless masquerade

Of things that only children see

Floats in a mist of light and shade:

They pass, a flimsy cavalcade,

And with a weak, remindful glow,

The falling embers break and fade,

As one by one the phantoms go.

Then, with a melancholy glee

To think where once my fancy strayed,

I muse on what the years may be

Whose coming tales are all unsaid,

Till tongs and shovel, snugly laid

Within their shadowed niches, grow

By grim degrees to pick and spade,

As one by one the phantoms go.

But then, what though the mystic Three

Around me ply their merry trade?—

And Charon soon may carry me

Across the gloomy Stygian glade?—

Be up, my soul; nor be afraid

Of what some unborn year may show;

But mind your human debts are paid,

As one by one the phantoms go.


Life is the game that must be played:

This truth at least, good friends, we know;

So live and laugh, nor be dismayed

As one by one the phantoms go.