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

VII. The Three Taverns

6. The Three Taverns

When the brethren heard of us, they came to meet us as far as Appii Forum, and The Three Taverns.—(Acts xxviii, 15)

HERODION, Apelles, Amplias,

And Andronicus? Is it you I see—

At last? And is it you now that are gazing

As if in doubt of me? Was I not saying

That I should come to Rome? I did say that;

And I said furthermore that I should go

On westward, where the gateway of the world

Lets in the central sea. I did say that,

But I say only, now, that I am Paul—

A prisoner of the Law, and of the Lord

A voice made free. If there be time enough

To live, I may have more to tell you then

Of western matters. I go now to Rome,

Where Cæsar waits for me, and I shall wait,

And Cæsar knows how long. In Cæsarea

There was a legend of Agrippa saying

In a light way to Festus, having heard

My deposition, that I might be free,

Had I stayed free of Cæsar; but the word

Of God would have it as you see it is—

And here I am. The cup that I shall drink

Is mine to drink—the moment or the place

Not mine to say. If it be now in Rome,

Be it now in Rome; and if your faith exceed

The shadow cast of hope, say not of me

Too surely or too soon that years and shipwreck,

And all the many deserts I have crossed

That are not named or regioned, have undone

Beyond the brevities of our mortal healing

The part of me that is the least of me.

You see an older man than he who fell

Prone to the earth when he was nigh Damascus,

Where the great light came down; yet I am he

That fell, and he that saw, and he that heard.

And I am here, at last; and if at last

I give myself to make another crumb

For this pernicious feast of time and men—

Well, I have seen too much of time and men

To fear the ravening or the wrath of either.

Yes, it is Paul you see—the Saul of Tarsus

That was a fiery Jew, and had men slain

For saying Something was beyond the Law,

And in ourselves. I fed my suffering soul

Upon the Law till I went famishing,

Not knowing that I starved. How should I know,

More then than any, that the food I had—

What else it may have been—was not for me?

My fathers and their fathers and their fathers

Had found it good, and said there was no other,

And I was of the line. When Stephen fell,

Among the stones that crushed his life away,

There was no place alive that I could see

For such a man. Why should a man be given

To live beyond the Law? So I said then,

As men say now to me. How then do I

Persist in living? Is that what you ask?

If so, let my appearance be for you

No living answer; for Time writes of death

On men before they die, and what you see

Is not the man. The man that you see not—

The man within the man—is most alive;

Though hatred would have ended, long ago,

The bane of his activities. I have lived,

Because the faith within me that is life

Endures to live, and shall, till soon or late,

Death, like a friend unseen, shall say to me

My toil is over and my work begun.

How often, and how many a time again,

Have I said I should be with you in Rome!

He who is always coming never comes,

Or comes too late, you may have told yourselves;

And I may tell you now that after me,

Whether I stay for little or for long,

The wolves are coming. Have an eye for them,

And a more careful ear for their confusion

Than you need have much longer for the sound

Of what I tell you—should I live to say

More than I say to Cæsar. What I know

Is down for you to read in what is written;

And if I cloud a little with my own

Mortality the gleam that is immortal,

I do it only because I am I—

Being on earth and of it, in so far

As time flays yet the remnant. This you know;

And if I sting men, as I do sometimes,

With a sharp word that hurts, it is because

Man’s habit is to feel before he sees;

And I am of a race that feels. Moreover,

The world is here for what is not yet here

For more than are a few; and even in Rome,

Where men are so enamored of the Cross

That fame has echoed, and increasingly,

The music of your love and of your faith

To foreign ears that are as far away

As Antioch and Haran, yet I wonder

How much of love you know, and if your faith

Be the shut fruit of words. If so, remember

Words are but shells unfilled. Jews have at least

A Law to make them sorry they were born

If they go long without it; and these Gentiles,

For the first time in shrieking history,

Have love and law together, if so they will,

For their defense and their immunity

In these last days. Rome, if I know the name,

Will have anon a crown of thorns and fire

Made ready for the wreathing of new masters,

Of whom we are appointed, you and I,—

And you are still to be when I am gone,

Should I go presently. Let the word fall,

Meanwhile, upon the dragon-ridden field

Of circumstance, either to live or die;

Concerning which there is a parable,

Made easy for the comfort and attention

Of those who preach, fearing they preach in vain.

You are to plant, and then to plant again

Where you have gathered, gathering as you go;

For you are in the fields that are eternal,

And you have not the burden of the Lord

Upon your mortal shoulders. What you have

Is a light yoke, made lighter by the wearing,

Till it shall have the wonder and the weight

Of a clear jewel, shining with a light

Wherein the sun and all the fiery stars

May soon be fading. When Gamaliel said

That if they be of men these things are nothing

But if they be of God, they are for none

To overthrow, he spoke as a good Jew,

And one who stayed a Jew; and he said all.

And you know, by the temper of your faith,

How far the fire is in you that I felt

Before I knew Damascus. A word here,

Or there, or not there, or not anywhere,

Is not the Word that lives and is the life;

And you, therefore, need weary not yourselves

With jealous aches of others. If the world

Were not a world of aches and innovations,

Attainment would have no more joy of it.

There will be creeds and schisms, creeds in creeds,

And schisms in schisms; myriads will be done

To death because a farthing has two sides,

And is at last a farthing. Telling you this,

I, who bid men to live, appeal to Cæsar.

Once I had said the ways of God were dark,

Meaning by that the dark ways of the Law.

Such is the Glory of our tribulations;

For the Law kills the flesh that kills the Law,

And we are then alive. We have eyes then;

And we have then the Cross between two worlds—

To guide us, or to blind us for a time,

Till we have eyes indeed. The fire that smites

A few on highways, changing all at once,

Is not for all. The power that holds the world

Away from God that holds himself away—

Farther away than all your works and words

Are like to fly without the wings of faith—

Was not, nor ever shall be, a small hazard

Enlivening the ways of easy leisure

Or the cold road of knowledge. When our eyes

Have wisdom, we see more than we remember;

And the old world of our captivities

May then become a smitten glimpse of ruin,

Like one where vanished hewers have had their day

Of wrath on Lebanon. Before we see,

Meanwhile, we suffer; and I come to you,

At last, through many storms and through much night.

Yet whatsoever I have undergone,

My keepers in this instance are not hard.

But for the chance of an ingratitude,

I might indeed be curious of their mercy,

And fearful of their leisure while I wait,

A few leagues out of Rome. Men go to Rome,

Not always to return—but not that now.

Meanwhile, I seem to think you look at me

With eyes that are at last more credulous

Of my identity. You remark in me

No sort of leaping giant, though some words

Of mine to you from Corinth may have leapt

A little through your eyes into your soul.

I trust they were alive, and are alive

Today; for there be none that shall indite

So much of nothing as the man of words

Who writes in the Lord’s name for his name’s sake

And has not in his blood the fire of time

To warm eternity. Let such a man—

If once the light is in him and endures—

Content himself to be the general man,

Set free to sift the decencies and thereby

To learn, except he be one set aside

For sorrow, more of pleasure than of pain;

Though if his light be not the light indeed,

But a brief shine that never really was,

And fails, leaving him worse than where he was,

Then shall he be of all men destitute.

And here were not an issue for much ink,

Or much offending faction among scribes.

The Kingdom is within us, we are told;

And when I say to you that we possess it

In such a measure as faith makes it ours,

I say it with a sinner’s privilege

Of having seen and heard, and seen again,

After a darkness; and if I affirm

To the last hour that faith affords alone

The Kingdom entrance and an entertainment,

I do not see myself as one who says

To man that he shall sit with folded hands

Against the Coming. If I be anything,

I move a driven agent among my kind,

Establishing by the faith of Abraham,

And by the grace of their necessities,

The clamoring word that is the word of life

Nearer than heretofore to the solution

Of their tomb-serving doubts. If I have loosed

A shaft of language that has flown sometimes

A little higher than the hearts and heads

Of nature’s minions, it will yet be heard,

Like a new song that waits for distant ears.

I cannot be the man that I am not;

And while I own that earth is my affliction,

I am a man of earth, who says not all

To all alike. That were impossible.

Even as it were so that He should plant

A larger garden first. But you today

Are for the larger sowing; and your seed,

A little mixed, will have, as He foresaw,

The foreign harvest of a wider growth,

And one without an end. Many there are,

And are to be, that shall partake of it,

Though none may share it with an understanding

That is not his alone. We are all alone;

And yet we are all parcelled of one order—

Jew, Gentile, or barbarian in the dark

Of wildernesses that are not so much

As names yet in a book. And there are many,

Finding at last that words are not the Word,

And finding only that, will flourish aloft,

Like heads of captured Pharisees on pikes,

Our contradictions and discrepancies;

And there are many more will hang themselves

Upon the letter, seeing not in the Word

The friend of all who fail, and in their faith

A sword of excellence to cut them down.

As long as there are glasses that are dark—

And there are many—we see darkly through them;

All which have I conceded and set down

In words that have no shadow. What is dark

Is dark, and we may not say otherwise;

Yet what may be as dark as a lost fire

For one of us, may still be for another

A coming gleam across the gulf of ages,

And a way home from shipwreck to the shore;

And so, through pangs and ills and desperations,

There may be light for all. There shall be light.

As much as that, you know. You cannot say

This woman or that man will be the next

On whom it falls; you are not here for that.

You ministration is to be for others

The firing of a rush that may for them

Be soon the fire itself. The few at first

Are fighting for the multitude at last;

Therefore remember what Gamaliel said

Before you, when the sick were lying down

In streets all night for Peter’s passing shadow.

Fight, and say what you feel; say more than words.

Give men to know that even their days of earth

To come are more than ages that are gone.

Say what you feel, while you have time to say it.

Eternity will answer for itself,

Without your intercession; yet the way

For many is a long one, and as dark,

Meanwhile, as dreams of hell. See not your toil

Too much, and if I be away from you,

Think of me as a brother to yourselves,

Of many blemishes. Beware of stoics,

And give your left hand to grammarians;

And when you seem, as many a time you may,

To have no other friend than hope, remember

That you are not the first, or yet the last.

The best of life, until we see beyond

The shadows of ourselves (and they are less

Than even the blindest of indignant eyes

Would have them) is in what we do not know.

Make, then, for all your fears a place to sleep

With all your faded sins; nor think yourselves

Egregious and alone for your defects

Of youth and yesterday. I was young once;

And there’s a question if you played the fool

With a more fervid and inherent zeal

Than I have in my story to remember,

Or gave your necks to folly’s conquering foot,

Or flung yourselves with an unstudied aim,

More frequently than I. Never mind that.

Man’s little house of days will hold enough,

Sometimes, to make him wish it were not his,

But it will not hold all. Things that are dead

Are best without it, and they own their death

By virtue of their dying. Let them go,—

But think you not the world is ashes yet,

And you have all the fire. The world is here

Today, and it may not be gone tomorrow;

For there are millions, and there may be more,

To make in turn a various estimation

Of its old ills and ashes, and the traps

Of its apparent wrath. Many with ears

That hear not yet, shall have ears given to them,

And then they shall hear strangely. Many with eyes

That are incredulous of the Mystery

Shall yet be driven to feel, and then to read

Where language has an end and is a veil,

Not woven of our words. Many that hate

Their kind are soon to know that without love

Their faith is but the perjured name of nothing.

I that have done some hating in my time

See now no time for hate; I that have left,

Fading behind me like familiar lights

That are to shine no more for my returning,

Home, friends, and honors,—I that have lost all else

For wisdom, and the wealth of it, say now

To you that out of wisdom has come love,

That measures and is of itself the measure

Of works and hope and faith. Your longest hours

Are not so long that you may torture them

And harass not yourselves; and the last days

Are on the way that you prepare for them,

And was prepared for you, here in a world

Where you have sinned and suffered, striven and seen.

If you be not so hot for counting them

Before they come that you consume yourselves,

Peace may attend you all in these last days—

And me, as well as you. Yes, even in Rome.

Well, I have talked and rested, though I fear

My rest has not been yours; in which event,

Forgive one who is only seven leagues

From Cæsar. When I told you I should come,

I did not see myself the criminal

You contemplate, for seeing beyond the Law

That which the Law saw not. But this, indeed,

Was good of you, and I shall not forget;

No, I shall not forget you came so far

To meet a man so dangerous. Well, farewell.

They come to tell me I am going now—

With them. I hope that we shall meet again,

But none may say what he shall find in Rome.