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

I. The Man Against the Sky

1. Flammonde

THE MAN Flammonde, from God knows where,

With firm address and foreign air,

With news of nations in his talk

And something royal in his walk,

With glint of iron in his eyes,

But never doubt, nor yet surprise,

Appeared, and stayed, and held his head

As one by kings accredited.

Erect, with his alert repose

About him, and about his clothes,

He pictured all tradition hears

Of what we owe to fifty years.

His cleansing heritage of taste

Paraded neither want nor waste;

And what he needed for his fee

To live, he borrowed graciously.

He never told us what he was,

Or what mischance, or other cause,

Had banished him from better days

To play the Prince of Castaways.

Meanwhile he played surpassing well

A part, for most, unplayable;

In fine, one pauses, half afraid

To say for certain that he played.

For that, one may as well forego

Conviction as to yes or no;

Nor can I say just how intense

Would then have been the difference

To several, who, having striven

In vain to get what he was given,

Would see the stranger taken on

By friends not easy to be won.

Moreover, many a malcontent

He soothed and found munificent;

His courtesy beguiled and foiled

Suspicion that his years were soiled;

His mien distinguished any crowd,

His credit strengthened when he bowed;

And women, young and old, were fond

Of looking at the man Flammonde.

There was a woman in our town

On whom the fashion was to frown;

But while our talk renewed the tinge

Of a long-faded scarlet fringe,

The man Flammonde saw none of that,

And what he saw we wondered at—

That none of us, in her distress,

Could hide or find our littleness.

There was a boy that all agreed

Had shut within him the rare seed

Of learning. We could understand,

But none of us could lift a hand.

The man Flammonde appraised the youth,

And told a few of us the truth;

And thereby, for a little gold,

A flowered future was unrolled.

There were two citizens who fought

For years and years, and over nought;

They made life awkward for their friends,

And shortened their own dividends.

The man Flammonde said what was wrong

Should be made right; nor was it long

Before they were again in line,

And had each other in to dine.

And these I mention are but four

Of many out of many more.

So much for them. But what of him—

So firm in every look and limb?

What small satanic sort of kink

Was in his brain? What broken link

Withheld him from the destinies

That came so near to being his?

What was he, when we came to sift

His meaning, and to note the drift

Of incommunicable ways

That make us ponder while we praise?

Why was it that his charm revealed

Somehow the surface of a shield?

What was it that we never caught?

What was he, and what was he not?

How much it was of him we met

We cannot ever know; nor yet

Shall all he gave us quite atone

For what was his, and his alone;

Nor need we now, since he knew best,

Nourish an ethical unrest:

Rarely at once will nature give

The power to be Flammonde and live.

We cannot know how much we learn

From those who never will return,

Until a flash of unforeseen

Remembrance falls on what has been.

We’ve each a darkening hill to climb;

And this is why, from time to time

In Tilbury Town, we look beyond

Horizons for the man Flammonde.