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The Man against the Sky

By Jimmy James,2014-11-30 10:29
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The Man against the Sky

by Edwin Arlington Robinson

A Book of Poems

To

    the memory of

WILLIAM EDWARD BUTLER

    Several of the poems included in this book are reprinted from American periodicals, as follows: "The Gift of God", "Old King Cole", "Another Dark Lady", and "The Unforgiven"; "Flammonde" and "The Poor Relation"; "The Clinging Vine"; "Eros Turannos" and "Bokardo"; "The Voice of Age"; "Cassandra"; "The Burning Book"; "Theophilus"; "Ben Jonson Entertains a Man from Stratford".

Contents

Flammonde

    The Gift of God

    The Clinging Vine

    Cassandra

    John Gorham

    Stafford's Cabin

    Hillcrest

    Old King Cole

    Ben Jonson Entertains a Man from Stratford

    Eros Turannos

    Old Trails

    The Unforgiven

    Theophilus

    Veteran Sirens

    Siege Perilous

    Another Dark Lady

    The Voice of Age

    The Dark House

    The Poor Relation

    The Burning Book

    Fragment

    Lisette and Eileen

    Llewellyn and the Tree

Bewick Finzer

    Bokardo

    The Man against the Sky

     -----------------------

     The Man against the Sky

     -----------------------

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.

The Gift of God

    Blessed with a joy that only she Of all alive shall ever know,

    She wears a proud humility

    For what it was that willed it so, -- That her degree should be so great Among the favored of the Lord

    That she may scarcely bear the weight Of her bewildering reward.

As one apart, immune, alone,

    Or featured for the shining ones, And like to none that she has known Of other women's other sons, -- The firm fruition of her need, He shines anointed; and he blurs Her vision, till it seems indeed A sacrilege to call him hers.

    She fears a little for so much Of what is best, and hardly dares To think of him as one to touch With aches, indignities, and cares; She sees him rather at the goal, Still shining; and her dream foretells The proper shining of a soul

    Where nothing ordinary dwells.

    Perchance a canvass of the town Would find him far from flags and shouts, And leave him only the renown

    Of many smiles and many doubts; Perchance the crude and common tongue Would havoc strangely with his worth; But she, with innocence unwrung, Would read his name around the earth.

    And others, knowing how this youth Would shine, if love could make him great, When caught and tortured for the truth Would only writhe and hesitate;

    While she, arranging for his days What centuries could not fulfill, Transmutes him with her faith and praise, And has him shining where she will.

    She crowns him with her gratefulness, And says again that life is good; And should the gift of God be less In him than in her motherhood, His fame, though vague, will not be small, As upward through her dream he fares, Half clouded with a crimson fall Of roses thrown on marble stairs.

The Clinging Vine

    "Be calm? And was I frantic?

     You'll have me laughing soon. I'm calm as this Atlantic,

     And quiet as the moon;

    I may have spoken faster

     Than once, in other days;

    For I've no more a master,

     And now -- `Be calm,' he says.

    "Fear not, fear no commotion, --

     I'll be as rocks and sand;

    The moon and stars and ocean

     Will envy my command;

    No creature could be stiller

     In any kind of place

    Than I . . . No, I'll not kill her;

     Her death is in her face.

"Be happy while she has it,

     For she'll not have it long; A year, and then you'll pass it,

     Preparing a new song.

    And I'm a fool for prating

     Of what a year may bring, When more like her are waiting

     For more like you to sing.

    "You mock me with denial,

     You mean to call me hard? You see no room for trial

     When all my doors are barred? You say, and you'd say dying,

     That I dream what I know; And sighing, and denying,

     You'd hold my hand and go.

    "You scowl -- and I don't wonder;

     I spoke too fast again;

    But you'll forgive one blunder,

     For you are like most men: You are, -- or so you've told me,

     So many mortal times,

    That heaven ought not to hold me

     Accountable for crimes.

    "Be calm? Was I unpleasant?

     Then I'll be more discreet, And grant you, for the present,

     The balm of my defeat:

    What she, with all her striving,

     Could not have brought about, You've done. Your own contriving

     Has put the last light out.

    "If she were the whole story,

     If worse were not behind, I'd creep with you to glory,

     Believing I was blind;

    I'd creep, and go on seeming

     To be what I despise.

    You laugh, and say I'm dreaming,

     And all your laughs are lies.

    "Are women mad? A few are,

     And if it's true you say -- If most men are as you are --

     We'll all be mad some day.

    Be calm -- and let me finish;

     There's more for you to know. I'll talk while you diminish,

     And listen while you grow.

    "There was a man who married

     Because he couldn't see; And all his days he carried

     The mark of his degree.

    But you -- you came clear-sighted,

     And found truth in my eyes; And all my wrongs you've righted

     With lies, and lies, and lies.

    "You've killed the last assurance

     That once would have me strive To rouse an old endurance

     That is no more alive.

    It makes two people chilly

     To say what we have said, But you -- you'll not be silly

     And wrangle for the dead.

    "You don't? You never wrangle?

     Why scold then, -- or complain? More words will only mangle

     What you've already slain. Your pride you can't surrender?

     My name -- for that you fear? Since when were men so tender,

     And honor so severe?

    "No more -- I'll never bear it.

     I'm going. I'm like ice. My burden? You would share it?

     Forbid the sacrifice!

    Forget so quaint a notion,

     And let no more be told; For moon and stars and ocean

     And you and I are cold."

Cassandra

    I heard one who said: "Verily,

     What word have I for children here? Your Dollar is your only Word,

     The wrath of it your only fear.

    "You build it altars tall enough

     To make you see, but you are blind; You cannot leave it long enough

     To look before you or behind.

    "When Reason beckons you to pause,

     You laugh and say that you know best; But what it is you know, you keep

     As dark as ingots in a chest.

    "You laugh and answer, `We are young;

     O leave us now, and let us grow.' -- Not asking how much more of this

     Will Time endure or Fate bestow.

    "Because a few complacent years

     Have made your peril of your pride, Think you that you are to go on

     Forever pampered and untried?

    "What lost eclipse of history,

     What bivouac of the marching stars, Has given the sign for you to see

     Millenniums and last great wars?

"What unrecorded overthrow

     Of all the world has ever known, Or ever been, has made itself

     So plain to you, and you alone?

    "Your Dollar, Dove and Eagle make

     A Trinity that even you

    Rate higher than you rate yourselves;

     It pays, it flatters, and it's new.

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