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The Man Against the Sky



Between me and the sunset, like a dome
Against the glory of a world on fire,
Now burned a sudden hill,
Bleak, round, and high, by flame-lit height made higher,
With nothing on it for the flame to kill
Save one who moved and was alone up there
To loom before the chaos and the glare
As if he were the last god going home
Unto his last desire.

Dark, marvelous, and inscrutable he moved on
Till down the fiery distance he was gone,
Like one of those eternal, remote things
That range across a man’s imaginings
When a sure music fills him and he knows
What he may say thereafter to few men,—
The touch of ages having wrought
An echo and a glimpse of what he thought
A phantom or a legend until then;
For whether lighted over ways that save,
Or lured from all repose,
If he go on too far to find a grave,
Mostly alone he goes.

Even he, who stood where I had found him,
On high with fire all round him,
Who moved along the molten west,
And over the round hill’s crest
That seemed half ready with him to go down,
Flame-bitten and flame-cleft,
As if there were to be no last thing left
Of a nameless unimaginable town,—
Even he who climbed and vanished may have taken
Down to the perils of a depth not known,
From death defended though by men forsaken,
The bread that every man must eat alone;
He may have walked while others hardly dared
Look on to see him stand where many fell;
And upward out of that, as out of hell,
He may have sung and striven
To mount where more of him shall yet be given,
Bereft of all retreat,
To sevenfold heat,—
As on a day when three in Dura shared
The furnace, and were spared
For glory by that king of Babylon
Who made himself so great that God, who heard,
Covered him with long feathers, like a bird.

Again, he may have gone down easily,
By comfortable altitudes, and found,
As always, underneath him solid ground
Whereon to be sufficient and to stand
Possessed already of the promised land,
Far stretched and fair to see:
A good sight, verily,
And one to make the eyes of her who bore him
Shine glad with hidden tears.
Why question of his ease of who before him,
In one place or another where they left
Their names as far behind them as their bones,
And yet by dint of slaughter toil and theft,
And shrewdly sharpened stones,
Carved hard the way for his ascendency
Through deserts of lost years?
Why trouble him now who sees and hears
No more than what his innocence requires,
And therefore to no other height aspires
Than one at which he neither quails nor tires?
He may do more by seeing what he sees
Than others eager for iniquities;
He may, by seeing all things for the best,
Incite futurity to do the rest.

Or with an even likelihood,
He may have met with atrabilious eyes
The fires of time on equal terms and passed
Indifferently down, until at last
His only kind of grandeur would have been,
Apparently, in being seen.
He may have had for evil or for good
No argument; he may have had no care
For what without himself went anywhere
To failure or to glory, and least of all
For such a stale, flamboyant miracle;
He may have been the prophet of an art
Immovable to old idolatries;
He may have been a player without a part,
Annoyed that even the sun should have the skies
For such a flaming way to advertise;
He may have been a painter sick at heart
With Nature’s toiling for a new surprise;
He may have been a cynic, who now, for all
Of anything divine that his effete
Negation may have tasted,
Saw truth in his own image, rather small,
Forbore to fever the ephemeral,
Found any barren height a good retreat
From any swarming street,
And in the sun saw power superbly wasted;
And when the primitive old-fashioned stars
Came out again to shine on joys and wars
More primitive, and all arrayed for doom,
He may have proved a world a sorry thing
In his imagining,
And life a lighted highway to the tomb.

Or, mounting with infirm unsearching tread,
His hopes to chaos led,
He may have stumbled up there from the past,
And with an aching strangeness viewed the last
Abysmal conflagration of his dreams,—
A flame where nothing seems
To burn but flame itself, by nothing fed;
And while it all went out,
Not even the faint anodyne of doubt
May then have eased a painful going down
From pictured heights of power and lost renown,
Revealed at length to his outlived endeavor
Remote and
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Submitted on May 13, 2011

4:05 min read
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Edwin Arlington Robinson

Edwin Arlington Robinson was an American poet who won three Pulitzer Prizes for his work Edwin Arlington Robinson won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry three times in 1922 for his first Collected Poems in 1925 for The Man Who Died Twice and in 1928 for Tristram Robinson was born in Head Tide Lincoln County Maine but his family moved to Gardiner Maine in 1870 He described his childhood in Maine as stark and unhappy his parents having wanted a girl did not name him until he was six months old when they visited a holiday resort other vacationers decided that he should have a name and selected a man from Arlington Massachusetts to draw a name out of a hat Robinsons early difficulties led many of his poems to have a dark pessimism and his stories to deal with an American dream gone awry His brother Dean died of a drug overdose His other brother Herman a handsome and charismatic man married the woman Edwin himself loved but Herman suffered business failures became an alcoholic and ended up estranged from his wife and children dying impoverished in a charity hospital in 1901 Robinsons poem Richard Cory is thought to refer to this brother In late 1891 at the age of 21 Edwin entered Harvard University as a special student He took classes in English French and Shakespeare as well as one on Anglo-Saxon that he later dropped His mission was not to get all As as he wrote his friend Harry Smith B and in that vicinity is a very comfortable and safe place to hang His real desire was to get published in one of the Harvard literary journals Within the first fortnight of being there The Harvard Advocate published Robinsons Ballade of a Ship He was even invited to meet with the editors but when he returned he complained to his friend Mowry Saben I sat there among them unable to say a word Robinsons literary career had false-started Edwins father Edward died after Edwins first year at Harvard Edwin returned to Harvard for a second year but it was to be his last one as a student there Though short his stay in Cambridge included some of his most cherished experiences and there he made his most lasting friendships He wrote his friend Harry Smith on June 21 1893 I suppose this is the last letter I shall ever write you from Harvard The thought seems a little queer but it cannot be otherwise Sometimes I try to imagine the state my mind would be in had I never come here but I cannot I feel that I have got comparatively little from my two years but still more than I could get in Gardiner if I lived a century Robinson had returned to Gardiner by mid-1893 He had plans to start writing seriously In October he wrote his friend Gledhill Writing has been my dream ever since I was old enough to lay a plan for an air castle Now for the first time I seem to have something like a favorable opportunity and this winter I shall make a beginning With his father gone Edwin became the man of the household He tried farming and developed a close relationship with his brothers wife Emma Robinson who after her husband Hermans death moved back to Gardiner with her children She twice rejected marriage proposals from Edwin after which he permanently left Gardiner He moved to New York where he led a precarious existence as an impoverished poet while cultivating friendships with other writers artists and would-be intellectuals In 1896 he self-published his first book The Torrent and the Night Before paying 100 dollars for 500 copies Robinson meant it as a surprise for his mother Days before the copies arrived Mary Palmer Robinson died of diphtheria His second volume The Children of the Night had a somewhat wider circulation Its readers included President Theodore Roosevelts son Kermit who recommended it to his father Impressed by the poems and aware of Robinsons straits Roosevelt in 1905 secured the writer a job at the New York Customs Office Robinson remained in the job until Roosevelt left office Gradually his literary successes began to mount He won the Pulitzer Prize three times in the 1920s During the last twenty years of his life he became a regular summer resident at the MacDowell Colony in New Hampshire where several women made him the object of their devoted attention but he maintained a solitary life and never married Robinson died of cancer on April 6 1935 in the New York Hospital now New York Cornell Hospital in New York City more…

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