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Edwin Arlington Robinson - Aunt Imogen

Aunt Imogen was coming, and therefore 
The children—Jane, Sylvester, and Young George— 
Were eyes and ears; for there was only one 
Aunt Imogen to them in the whole world, 
And she was in it only for four weeks
In fifty-two. But those great bites of time 
Made all September a Queen’s Festival; 
And they would strive, informally, to make 
The most of them.—The mother understood, 
And wisely stepped away. Aunt Imogen
Was there for only one month in the year, 
While she, the mother,—she was always there; 
And that was what made all the difference. 
She knew it must be so, for Jane had once 
Expounded it to her so learnedly
That she had looked away from the child’s eyes 
And thought; and she had thought of many things. 

There was a demonstration every time 
Aunt Imogen appeared, and there was more 
Than one this time. And she was at a loss
Just how to name the meaning of it all: 
It puzzled her to think that she could be 
So much to any crazy thing alive— 
Even to her sister’s little savages 
Who knew no better than to be themselves;
But in the midst of her glad wonderment 
She found herself besieged and overcome 
By two tight arms and one tumultuous head, 
And therewith half bewildered and half pained 
By the joy she felt and by the sudden love
That proved itself in childhood’s honest noise. 
Jane, by the wings of sex, had reached her first; 
And while she strangled her, approvingly, 
Sylvester thumped his drum and Young George howled. 
But finally, when all was rectified,
And she had stilled the clamor of Young George 
By giving him a long ride on her shoulders, 
They went together into the old room 
That looked across the fields; and Imogen 
Gazed out with a girl’s gladness in her eyes,
Happy to know that she was back once more 
Where there were those who knew her, and at last 
Had gloriously got away again 
From cabs and clattered asphalt for a while; 
And there she sat and talked and looked and laughed
And made the mother and the children laugh. 
Aunt Imogen made everybody laugh. 

There was the feminine paradox—that she 
Who had so little sunshine for herself 
Should have so much for others. How it was
That she could make, and feel for making it, 
So much of joy for them, and all along 
Be covering, like a scar, and while she smiled, 
That hungering incompleteness and regret— 
That passionate ache for something of her own,
For something of herself—she never knew. 
She knew that she could seem to make them all 
Believe there was no other part of her 
Than her persistent happiness; but the why 
And how she did not know. Still none of them
Could have a thought that she was living down— 
Almost as if regret were criminal, 
So proud it was and yet so profitless— 
The penance of a dream, and that was good. 
Her sister Jane—the mother of little Jane,
Sylvester, and Young George—might make herself 
Believe she knew, for she—well, she was Jane. 

Young George, however, did not yield himself 
To nourish the false hunger of a ghost 
That made no good return. He saw too much:
The accumulated wisdom of his years 
Had so conclusively made plain to him 
The permanent profusion of a world 
Where everybody might have everything 
To do, and almost everything to eat,
That he was jubilantly satisfied 
And all unthwarted by adversity. 
Young George knew things. The world, he had found out, 
Was a good place, and life was a good game— 
Particularly when Aunt Imogen
Was in it. And one day it came to pass— 
One rainy day when she was holding him 
And rocking him—that he, in his own right, 
Took it upon himself to tell her so; 
And something in his way of telling it—
The language, or the tone, or something else— 
Gripped like insidious fingers on her throat, 
And then went foraging as if to make 
A plaything of her heart. Such undeserved 
And unsophisticated confidence
Went mercilessly home; and had she sat 
Before a looking glass, the deeps of it 
Could not have shown more clearly to her then 
Than one thought-mirrored little glimpse had shown, 
The pang that wrenched her face and filled her eyes
With anguish and intolerable mist. 
The blow that she had vaguely thrust aside 
Like fright so many times had found her now: 
Clean-thrust and final it had come to her 
From a child’s lips at last, as it had come
Never before, and as it might be felt 
Never again. Some grief, like some delight, 
Stings hard but once: to custom after that 
The rapture or the pain submits itself, 
And we are wiser than we were before.
And Imogen was wiser; though at first 
Her dream-defeating wisdom was indeed 
A thankless heritage: there was no sweet, 
No bitter now; nor was there anything 
To make a daily meaning for her life—
Till truth, like Harlequin, leapt out somehow 
From ambush and threw sudden savor to it— 
But the blank taste of time. There were no dreams, 
No phantoms in her future any more: 
One clinching revelation of what was
One by-flash of irrevocable chance, 
Had acridly but honestly foretold 
The mystical fulfilment of a life 
That might have once … But that was all gone by: 
There was no need of reaching back for that:
The triumph was not hers: there was no love 
Save borrowed love: there was no might have been. 

But there was yet Young George—and he had gone 
Conveniently to sleep, like a good boy; 
And there was yet Sylvester with his drum,
And there was frowzle-headed little Jane; 
And there was Jane the sister, and the mother,— 
Her sister, and the mother of them all. 
They were not hers, not even one of them: 
She was not born to be so much as that,
For she was born to be Aunt Imogen. 
Now she could see the truth and look at it; 
Now she could make stars out where once had palled 
A future’s emptiness; now she could share 
With others—ah, the others!—to the end
The largess of a woman who could smile; 
Now it was hers to dance the folly down, 
And all the murmuring; now it was hers 
To be Aunt Imogen.—So, when Young George 
Woke up and blinked at her with his big eyes,
And smiled to see the way she blinked at him, 
’T was only in old concord with the stars 
That she took hold of him and held him close, 
Close to herself, and crushed him till he laughed. 

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Added: Jun 3 2005 | Viewed: 398 times | Comments and analysis of Aunt Imogen by Edwin Arlington Robinson Comments (37)

Aunt Imogen - Comments and Information

Poet: Edwin Arlington Robinson
Poem: Aunt Imogen

Comment 37 of 37, added on August 6th, 2014 at 4:13 AM.
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Comment 36 of 37, added on June 18th, 2014 at 5:07 PM.
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Comment 35 of 37, added on June 4th, 2014 at 10:16 AM.
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