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Edwin Arlington Robinson - The Master

A flying word from here and there 
Had sown the name at which we sneered, 
To be reviled and then revered: 
A presence to be loved and feared-- 
We cannot hide it, or deny 
That we, the gentlemen who jeered, 
May be forgotten by and by. 

He came when days were perilous 
And hearts of men were sore beguiled, 
And having made his note of us, 
He pondered and was reconciled. 
Was ever master yet so mild 
As he, and so untamable? 
We doubted, even when he smiled, 
Not knowing what he knew so well. 

He knew that undeceiving fate 
Would shame us whom he served unsought; 
He knew that he must wince and wait-- 
The jest of those for whom he fought; 
He knew devoutly what he thought 
Of us and of our ridicule; 
He knew that we must all be taught 
Like little children in a school. 

We gave a glamour to the task 
That he encountered and saw through; 
But little of us did he ask, 
And little did we ever do. 
And what appears if we review 
The season when we railed and chaffed?-- 
It is the face of one who knew 
That we were learning while we laughed. 

The face that in our vision feels 
Again the venom that we flung, 
Transfigured to the world reveals 
The vigilance to which we clung. 
Shrewd, hallowed, harrassed, and among 
The mysteries that are untold-- 
The face we see was never young, 
Nor could it wholly have been old. 

For he, to whom we had applied 
Our shopman's test of age and worth, 
Was elemental when he died 
As he was ancient at his birth: 
The saddest among kings of earth, 
Bowed with a galling crown, this man 
Met rancor with a cryptic mirth, 
Laconic--and Olympian. 

The love, the grandeur, and the fame 
Are bounded by the world alone; 
The calm, the smouldering, and the flame 
Of awful patience were his own: 
With him they are forever flown 
Past all our fond self-shadowings, 
Wherewith we cumber the Unknown 
As with inept Icarian wings. 

For we were not as other men: 
'Twas ours to soar and his to see. 
But we are coming down again, 
And we shall come down pleasantly; 
Nor shall we longer disagree 
On what it is to be sublime, 
But flourish in our pedigree 
And have one Titan at a time. 

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Added: Jun 3 2005 | Viewed: 2073 times | Comments and analysis of The Master by Edwin Arlington Robinson Comments (1)

The Master - Comments and Information

Poet: Edwin Arlington Robinson
Poem: The Master

Comment 1 of 1, added on November 9th, 2008 at 10:51 PM.

Probably the best of the many poetic tributes to Abraham Lincoln written after his assassination, not least because Robinson put himself in the persona of one of the many New Englanders who despised and mocked Lincoln as a backwoods hick from the then-frontier state of Illinois. (I have no idea if Robinson himself shared that opinion at any point, but it was very common in the first years of the Civil War.) Note also the offhand grace with which Robinson weaves in bits of ancient Greek myth.

John Michael Greer from United States

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