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Edwin Arlington Robinson - The Three Taverns

When the brethren heard of us, they came to meet us as far as Appii Forum, and The Three Taverns.—(Acts xxviii, 15)


Herodion, Apelles, Amplias,
And Andronicus? Is it you I see—
At last? And is it you now that are gazing
As if in doubt of me? Was I not saying 
That I should come to Rome? I did say that;
And I said furthermore that I should go 
On westward, where the gateway of the world 
Lets in the central sea. I did say that, 
But I say only, now, that I am Paul— 
A prisoner of the Law, and of the Lord
A voice made free. If there be time enough 
To live, I may have more to tell you then 
Of western matters. I go now to Rome, 
Where Cæsar waits for me, and I shall wait, 
And Cæsar knows how long. In Cæsarea
There was a legend of Agrippa saying 
In a light way to Festus, having heard 
My deposition, that I might be free, 
Had I stayed free of Cæsar; but the word 
Of God would have it as you see it is—
And here I am. The cup that I shall drink 
Is mine to drink—the moment or the place 
Not mine to say. If it be now in Rome, 
Be it now in Rome; and if your faith exceed 
The shadow cast of hope, say not of me
Too surely or too soon that years and shipwreck, 
And all the many deserts I have crossed 
That are not named or regioned, have undone 
Beyond the brevities of our mortal healing 
The part of me that is the least of me.
You see an older man than he who fell 
Prone to the earth when he was nigh Damascus, 
Where the great light came down; yet I am he 
That fell, and he that saw, and he that heard. 
And I am here, at last; and if at last
I give myself to make another crumb 
For this pernicious feast of time and men— 
Well, I have seen too much of time and men 
To fear the ravening or the wrath of either. 

Yes, it is Paul you see—the Saul of Tarsus
That was a fiery Jew, and had men slain 
For saying Something was beyond the Law, 
And in ourselves. I fed my suffering soul 
Upon the Law till I went famishing, 
Not knowing that I starved. How should I know,
More then than any, that the food I had— 
What else it may have been—was not for me? 
My fathers and their fathers and their fathers 
Had found it good, and said there was no other, 
And I was of the line. When Stephen fell,
Among the stones that crushed his life away, 
There was no place alive that I could see 
For such a man. Why should a man be given 
To live beyond the Law? So I said then, 
As men say now to me. How then do I
Persist in living? Is that what you ask? 
If so, let my appearance be for you 
No living answer; for Time writes of death 
On men before they die, and what you see 
Is not the man. The man that you see not—
The man within the man—is most alive; 
Though hatred would have ended, long ago, 
The bane of his activities. I have lived, 
Because the faith within me that is life 
Endures to live, and shall, till soon or late,
Death, like a friend unseen, shall say to me 
My toil is over and my work begun. 

How often, and how many a time again, 
Have I said I should be with you in Rome! 
He who is always coming never comes,
Or comes too late, you may have told yourselves; 
And I may tell you now that after me, 
Whether I stay for little or for long, 
The wolves are coming. Have an eye for them, 
And a more careful ear for their confusion
Than you need have much longer for the sound 
Of what I tell you—should I live to say 
More than I say to Cæsar. What I know 
Is down for you to read in what is written; 
And if I cloud a little with my own
Mortality the gleam that is immortal, 
I do it only because I am I— 
Being on earth and of it, in so far 
As time flays yet the remnant. This you know; 
And if I sting men, as I do sometimes,
With a sharp word that hurts, it is because 
Man’s habit is to feel before he sees; 
And I am of a race that feels. Moreover, 
The world is here for what is not yet here 
For more than are a few; and even in Rome,
Where men are so enamored of the Cross 
That fame has echoed, and increasingly, 
The music of your love and of your faith 
To foreign ears that are as far away 
As Antioch and Haran, yet I wonder
How much of love you know, and if your faith 
Be the shut fruit of words. If so, remember 
Words are but shells unfilled. Jews have at least 
A Law to make them sorry they were born 
If they go long without it; and these Gentiles,
For the first time in shrieking history, 
Have love and law together, if so they will, 
For their defense and their immunity 
In these last days. Rome, if I know the name, 
Will have anon a crown of thorns and fire
Made ready for the wreathing of new masters, 
Of whom we are appointed, you and I,— 
And you are still to be when I am gone, 
Should I go presently. Let the word fall, 
Meanwhile, upon the dragon-ridden field
Of circumstance, either to live or die; 
Concerning which there is a parable, 
Made easy for the comfort and attention 
Of those who preach, fearing they preach in vain. 
You are to plant, and then to plant again
Where you have gathered, gathering as you go; 
For you are in the fields that are eternal, 
And you have not the burden of the Lord 
Upon your mortal shoulders. What you have 
Is a light yoke, made lighter by the wearing,
Till it shall have the wonder and the weight 
Of a clear jewel, shining with a light 
Wherein the sun and all the fiery stars 
May soon be fading. When Gamaliel said 
That if they be of men these things are nothing
But if they be of God, they are for none 
To overthrow, he spoke as a good Jew, 
And one who stayed a Jew; and he said all. 
And you know, by the temper of your faith, 
How far the fire is in you that I felt
Before I knew Damascus. A word here, 
Or there, or not there, or not anywhere, 
Is not the Word that lives and is the life; 
And you, therefore, need weary not yourselves 
With jealous aches of others. If the world
Were not a world of aches and innovations, 
Attainment would have no more joy of it. 
There will be creeds and schisms, creeds in creeds, 
And schisms in schisms; myriads will be done 
To death because a farthing has two sides,
And is at last a farthing. Telling you this, 
I, who bid men to live, appeal to Cæsar. 
Once I had said the ways of God were dark, 
Meaning by that the dark ways of the Law. 
Such is the Glory of our tribulations;
For the Law kills the flesh that kills the Law, 
And we are then alive. We have eyes then; 
And we have then the Cross between two worlds— 
To guide us, or to blind us for a time, 
Till we have eyes indeed. The fire that smites
A few on highways, changing all at once, 
Is not for all. The power that holds the world 
Away from God that holds himself away— 
Farther away than all your works and words 
Are like to fly without the wings of faith—
Was not, nor ever shall be, a small hazard 
Enlivening the ways of easy leisure 
Or the cold road of knowledge. When our eyes 
Have wisdom, we see more than we remember; 
And the old world of our captivities
May then become a smitten glimpse of ruin, 
Like one where vanished hewers have had their day 
Of wrath on Lebanon. Before we see, 
Meanwhile, we suffer; and I come to you, 
At last, through many storms and through much night.

Yet whatsoever I have undergone, 
My keepers in this instance are not hard. 
But for the chance of an ingratitude, 
I might indeed be curious of their mercy, 
And fearful of their leisure while I wait,
A few leagues out of Rome. Men go to Rome, 
Not always to return—but not that now. 
Meanwhile, I seem to think you look at me 
With eyes that are at last more credulous 
Of my identity. You remark in me
No sort of leaping giant, though some words 
Of mine to you from Corinth may have leapt 
A little through your eyes into your soul. 
I trust they were alive, and are alive 
Today; for there be none that shall indite
So much of nothing as the man of words 
Who writes in the Lord’s name for his name’s sake 
And has not in his blood the fire of time 
To warm eternity. Let such a man— 
If once the light is in him and endures—
Content himself to be the general man, 
Set free to sift the decencies and thereby 
To learn, except he be one set aside 
For sorrow, more of pleasure than of pain; 
Though if his light be not the light indeed,
But a brief shine that never really was, 
And fails, leaving him worse than where he was, 
Then shall he be of all men destitute. 
And here were not an issue for much ink, 
Or much offending faction among scribes.

The Kingdom is within us, we are told; 
And when I say to you that we possess it 
In such a measure as faith makes it ours, 
I say it with a sinner’s privilege 
Of having seen and heard, and seen again,
After a darkness; and if I affirm 
To the last hour that faith affords alone 
The Kingdom entrance and an entertainment, 
I do not see myself as one who says 
To man that he shall sit with folded hands
Against the Coming. If I be anything, 
I move a driven agent among my kind, 
Establishing by the faith of Abraham, 
And by the grace of their necessities, 
The clamoring word that is the word of life
Nearer than heretofore to the solution 
Of their tomb-serving doubts. If I have loosed 
A shaft of language that has flown sometimes 
A little higher than the hearts and heads 
Of nature’s minions, it will yet be heard,
Like a new song that waits for distant ears. 
I cannot be the man that I am not; 
And while I own that earth is my affliction, 
I am a man of earth, who says not all 
To all alike. That were impossible.
Even as it were so that He should plant 
A larger garden first. But you today 
Are for the larger sowing; and your seed, 
A little mixed, will have, as He foresaw, 
The foreign harvest of a wider growth,
And one without an end. Many there are, 
And are to be, that shall partake of it, 
Though none may share it with an understanding 
That is not his alone. We are all alone; 
And yet we are all parcelled of one order—
Jew, Gentile, or barbarian in the dark 
Of wildernesses that are not so much 
As names yet in a book. And there are many, 
Finding at last that words are not the Word, 
And finding only that, will flourish aloft,
Like heads of captured Pharisees on pikes, 
Our contradictions and discrepancies; 
And there are many more will hang themselves 
Upon the letter, seeing not in the Word 
The friend of all who fail, and in their faith
A sword of excellence to cut them down. 

As long as there are glasses that are dark— 
And there are many—we see darkly through them; 
All which have I conceded and set down 
In words that have no shadow. What is dark
Is dark, and we may not say otherwise; 
Yet what may be as dark as a lost fire 
For one of us, may still be for another 
A coming gleam across the gulf of ages, 
And a way home from shipwreck to the shore;
And so, through pangs and ills and desperations, 
There may be light for all. There shall be light. 
As much as that, you know. You cannot say 
This woman or that man will be the next 
On whom it falls; you are not here for that.
You ministration is to be for others 
The firing of a rush that may for them 
Be soon the fire itself. The few at first 
Are fighting for the multitude at last; 
Therefore remember what Gamaliel said
Before you, when the sick were lying down 
In streets all night for Peter’s passing shadow. 
Fight, and say what you feel; say more than words. 
Give men to know that even their days of earth 
To come are more than ages that are gone.
Say what you feel, while you have time to say it. 
Eternity will answer for itself, 
Without your intercession; yet the way 
For many is a long one, and as dark, 
Meanwhile, as dreams of hell. See not your toil
Too much, and if I be away from you, 
Think of me as a brother to yourselves, 
Of many blemishes. Beware of stoics, 
And give your left hand to grammarians; 
And when you seem, as many a time you may,
To have no other friend than hope, remember 
That you are not the first, or yet the last. 

The best of life, until we see beyond 
The shadows of ourselves (and they are less 
Than even the blindest of indignant eyes
Would have them) is in what we do not know. 
Make, then, for all your fears a place to sleep 
With all your faded sins; nor think yourselves 
Egregious and alone for your defects 
Of youth and yesterday. I was young once;
And there’s a question if you played the fool 
With a more fervid and inherent zeal 
Than I have in my story to remember, 
Or gave your necks to folly’s conquering foot, 
Or flung yourselves with an unstudied aim,
More frequently than I. Never mind that. 
Man’s little house of days will hold enough, 
Sometimes, to make him wish it were not his, 
But it will not hold all. Things that are dead 
Are best without it, and they own their death
By virtue of their dying. Let them go,— 
But think you not the world is ashes yet, 
And you have all the fire. The world is here 
Today, and it may not be gone tomorrow; 
For there are millions, and there may be more,
To make in turn a various estimation 
Of its old ills and ashes, and the traps 
Of its apparent wrath. Many with ears 
That hear not yet, shall have ears given to them, 
And then they shall hear strangely. Many with eyes
That are incredulous of the Mystery 
Shall yet be driven to feel, and then to read 
Where language has an end and is a veil, 
Not woven of our words. Many that hate 
Their kind are soon to know that without love
Their faith is but the perjured name of nothing. 
I that have done some hating in my time 
See now no time for hate; I that have left, 
Fading behind me like familiar lights 
That are to shine no more for my returning,
Home, friends, and honors,—I that have lost all else 
For wisdom, and the wealth of it, say now 
To you that out of wisdom has come love, 
That measures and is of itself the measure 
Of works and hope and faith. Your longest hours
Are not so long that you may torture them 
And harass not yourselves; and the last days 
Are on the way that you prepare for them, 
And was prepared for you, here in a world 
Where you have sinned and suffered, striven and seen.
If you be not so hot for counting them 
Before they come that you consume yourselves, 
Peace may attend you all in these last days— 
And me, as well as you. Yes, even in Rome. 

Well, I have talked and rested, though I fear
My rest has not been yours; in which event, 
Forgive one who is only seven leagues 
From Cæsar. When I told you I should come, 
I did not see myself the criminal 
You contemplate, for seeing beyond the Law
That which the Law saw not. But this, indeed, 
Was good of you, and I shall not forget; 
No, I shall not forget you came so far 
To meet a man so dangerous. Well, farewell. 
They come to tell me I am going now—
With them. I hope that we shall meet again, 
But none may say what he shall find in Rome. 

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Poet: Edwin Arlington Robinson
Poem: The Three Taverns
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