“Tell me what you’re doing over here, John Gorham,
Sighing hard and seeming to be sorry when you’re not;
Make me laugh or let me go now, for long faces in the moonlight
Are a sign for me to say again a word that you forgot.”-

“I’m over here to tell you what the moon already
May have said or maybe shouted ever since a year ago;
I’m over here to tell you what you are, Jane Wayland,
And to make you rather sorry, I should say, for being so.”-

“Tell me what you’re saying to me now, John Gorham,
Or you’ll never see as much of me as ribbons any more;
I’ll vanish in as many ways as I have toes and fingers,
And you’ll not follow far for one where flocks have been before.”-

“I’m sorry now you never saw the flocks, Jane Wayland,
But you’re the one to make of them as many as you need.
And then about the vanishing. It’s I who mean to vanish;
And when I’m here no longer you’ll be done with me indeed.”-

“That’s a way to tell me what I am, John Gorham!
How am I to know myself until I make you smile?
Try to look as if the moon were making faces at you,
And a little more as if you meant to stay a little while.”-

“You are what it is that over rose-blown gardens
Make a pretty flutter for a season in the sun;
You are what it is that with a mouse, Jane Wayland,
Catches him and lets him go and eats him up for fun.”-

“Sure I never took you for a mouse, John Gorham;
All you say is easy, but so far from being true
That I wish you wouldn’t ever be again the one to think so;
For it isn’t eats and butterflies that I would be to you.”-

“All your little animals are in one picture-
One I’ve had before me since a year ago to-night;
And the picture where they live will be of you, Jane Wayland,
Till you find a way to kill them or to keep them out of sight.”-

“Won’t you ever see me as I am, John Gorham,
Leaving out the foolishness and all I never meant?
Somewhere in me there’s a woman, if you know the way to find her.
Will you like me any better if I prove it and repent?”-

“I doubt if I shall ever have the time, Jane Wayland;
And I dare say all this moonlight lying round us might as well
Fall for nothing on the shards of broken urns that are forgotten,
As on two that have no longer much of anything to tell.”

Analysis, meaning and summary of Edwin Arlington Robinson's poem John Gorham

2 Comments

  1. mark lang says:

    It is “cats and butterflies”.

  2. Leonard Wilson says:

    This poem consists entirely of the dialogue of a lovers’ quarrel, between Jane Wayland and John Gorham. It is clear that they became lovers a year ago, but things are not going well between them now. Jane appears to think that she can control things and bring John back easily whenever she wants him, but she discovers that John is saying good-bye.

    We see something of Jane Wayland’s use of her feminine wiles, a mix of coquettishness and playing hard to get. When she sees that John Gorham is challenging her harshly, she first wields the iron fist to warn him that she will leave him. But when she grasps the depth of his anger, she switches to the velvet glove of temptation, urging him to “stay a little while,” then hinting that she wants to be something more to him, and finally challenging him to find the desirable woman that is within her.

    Gorham, however, has become completely disillusioned with this devious woman, whom he compares with a cat that toys with its prey, catching it and letting it go for fun before finally eating him up. There is nothing left in his heart of the love that he formerly felt for Jane Wayland. They are now “two that have no longer much of anything to tell.”

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