Because he was a butcher and thereby
Did earn an honest living (and did right),
I would not have you think that Reuben Bright
Was any more a brute than you or I;
For when they told him that his wife must die,
He stared at them, and shook with grief and fright,
And cried like a great baby half that night,
And made the women cry to see him cry.

And after she was dead, and he had paid
The singers and the sexton and the rest,
He packed a lot of things that she had made
Most mournfully away in an old chest
Of hers, and put some chopped-up cedar boughs
In with them, and tore down the slaughter-house.

Analysis, meaning and summary of Edwin Arlington Robinson's poem Reuben Bright


  1. William Burrison says:

    Another brilliant case of portraiture poetry by EA. it’s an interesting take not only on the power of personal loss but on vocational stereotyping. Reuben might’ve been a poet as well as butcher, for all we know. We tend to associate butchering with a certain roughness, anger, violence. Reuben may have had his share of that, as “tore down” certainly suggests an angry statement. By closing shop, is he giving up on life, or trying to turn over a new leaf, mend his ways, so to speak, enter into a more gentleman-like realm? — We’re not meant to know. There’s a sense of ironic ambiguity there, as emerges in much of EA’s best writing.

  2. John Bravo says:

    My take on this poem is much different than any I have ever read or heard. Reuben Bright was a butcher because it was a means to support his wife and family. He suffered and sacrificed his life for the sake of his wife because that was what was required of him. When his wife died that burden was removed and he could finally cleanse himself of that self-imposed duty and start his life again for himself. He never really wanted to be a butcher and he now has no need for the slaughterhouse.

  3. michael cook says:

    I just lost my mother, and this poem makes me want to tear down the slaughter house in my heart. I know how Reuben felt…

  4. dave says:

    after 9-11 when the country was seized with bloodlust and revenge , i was feeling isolated and a little crazy, i would write this poem on the side walk in chaulk , it was the only thing i felt that people could’s a masterful description of death on a personal level which to me seems to cut thru all of the dogma that people use to insolate themselves from a truth which on some level they already know.

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