Home  »  Collected Poems by Robinson, Edwin Arlington  »  10. The Book of Annandale

Edwin Arlington Robinson (1869–1935). Collected Poems. 1921.

III. Captain Craig, Etc.

10. The Book of Annandale


PARTLY to think, more to be left alone,

George Annandale said something to his friends—

A word or two, brusque, but yet smoothed enough

To suit their funeral gaze—and went upstairs;

And there, in the one room that he could call

His own, he found a sort of meaningless

Annoyance in the mute familiar things

That filled it; for the grate’s monotonous gleam

Was not the gleam that he had known before,

The books were not the books that used to be,

The place was not the place. There was a lack

Of something; and the certitude of death

Itself, as with a furtive questioning,

Hovered, and he could not yet understand.

He knew that she was gone—there was no need

Of any argued proof to tell him that,

For they had buried her that afternoon,

Under the leaves and snow; and still there was

A doubt, a pitiless doubt, a plunging doubt,

That struck him, and upstartled when it struck,

The vision, the old thought in him. There was

A lack, and one that wrenched him; but it was

Not that—not that. There was a present sense

Of something indeterminably near—

The soul-clutch of a prescient emptiness

That would not be foreboding. And if not,

What then?—or was it anything at all?

Yes, it was something—it was everything—

But what was everything? or anything?

Tired of time, bewildered, he sat down;

But in his chair he kept on wondering

That he should feel so desolately strange

And yet—for all he knew that he had lost

More of the world than most men ever win—

So curiously calm. And he was left

Unanswered and unsatisfied: there came

No clearer meaning to him than had come

Before; the old abstraction was the best

That he could find, the farthest he could go;

To that was no beginning and no end—

No end that he could reach. So he must learn

To live the surest and the largest life

Attainable in him, would he divine

The meaning of the dream and of the words

That he had written, without knowing why,

On sheets that he had bound up like a book

And covered with red leather. There it was—

There in his desk, the record he had made,

The spiritual plaything of his life:

There were the words no eyes had ever seen

Save his; there were the words that were not made

For glory or for gold. The pretty wife

Whom he had loved and lost had not so much

As heard of them. They were not made for her.

His love had been so much the life of her,

And hers had been so much the life of him,

That any wayward phrasing on his part

Would have had no moment. Neither had lived enough

To know the book, albeit one of them

Had grown enough to write it. There it was,

However, though he knew not why it was:

There was the book, but it was not for her,

For she was dead. And yet, there was the book.

Thus would his fancy circle out and out,

And out and in again, till he would make

As if with a large freedom to crush down

Those under-thoughts. He covered with his hands

His tired eyes, and waited: he could hear—

Or partly feel and hear, mechanically—

The sound of talk, with now and then the steps

And skirts of some one scudding on the stairs,

Forgetful of the nerveless funeral feet

That she had brought with her; and more than once

There came to him a call as of a voice—

A voice of love returning—but not hers.

Whose he knew not, nor dreamed; nor did he know,

Nor did he dream, in his blurred loneliness

Of thought, what all the rest might think of him.

For it had come at last, and she was gone

With all the vanished women of old time,—

And she was never coming back again.

Yes, they had buried her that afternoon,

Under the frozen leaves and the cold earth,

Under the leaves and snow. The flickering week,

The sharp and certain day, and the long drowse

Were over, and the man was left alone.

He knew the loss—therefore it puzzled him

That he should sit so long there as he did,

And bring the whole thing back—the love, the trust,

The pallor, the poor face, and the faint way

She last had looked at him—and yet not weep,

Or even choose to look about the room

To see how sad it was; and once or twice

He winked and pinched his eyes against the flame

And hoped there might be tears. But hope was all,

And all to him was nothing: he was lost.

And yet he was not lost: he was astray—

Out of his life and in another life;

And in the stillness of this other life

He wondered and he drowsed. He wondered when

It was, and wondered if it ever was

On earth that he had known the other face—

The searching face, the eloquent, strange face—

That with a sightless beauty looked at him

And with a speechless promise uttered words

That were not the world’s words, or any kind

That he had known before. What was it, then?

What was it held him—fascinated him?

Why should he not be human? He could sigh,

And he could even groan,—but what of that?

There was no grief left in him. Was he glad?

Yet how could he be glad, or reconciled,

Or anything but wretched and undone?

How could he be so frigid and inert—

So like a man with water in his veins

Where blood had been a little while before?

How could he sit shut in there like a snail?

What ailed him? What was on him? Was he glad?

Over and over again the question came,

Unanswered and unchanged,—and there he was.

But what in heaven’s name did it all mean?

If he had lived as other men had lived,

If home had ever shown itself to be

The counterfeit that others had called home,

Then to this undivined resource of his

There were some key; but now … Philosophy?

Yes, he could reason in a kind of way

That he was glad for Miriam’s release—

Much as he might be glad to see his friends

Laid out around him with their grave-clothes on,

And this life done for them; but something else

There was that foundered reason, overwhelmed it,

And with a chilled, intuitive rebuff

Beat back the self-cajoling sophistries

That his half-tutored thought would half-project.

What was it, then? Had he become transformed

And hardened through long watches and long grief

Into a loveless, feelingless dead thing

That brooded like a man, breathed like a man,—

Did everything but ache? And was a day

To come some time when feeling should return

Forever to drive off that other face—

The lineless, indistinguishable face—

That once had thrilled itself between his own

And hers there on the pillow,—and again

Between him and the coffin-lid had flashed

Like fate before it closed,—and at the last

Had come, as it should seem, to stay with him,

Bidden or not? He were a stranger then,

Foredrowsed awhile by some deceiving draught

Of poppied anguish, to the covert grief

And the stark loneliness that waited him,

And for the time were cursedly endowed

With a dull trust that shammed indifference

To knowing there would be no touch again

Of her small hand on his, no silencing

Of her quick lips on his, no feminine

Completeness and love-fragrance in the house,

No sound of some one singing any more,

No smoothing of slow fingers on his hair,

No shimmer of pink slippers on brown tiles.

But there was nothing, nothing, in all that:

He had not fooled himself so much as that;

He might be dreaming or he might be sick,

But not like that. There was no place for fear,

No reason for remorse. There was the book

That he had made, though.… It might be the book;

Perhaps he might find something in the book;

But no, there could be nothing there at all—

He knew it word for word; but what it meant—

He was not sure that he had written it

For what it meant; and he was not quite sure

That he had written it;—more likely it

Was all a paper ghost.… But the dead wife

Was real: he knew all that, for he had been

To see them bury her; and he had seen

The flowers and the snow and the stripped limbs

Of trees; and he had heard the preacher pray;

And he was back again, and he was glad.

Was he a brute? No, he was not a brute:

He was a man—like any other man:

He had loved and married his wife Miriam,

They had lived a little while in paradise

And she was gone; and that was all of it.

But no, not all of it—not all of it:

There was the book again; something in that

Pursued him, overpowered him, put out

The futile strength of all his whys and wheres,

And left him unintelligibly numb—

Too numb to care for anything but rest.

It must have been a curious kind of book

That he had made it: it was a drowsy book

At any rate. The very thought of it

Was like the taste of some impossible drink—

A taste that had no taste, but for all that

Had mixed with it a strange thought-cordial,

So potent that it somehow killed in him

The ultimate need of doubting any more—

Of asking any more. Did he but live

The life that he must live, there were no more

To seek.—The rest of it was on the way.

Still there was nothing, nothing, in all this—

Nothing that he cared now to reconcile

With reason or with sorrow. All he knew

For certain was that he was tired out:

His flesh was heavy and his blood beat small;

Something supreme had been wrenched out of him

As if to make vague room for something else.

He had been through too much. Yes, he would stay

There where he was and rest.—And there he stayed;

The daylight became twilight, and he stayed;

The flame and the face faded, and he slept.

And they had buried her that afternoon,

Under the tight-screwed lid of a long box,

Under the earth, under the leaves and snow.


Look where she would, feed conscience how she might,

There was but one way now for Damaris—

One straight way that was hers, hers to defend,

At hand, imperious. But the nearness of it,

The flesh-bewildering simplicity,

And the plain strangeness of it, thrilled again

That wretched little quivering single string

Which yielded not, but held her to the place

Where now for five triumphant years had slept

The flameless dust of Argan.—He was gone,

The good man she had married long ago;

And she had lived, and living she had learned,

And surely there was nothing to regret:

Much happiness had been for each of them,

And they had been like lovers to the last:

And after that, and long, long after that,

Her tears had washed out more of widowed grief

Than smiles had ever told of other joy.—

But could she, looking back, find anything

That should return to her in the new time,

And with relentless magic uncreate

This temple of new love where she had thrown

Dead sorrow on the altar of new life?

Only one thing, only one thread was left;

When she broke that, when reason snapped it off,

And once for all, baffled, the grave let go

The trivial hideous hold it had on her,—

Then she were free, free to be what she would,

Free to be what she was.—And yet she stayed,

Leashed, as it were, and with a cobweb strand,

Close to a tombstone—maybe to starve there.

But why to starve? And why stay there at all?

Why not make one good leap and then be done

Forever and at once with Argan’s ghost

And all such outworn churchyard servitude?

For it was Argan’s ghost that held the string,

And her sick fancy that held Argan’s ghost—

Held it and pitied it. She laughed, almost,

There for the moment; but her strained eyes filled

With tears, and she was angry for those tears—

Angry at first, then proud, then sorry for them.

So she grew calm; and after a vain chase

For thoughts more vain, she questioned of herself

What measure of primeval doubts and fears

Were still to be gone through that she might win

Persuasion of her strength and of herself

To be what she could see that she must be,

No matter where the ghost was.—And the more

She lived, the more she came to recognize

That something out of her thrilled ignorance

Was luminously, proudly being born,

And thereby proving, thought by forward thought,

The prowess of its image; and she learned

At length to look right on to the long days

Before her without fearing. She could watch

The coming course of them as if they were

No more than birds, that slowly, silently,

And irretrievably should wing themselves

Uncounted out of sight. And when he came

Again, she might be free—she would be free.

Else, when he looked at her she must look down,

Defeated, and malignly dispossessed

Of what was hers to prove and in the proving

Wisely to consecrate. And if the plague

Of that perverse defeat should come to be—

If at that sickening end she were to find

Herself to be the same poor prisoner

That he had found at first—then she must lose

All sight and sound of him, she must abjure

All possible thought of him; for he would go

So far and for so long from her that love—

Yes, even a love like his, exiled enough,

Might for another’s touch be born again—

Born to be lost and starved for and not found;

Or, at the next, the second wretchedest,

It might go mutely flickering down and out,

And on some incomplete and piteous day,

Some perilous day to come, she might at last

Learn, with a noxious freedom, what it is

To be at peace with ghosts. Then were the blow

Thrice deadlier than any kind of death

Could ever be: to know that she had won

The truth too late—there were the dregs indeed

Of wisdom, and of love the final thrust

Unmerciful; and there where now did lie

So plain before her the straight radiance

Of what was her appointed way to take,

Were only the bleak ruts of an old road

That stretched ahead and faded and lay far

Through deserts of unconscionable years.

But vampire thoughts like these confessed the doubt

That love denied; and once, if never again,

They should be turned away. They might come back—

More craftily, perchance, they might come back—

And with a spirit-thirst insatiable

Finish the strength of her; but now, today

She would have none of them. She knew that love

Was true, that he was true, that she was true;

And should a death-bed snare that she had made

So long ago be stretched inexorably

Through all her life, only to be unspun

With her last breathing? And were bats and threads,

Accursedly devised with watered gules,

To be Love’s heraldry? What were it worth

To live and to find out that life were life

But for an unrequited incubus

Of outlawed shame that would not be thrown down

Till she had thrown down fear and overcome

The woman that was yet so much of her

That she might yet go mad? What were it worth

To live, to linger, and to be condemned

In her submission to a common thought

That clogged itself and made of its first faith

Its last impediment? What augured it,

Now in this quick beginning of new life,

To clutch the sunlight and be feeling back,

Back with a scared fantastic fearfulness,

To touch, not knowing why, the vexed-up ghost

Of what was gone?

Yes, there was Argan’s face,

Pallid and pinched and ruinously marked

With big pathetic bones; there were his eyes,

Quiet and large, fixed wistfully on hers;

And there, close-pressed again within her own,

Quivered his cold thin fingers. And, ah! yes,

There were the words, those dying words again,

And hers that answered when she promised him.

Promised him? … yes. And had she known the truth

Of what she felt that he should ask her that,

And had she known the love that was to be,

God knew that she could not have told him then.

But then she knew it not, nor thought of it;

There was no need of it; nor was there need

Of any problematical support

Whereto to cling while she convinced herself

That love’s intuitive utility,

Inexorably merciful, had proved

That what was human was unpermanent

And what was flesh was ashes. She had told

Him then that she would love no other man,

That there was not another man on earth

Whom she could ever love, or who could make

So much as a love thought go through her brain;

And he had smiled. And just before he died

His lips had made as if to say something—

Something that passed unwhispered with his breath,

Out of her reach, out of all quest of it.

And then, could she have known enough to know

The meaning of her grief, the folly of it,

The faithlessness and the proud anguish of it,

There might be now no threads to punish her,

No vampire thoughts to suck the coward blood,

The life, the very soul of her.

Yes, Yes,

They might come back.… But why should they come back?

Why was it she had suffered? Why had she

Struggled and grown these years to demonstrate

That close without those hovering clouds of gloom

And through them here and there forever gleamed

The Light itself, the life, the love, the glory,

Which was of its own radiance good proof

That all the rest was darkness and blind sight?

And who was she? The woman she had known—

The woman she had petted and called “I”—

The woman she had pitied, and at last

Commiserated for the most abject

And persecuted of all womankind,—

Could it be she that had sought out the way

To measure and thereby to quench in her

The woman’s fear—the fear of her not fearing?

A nervous little laugh that lost itself,

Like logic in a dream, fluttered her thoughts

An instant there that ever she should ask

What she might then have told so easily—

So easily that Annandale had frowned,

Had he been given wholly to be told

The truth of what had never been before

So passionately, so inevitably


For she could see from where she sat

The sheets that he had bound up like a book

And covered with red leather; and her eyes

Could see between the pages of the book,

Though her eyes, like them, were closed. And she could read

As well as if she had them in her hand,

What he had written on them long ago,—

Six years ago, when he was waiting for her.

She might as well have said that she could see

The man himself, as once he would have looked

Had she been there to watch him while he wrote

Those words, and all for her.… For her whose face

Had flashed itself, prophetic and unseen,

But not unspirited, between the life

That would have been without her and the life

That he had gathered up like frozen roots

Out of a grave-clod lying at his feet,

Unconsciously, and as unconsciously

Transplanted and revived. He did not know

The kind of life that he had found, nor did

He doubt, not knowing it; but well he knew

That it was life—new life, and that the old

Might then with unimprisoned wings go free,

Onward and all along to its own light,

Through the appointed shadow.

While she gazed

Upon it there she felt within herself

The growing of a newer consciousness—

The pride of something fairer than her first

Outclamoring of interdicted thought

Had ever quite foretold; and all at once

There quivered and requivered through her flesh,

Like music, like the sound of an old song,

Triumphant, love-remembered murmurings

Of what for passion’s innocence had been

Too mightily, too perilously hers,

Ever to be reclaimed and realized

Until today. Today she could throw off

The burden that had held her down so long,

And she could stand upright, and she could see

The way to take, with eyes that had in them

No gleam but of the spirit. Day or night,

No matter; she could see what was to see—

All that had been till now shut out from her,

The service, the fulfillment, and the truth,

And thus the cruel wiseness of it all.

So Damaris, more like than anything

To one long prisoned in a twilight cave

With hovering bats for all companionship,

And after time set free to fight the sun,

Laughed out, so glad she was to recognize

The test of what had been, through all her folly,

The courage of her conscience; for she knew,

Now on a late-flushed autumn afternoon

That else had been too bodeful of dead things

To be endured with aught but the same old

Inert, self-contradicted martyrdom

Which she had known so long, that she could look

Right forward through the years, nor any more

Shrink with a cringing prescience to behold

The glitter of dead summer on the grass,

Or the brown-glimmered crimson of still trees

Across the intervale where flashed along,

Black-silvered, the cold river. She had found,

As if by some transcendent freakishness

Of reason, the glad life that she had sought

Where naught but obvious clouds could ever be—

Clouds to put out the sunlight from her eyes,

And to put out the love-light from her soul.

But they were gone—now they were all gone;

And with a whimsied pathos, like the mist

Of grief that clings to new-found happiness

Hard wrought, she might have pity for the small

Defeated quest of them that brushed her sight

Like flying lint—lint that had once been thread.…

Yes, like an anodyne, the voice of him,

There were the words that he had made for her,

For her alone. The more she thought of them

The more she lived them, and the more she knew

The life-grip and the pulse of warm strength in them.

They were the first and last of words to her,

And there was in them a far questioning

That had for long been variously at work,

Divinely and elusively at work,

With her, and with the grace that had been hers;

They were eternal words, and they diffused

A flame of meaning that men’s lexicons

Had never kindled; they were choral words

That harmonized with love’s enduring chords

Like wisdom with release; triumphant words

That rang like elemental orisons

Through ages out of ages; words that fed

Love’s hunger in the spirit; words that smote;

Thrilled words that echoed, and barbed words that clung;—

And every one of them was like a friend

Whose obstinate fidelity, well tried,

Had found at last and irresistibly

The way to her close conscience, and thereby

Revealed the unsubstantial Nemesis

That she had clutched and shuddered at so long;

And every one of them was like a real

And ringing voice, clear toned and absolute,

But of a love-subdued authority

That uttered thrice the plain significance

Of what had else been generously vague

And indolently true. It may have been

The triumph and the magic of the soul,

Unspeakably revealed, that finally

Had reconciled the grim probationing

Of wisdom with unalterable faith,

But she could feel—not knowing what it was,

For the sheer freedom of it—a new joy

That humanized the latent wizardry

Of his prophetic voice and put for it

The man within the music.

So it came

To pass, like many a long-compelled emprise

That with its first accomplishment almost

Annihilates its own severity,

That she could find, whenever she might look,

The certified achievement of a love

That had endured, self-guarded and supreme,

To the glad end of all that wavering;

And she could see that now the flickering world

Of autumn was awake with sudden bloom,

New-born, perforce, of a slow bourgeoning.

And she had found what more than half had been

The grave-deluded, flesh-bewildered fear

Which men and women struggle to call faith,

To be the paid progression to an end

Whereat she knew the foresight and the strength

To glorify the gift of what was hers,

To vindicate the truth of what she was.

And had it come to her so suddenly?

There was a pity and a weariness

In asking that, and a great needlessness;

For now there were no wretched quivering strings

That held her to the churchyard any more:

There were no thoughts that flapped themselves like bats

Around her any more. The shield of love

Was clean, and she had paid enough to learn

How it had always been so. And the truth,

Like silence after some far victory,

Had come to her, and she had found it out

As if it were a vision, a thing born

So suddenly!—just as a flower is born,

Or as a world is born—so suddenly.