Home  »  Collected Poems by Robinson, Edwin Arlington  »  23. Llewellyn and the Tree

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

I. The Man Against the Sky

23. Llewellyn and the Tree

COULD he have made Priscilla share

The paradise that he had planned,

Llewellyn would have loved his wife

As well as any in the land.

Could he have made Priscilla cease

To goad him for what God left out,

Llewellyn would have been as mild

As any we have read about.

Could all have been as all was not,

Llewellyn would have had no story;

He would have stayed a quiet man

And gone his quiet way to glory.

But howsoever mild he was

Priscilla was implacable;

And whatsoever timid hopes

He built—she found them, and they fell.

And this went on, with intervals

Of labored harmony between

Resounding discords, till at last

Llewellyn turned—as will be seen.

Priscilla, warmer than her name,

And shriller than the sound of saws,

Pursued Llewellyn once too far,

Not knowing quite the man he was.

The more she said, the fiercer clung

The stinging garment of his wrath;

And this was all before the day

When Time tossed roses in his path.

Before the roses ever came

Llewellyn had already risen.

The roses may have ruined him,

They may have kept him out of prison.

And she who brought them, being Fate,

Made roses do the work of spears,—

Though many made no more of her

Than civet, coral, rouge, and years.

You ask us what Llewellyn saw,

But why ask what may not be given?

To some will come a time when change

Itself is beauty, if not heaven.

One afternoon Priscilla spoke,

And her shrill history was done;

At any rate, she never spoke

Like that again to anyone.

One gold October afternoon

Great fury smote the silent air;

And then Llewellyn leapt and fled

Like one with hornets in his hair.

Llewellyn left us, and he said

Forever, leaving few to doubt him;

And so, through frost and clicking leaves,

The Tilbury way went on without him.

And slowly, through the Tilbury mist,

The stillness of October gold

Went out like beauty from a face.

Priscilla watched it, and grew old.

He fled, still clutching in his flight

The roses that had been his fall;

The Scarlet One, as you surmise,

Fled with him, coral, rouge, and all.

Priscilla, waiting, saw the change

Of twenty slow October moons;

And then she vanished, in her turn

To be forgotten, like old tunes.

So they were gone—all three of them,

I should have said, and said no more,

Had not a face once on Broadway

Been one that I had seen before.

The face and hands and hair were old,

But neither time nor penury

Could quench within Llewellyn’s eyes

The shine of his one victory.

The roses, faded and gone by,

Left ruin where they once had reigned;

But on the wreck, as on old shells,

The color of the rose remained.

His fictive merchandise I bought

For him to keep and show again,

Then led him slowly from the crush

Of his cold-shouldered fellow men.

“And so, Llewellyn,” I began—

“Not so,” he said; “not so at all:

I’ve tried the world, and found it good,

For more than twenty years this fall.

“And what the world has left of me

Will go now in a little while.”

And what the world had left of him

Was partly an unholy guile.

“That I have paid for being calm

Is what you see, if you have eyes;

For let a man be calm too long,

He pays for much before he dies.

“Be calm when you are growing old

And you have nothing else to do;

Pour not the wine of life too thin

If water means the death of you.

“You say I might have learned at home

The truth in season to be strong?

Not so; I took the wine of life

Too thin, and I was calm too long.

“Like others who are strong too late,

For me there was no going back;

For I had found another speed,

And I was on the other track.

“God knows how far I might have gone

Or what there might have been to see;

But my speed had a sudden end,

And here you have the end of me.”

The end or not, it may be now

But little farther from the truth

To say those worn satiric eyes

Had something of immortal youth.

He may among the millions here

Be one; or he may, quite as well,

Be gone to find again the Tree

Of Knowledge, out of which he fell.

He may be near us, dreaming yet

Of unrepented rouge and coral;

Or in a grave without a name

May be as far off as a moral.