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

VII. The Three Taverns

25. Peace on Earth

HE took a frayed hat from his head,

And “Peace on Earth” was what he said.

“A morsel out of what you’re worth,

And there we have it: Peace on Earth.

Not much, although a little more

Than what there was on earth before

I’m as you see, I’m Ichabod,—

But never mind the ways I’ve trod;

I’m sober now, so help me God.”

I could not pass the fellow by.

“Do you believe in God?” said I;

“And is there to be Peace on Earth?”

“Tonight we celebrate the birth,”

He said, “of One who died for men;

The Son of God, we say. What then?

Your God, or mine? I’d make you laugh

Were I to tell you even half

That I have learned of mine today

Where yours would hardly seem to stay.

Could He but follow in and out

Some anthropoids I know about,

The god to whom you may have prayed

Might see a world He never made.”

“Your words are flowing full,” said I;

“But yet they give me no reply;

Your fountain might as well be dry.”

“A wiser One than you, my friend,

Would wait and hear me to the end;

And for his eyes a light would shine

Through this unpleasant shell of mine

That in your fancy makes of me

A Christmas curiosity.

All right, I might be worse than that;

And you might now be lying flat;

I might have done it from behind,

And taken what there was to find.

Don’t worry, for I’m not that kind.

‘Do I believe in God?’ Is that

The price tonight of a new hat?

Has he commanded that his name

Be written everywhere the same?

Have all who live in every place

Identified his hidden face?

Who knows but he may like as well

My story as one you may tell?

And if he show me there be Peace

On Earth, as there be fields and trees

Outside a jail-yard, am I wrong

If now I sing him a new song?

Your world is in yourself, my friend,

For your endurance to the end;

And all the Peace there is on Earth

Is faith in what your world is worth,

And saying, without any lies,

Your world could not be otherwise.”

“One might say that and then be shot,”

I told him; and he said: “Why not?”

I ceased, and gave him rather more

Than he was counting of my store.

“And since I have it, thanks to you,

Don’t ask me what I mean to do,”

Said he. “Believe that even I

Would rather tell the truth than lie—

On Christmas Eve. No matter why.”

His unshaved, educated face,

His inextinguishable grace.

And his hard smile, are with me still,

Deplore the vision as I will;

For whatsoever he be at,

So droll a derelict as that

Should have at least another hat.