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

VII. The Three Taverns

26. Late Summer


CONFUSED, he found her lavishing feminine

Gold upon clay, and found her inscrutable;

And yet she smiled. Why, then, should horrors

Be as they were, without end, her playthings?

And why were dead years hungrily telling her

Lies of the dead, who told them again to her?

If now she knew, there might be kindness

Clamoring yet where a faith lay stifled.

A little faith in him, and the ruinous

Past would be for time to annihilate,

And wash out, like a tide that washes

Out of the sand what a child has drawn there.

God, what a shining handful of happiness,

Made out of days and out of eternities,

Were now the pulsing end of patience—

Could he but have what a ghost had stolen!

What was a man before him, or ten of them,

While he was here alive who could answer them,

And in their teeth fling confirmations

Harder than agates against an egg-shell?

But now the man was dead, and would come again

Never, though she might honor ineffably

The flimsy wraith of him she conjured

Out of a dream with his wand of absence.

And if the truth were now but a mummery,

Meriting pride’s implacable irony,

So much the worse for pride. Moreover,

Save her or fail, there was conscience always.

Meanwhile, a few misgivings of innocence,

Imploring to be sheltered and credited,

Were not amiss when she revealed them.

Whether she struggled or not, he saw them.

Also, he saw that while she was hearing him

Her eyes had more and more of the past in them;

And while he told what cautious honor

Told him was all he had best be sure of,

He wondered once or twice, inadvertently,

Where shifting winds were driving his argosies,

Long anchored and as long unladen,

Over the foam for the golden chances.

“If men were not for killing so carelessly,

And women were for wiser endurances,”

He said, “we might have yet a world here

Fitter for Truth to be seen abroad in;

“If Truth were not so strange in her nakedness,

And we were less forbidden to look at it,

We might not have to look.” He stared then

Down at the sand where the tide threw forward

Its cold, unconquered lines, that unceasingly

Foamed against hope, and fell. He was calm enough,

Although he knew he might be silenced

Out of all calm; and the night was coming.

“I climb for you the peak of his infamy

That you may choose your fall if you cling to it.

No more for me unless you say more.

All you have left of a dream defends you:

“The truth may be as evil an augury

As it was needful now for the two of us.

We cannot have the dead between us.

Tell me to go, and I go.”—She pondered:

“What you believe is right for the two of us

Makes it as right that you are not one of us.

If this be needful truth you tell me,

Spare me, and let me have lies hereafter.”

She gazed away where shadows were covering

The whole cold ocean’s healing indifference.

No ship was coming. When the darkness

Fell, she was there, and alone, still gazing.