Home  »  Collected Poems by Robinson, Edwin Arlington  »  8. Old King Cole

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

I. The Man Against the Sky

8. Old King Cole

IN Tilbury Town did Old King Cole

A wise old age anticipate,

Desiring, with his pipe and bowl,

No Khan’s extravagant estate.

No crown annoyed his honest head,

No fiddlers three were called or needed;

For two disastrous heirs instead

Made music more than ever three did.

Bereft of her with whom his life

Was harmony without a flaw,

He took no other for a wife,

Nor sighed for any that he saw;

And if he doubted his two sons,

And heirs, Alexis and Evander,

He might have been as doubtful once

Of Robert Burns and Alexander.

Alexis, in his early youth,

Began to steal—from old and young.

Likewise Evander, and the truth

Was like a bad taste on his tongue.

Born thieves and liars, their affair

Seemed only to be tarred with evil—

The most insufferable pair

Of scamps that ever cheered the devil.

The world went on, their fame went on,

And they went on—from bad to worse;

Till, goaded hot with nothing done,

And each accoutred with a curse,

The friends of Old King Cole, by twos,

And fours, and sevens, and elevens,

Pronounced unalterable views

Of doings that were not of heaven’s.

And having learned again whereby

Their baleful zeal had come about,

King Cole met many a wrathful eye

So kindly that its wrath went out—

Or partly out. Say what they would,

He seemed the more to court their candor;

But never told what kind of good

Was in Alexis and Evander.

And Old King Cole, with many a puff

That haloed his urbanity,

Would smoke till he had smoked enough,

And listen most attentively.

He beamed as with an inward light

That had the Lord’s assurance in it;

And once a man was there all night,

Expecting something every minute.

But whether from too little thought,

Or too much fealty to the bowl,

A dim reward was all he got

For sitting up with Old King Cole.

“Though mine,” the father mused aloud,

“Are not the sons I would have chosen,

Shall I, less evilly endowed,

By their infirmity be frozen?

“They’ll have a bad end, I’ll agree,

But I was never born to groan;

For I can see what I can see,

And I’m accordingly alone.

With open heart and open door,

I love my friends, I like my neighbors;

But if I try to tell you more,

Your doubts will overmatch my labors.

“This pipe would never make me calm,

This bowl my grief would never drown.

For grief like mine there is no balm

In Gilead, or in Tilbury Town.

And if I see what I can see,

I know not any way to blind it;

Nor more if any way may be

For you to grope or fly to find it.

“There may be room for ruin yet,

And ashes for a wasted love;

Or, like One whom you may forget,

I may have meat you know not of.

And if I’d rather live than weep

Meanwhile, do you find that surprising?

Why, bless my soul, the man’s asleep!

That’s good. The sun will soon be rising.”