Week 95: For A Dead Lady, by Edwin Arlington Robinson

The American poet Edwin Arlington Robinson (1869-1935) is probably best remembered today for that fine poem of old age, ‘Mr Flood’s Party’, but I like this one too, for all its datedness. Yes, the diction is dodgy in places: a line like ‘Whereof no language may requite’ creaks now and probably creaked when it was written. And yes, it may seem not quite the thing now to speak of women in that tone of courtly adulation that always carries a hint of patronage. But if you can accept the poem on its own terms, you may find it a moving enough indictment of ‘Time that is intolerant/Of the brave and innocent’.

For a Dead Lady

No more with overflowing light
Shall fill the eyes that now are faded,
Nor shall another’s fringe with night
Their woman-hidden world as they did.
No more shall quiver down the days
The flowing wonder of her ways,
Whereof no language may requite
The shifting and the many-shaded.

The grace, divine, definitive,
Clings only as a faint forestalling;
The laugh that love could not forgive
Is hushed, and answers to no calling;
The forehead and the little ears
Have gone where Saturn keeps the years;
The breast where roses could not live
Has done with rising and with falling.

The beauty, shattered by the laws
That have creation in their keeping,
No longer trembles at applause,
Or over children that are sleeping;
And we who delve in beauty’s lore
Know all that we have known before
Of what inexorable cause
Makes Time so vicious in his reaping.

Edwin Arlington Robinson

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