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Edwin Arlington Robinson

(22 December 1869 – 6 April 1935 / Maine / United States)

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.

Submitted: Friday, January 03, 2003

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