Sainte-Nitouche Poem by Edwin Arlington Robinson


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Though not for common praise of him,
Nor yet for pride or charity,
Still would I make to Vanderberg
One tribute for his memory:

One honest warrant of a friend
Who found with him that flesh was grass—
Who neither blamed him in defect
Nor marveled how it came to pass;

Or why it ever was that he—
That Vanderberg, of all good men,
Should lose himself to find himself,
Straightway to lose himself again.

For we had buried Sainte-Nitouche,
And he had said to me that night:
“Yes, we have laid her in the earth,
But what of that?” And he was right.

And he had said: “We have a wife,
We have a child, we have a church;
’T would be a scurrilous way out
If we should leave them in the lurch.

“That’s why I have you here with me
To-night: you know a talk may take
The place of bromide, cyanide,
Et cetera. For heaven’s sake,

“Why do you look at me like that?
What have I done to freeze you so?
Dear man, you see where friendship means
A few things yet that you don’t know;

“And you see partly why it is
That I am glad for what is gone:
For Sainte-Nitouche and for the world
In me that followed. What lives on—

“Well, here you have it: here at home—
For even home will yet return.
You know the truth is on my side,
And that will make the embers burn.

“I see them brighten while I speak,
I see them flash,—and they are mine!
You do not know them, but I do:
I know the way they used to shine.

“And I know more than I have told
Of other life that is to be:
I shall have earned it when it comes,
And when it comes I shall be free.

“Not as I was before she came,
But farther on for having been
The servitor, the slave of her—
The fool, you think. But there’s your sin—

“Forgive me!—and your ignorance:
Could you but have the vision here
That I have, you would understand
As I do that all ways are clear

“For those who dare to follow them
With earnest eyes and honest feet.
But Sainte-Nitouche has made the way
For me, and I shall find it sweet.

“Sweet with a bitter sting left?—Yes,
Bitter enough, God knows, at first;
But there are more steep ways than one
To make the best look like the worst;

“And here is mine—the dark and hard,
For me to follow, trust, and hold:
And worship, so that I may leave
No broken story to be told.

“Therefore I welcome what may come,
Glad for the days, the nights, the years.”—
An upward flash of ember-flame
Revealed the gladness in his tears.

“You see them, but you know,” said he,
“Too much to be incredulous:
You know the day that makes us wise,
The moment that makes fools of us.

“So I shall follow from now on
The road that she has found for me:
The dark and starry way that leads
Right upward, and eternally.

“Stumble at first? I may do that;
And I may grope, and hate the night;
But there’s a guidance for the man
Who stumbles upward for the light,

“And I shall have it all from her,
The foam-born child of innocence.
I feel you smiling while I speak,
But that’s of little consequence;

“For when we learn that we may find
The truth where others miss the mark,
What is it worth for us to know
That friends are smiling in the dark?

“Could we but share the lonely pride
Of knowing, all would then be well;
But knowledge often writes itself
In flaming words we cannot spell.

“And I, who have my work to do,
Look forward; and I dare to see,
Far stretching and all mountainous,
God’s pathway through the gloom for me.”

I found so little to say then
That I said nothing.—“Say good-night,”
Said Vanderberg; “and when we meet
To-morrow, tell me I was right.

“Forget the dozen other things
That you have not the faith to say;
For now I know as well as you
That you are glad to go away.”

I could have blessed the man for that,
And he could read me with a smile:
“You doubt,” said he, “but if we live
You’ll know me in a little while.”

He lived; and all as he foretold,
I knew him—better than he thought:
My fancy did not wholly dig
The pit where I believed him caught.

But yet he lived and laughed, and preached,
And worked—as only players can:
He scoured the shrine that once was home
And kept himself a clergyman.

The clockwork of his cold routine
Put friends far off that once were near;
The five staccatos in his laugh
Were too defensive and too clear;

The glacial sermons that he preached
Were longer than they should have been;
And, like the man who fashioned them,
The best were too divinely thin.

But still he lived, and moved, and had
The sort of being that was his,
Till on a day the shrine of home
For him was in the Mysteries:—

“My friend, there’s one thing yet,” said he,
“And one that I have never shared
With any man that I have met;
But you—you know me.” And he stared

For a slow moment at me then
With conscious eyes that had the gleam,
The shine, before the stroke:—“You know
The ways of us, the way we dream:

“You know the glory we have won,
You know the glamour we have lost;
You see me now, you look at me,—
And yes, you pity me, almost;

“But never mind the pity—no,
Confess the faith you can’t conceal;
And if you frown, be not like one
Of those who frown before they feel.

“For there is truth, and half truth,—yes,
And there’s a quarter truth, no doubt;
But mine was more than half.… You smile?
You understand? You bear me out?

“You always knew that I was right—
You are my friend—and I have tried
Your faith—your love.”—The gleam grew small,
The stroke was easy, and he died.

I saw the dim look change itself
To one that never will be dim;
I saw the dead flesh to the grave,
But that was not the last of him.

For what was his to live lives yet:
Truth, quarter truth, death cannot reach;
Nor is it always what we know
That we are fittest here to teach.

The fight goes on when fields are still,
The triumph clings when arms are down;
The jewels of all coronets
Are pebbles of the unseen crown;

The specious weight of loud reproof
Sinks where a still conviction floats;
And on God’s ocean after storm
Time’s wreckage is half pilot-boats;

And what wet faces wash to sight
Thereafter feed the common moan:—
But Vanderberg no pilot had,
Nor could have: he was all alone.

Unchallenged by the larger light
The starry quest was his to make;
And of all ways that are for men,
The starry way was his to take.

We grant him idle names enough
To-day, but even while we frown
The fight goes on, the triumph clings,
And there is yet the unseen crown

But was it his? Did Vanderberg
Find half truth to be passion’s thrall,
Or as we met him day by day,
Was love triumphant, after all?

I do not know so much as that;
I only know that he died right:
Saint Anthony nor Sainte-Nitouche
Had ever smiled as he did—quite.

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