Edwin Arlington Robinson
Poem by Edwin Arlington Robinson
Never mind the day we left, or the day the women clung to us;
All we need now is the last way they looked at us.
Never mind the twelve men there amid the cheering—
Twelve men or one man, ’t will soon be all the same;
For this is what we know: we are five men together,
Five left o’ twelve men to find the golden river.
Far we came to find it out, but the place was here for all of us;
Far, far we came, and here we have the last of us.
We that were the front men, we that would be early,
We that had the faith, and the triumph in our eyes:
We that had the wrong road, twelve men together,—
Singing when the devil sang to find the golden river.
Say the gleam was not for us, but never say we doubted it;
Say the wrong road was right before we followed it.
We that were the front men, fit for all forage,—
Say that while we dwindle we are front men still;
For this is what we know tonight: we’re starving here together—
Starving on the wrong road to find the golden river.
Wrong, we say, but wait a little: hear him in the corner there;
He knows more than we, and he’ll tell us if we listen there—
He that fought the snow-sleep less than all the others
Stays awhile yet, and he knows where he stays:
Foot and hand a frozen clout, brain a freezing feather,
Still he’s here to talk with us and to the golden river.
“Flow,” he says, “and flow along, but you cannot flow away from us;
All the world’s ice will never keep you far from us;
Every man that heeds your call takes the way that leads him—
The one way that’s his way, and lives his own life:
Starve or laugh, the game goes on, and on goes the river;
Gold or no, they go their way—twelve men together.
“Twelve,” he says, “who sold their shame for a lure you call too fair for them—
You that laugh and flow to the same word that urges them:
Twelve who left the old town shining in the sunset,
Left the weary street and the small safe days:
Twelve who knew but one way out, wide the way or narrow:
Twelve who took the frozen chance and laid their lives on yellow.
“Flow by night and flow by day, nor ever once be seen by them;
Flow, freeze, and flow, till time shall hide the bones of them;
Laugh and wash their names away, leave them all forgotten,
Leave the old town to crumble where it sleeps;
Leave it there as they have left it, shining in the valley,—
Leave the town to crumble down and let the women marry.
“Twelve of us or five,” he says, “we know the night is on us now:
Five while we last, and we may as well be thinking now:
Thinking each his own thought, knowing, when the light comes,
Five left or none left, the game will not be lost.
Crouch or sleep, we go the way, the last way together:
Five or none, the game goes on, and on goes the river.
“For after all that we have done and all that we have failed to do,
Life will be life and a world will have its work to do:
Every man who follows us will heed in his own fashion
The calling and the warning and the friends who do not know:
Each will hold an icy knife to punish his heart’s lover,
And each will go the frozen way to find the golden river.”
There you hear him, all he says, and the last we’ll ever get from him.
Now he wants to sleep, and that will be the best for him.
Let him have his own way—no, you needn’t shake him—
Your own turn will come, so let the man sleep.
For this is what we know: we are stalled here together—
Hands and feet and hearts of us, to find the golden river.
And there’s a quicker way than sleep? … Never mind the looks of him:
All he needs now is a finger on the eyes of him.
You there on the left hand, reach a little over—
Shut the stars away, or he’ll see them all night:
He’ll see them all night and he’ll see them all tomorrow,
Crawling down the frozen sky, cold and hard and yellow.
Won’t you move an inch or two—to keep the stars away from him?
—No, he won’t move, and there’s no need of asking him.
Never mind the twelve men, never mind the women;
Three while we last, we’ll let them all go;
And we’ll hold our thoughts north while we starve here together,
Looking each his own way to find the golden river.
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