Because he was a butcher and thereby
Did earn an honest living (and did right),
I would not have you think that Reuben Bright
Was any more a brute than you or I;
For when they told him that his wife must die,
He stared at them, and shook with grief and fright,
And cried like a great baby half that night,
And made the women cry to see him cry.
And after she was dead, and he had paid
The singers and the sexton and the rest,
He packed a lot of things that she had made
Most mournfully away in an old chest
Of hers, and put some chopped-up cedar boughs
In with them, and tore down the slaughter-house.
Edwin Arlington Robinson (1865–1935) grew up in Gardiner, Maine. Eventually Robinson moved to New York and lived there impoverished and with a growing alcohol problem, but his fortunes changed when Kermit Roosevelt gave The Children of the Night, Robinson’s second collection of poetry, to his father, president Theodore Roosevelt. The president admired the poems greatly and, learning that the author was impoverished, secured Robinson a position in the New York Customs Office. With the publication of his next several books, Robinson’s poetry became well known and much admired and he went on to win the Pulitzer Prize three times. Robinson, who had been in love with the young woman who married his brother Herman, remained unmarried throughout his life. “Reuben Bright” is from Robinson’s early collection, Children of the Night, which has recently been republished by ValdeBooks.