Edwin Arlington Robinson
  • Edwin Arlington Robinson
  • 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, who was born December 22, 1869, and died of cancer on April 6, 1935, is a major American 20th-century poet. He wrote in traditional forms but with a realism and authenticity about common people that makes him thoroughly modern. It is unlikely that any earlier American poet would have thought to write about a butcher who comes to realize, through his overwhelming personal grief, the full moral implications of slaughtering his fellow creatures, and it is even more unlikely that any of the high modernist poets of the following generation — poets whose reputations supplanted Robinson’s — would have been capable of handling so complex a theme and subversive an insight with such narrative simplicity and power. During his lifetime, Robinson’s work became greatly admired and he won the Pulitzer Prize three times. In 1926, Ben Ray Redman called him “a biographer of souls...bound to humanity by the dual bond of sympathy and humor.” Robinson was an exceedingly kind and generous man greatly loved by all who knew him. He battled alcoholism throughout much of his life and remained unmarried. “Reuben Bright” was composed in 1897 and is one of the author’s many short masterpieces.

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