A Gift of Poetry

by chuckofish

I once complained to my mother, in the exquisitely petulant tones that only a 15 year old girl can produce, that there was nothing in the house (a house chock-full of books) to read. I probably went off in a huff. Not long after, my mother brought me a slim, purple volume. It was a poem in blank verse by Edwin Arlington Robinson called “Tristram” and she said that when she was about my age, she had particularly liked it. She didn’t say much more, but something about the way she gave me the book made me realize that it was special to her. I still have it and it is very special to me.


Well, Edwin Arlington Robinson is not fashionable among the literati (or my colleagues), but I must say that if you are in the mood for beautifully written Arthurian romance, you can’t beat him. And he sure captured my teenage heart. In honor of my mother’s birthday (she was the ultimate cool mom), I give you some passages from “Tristram” with a few appropriate pictures taken on a memorable trip Tintagel Castle in Cornwall in 2005 (?).

Partly to balk his rage, partly to curse
Unhindered an abject ineptitutde
That like a drug had held him and witheld him
In seizing once more from love’s imperial garden
The flower of all things there, now Tristram leaned
Alone upon a parapet…

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…below the lights of Tintagel, where gay music
Had whipped him as a lash and driven him out
Into the misty night, which might have held
A prmonition and a probing chill
For one more tranquil and less exigent,
And not so much on fire…

the ruins of Tintagel

the ruins of Tintagel

He gazed at nothing, save a moving blur
Where foamed eternally on Cornish rocks
The moan of Cornish water; and he asked,
With a malignant inward voice of envy,
How many scarred cold things that once had laughed
And loved and wept and sung, and had been men,
Might have been knocked and washed indifferently
On that hard shore, and eaten gradually
By competent quick fishes and large crabs…

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And finally, poor Isolt of Brittany — the other Isolt — whose love goes unrequited:

Alone, with her white face and her gray eyes,
She watched them there till even her thoughts were white,
And there was nothing alive but white birds flying,
Flying, and always flying, and still flying,
And the white sunlight flashing on the sea.

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Stephanie Meyer eat your heart out. I mean, really, wouldn’t you rather read “Tristram”?