Saturday, December 22, 2012

Miniver Cheevy

A Poet Remembered

Edwin Arlington Robinson was born on this day in 1869.  He would live until 1935 and is considered the first major American poet of the twentieth century, unique in that he devoted his life to poetry and willingly paid the price in poverty and obscurity. As for his works, his once-popular Arthurian trilogy has fallen in favor, criticized by William H. Pritchard as having "occasional purple patches, fine lines here and there, but on the whole prolix, fussy, and somehow terribly misguided--the long poems are stone-dead" (Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism, vol. 5 [1981], p. 418). The poems from his earlier period, especially the Tilbury Town cycle, have held critical esteem. In his shorter works, Robinson excelled in limning characters who failed on a materialistic level but somehow succeeded, though at great cost on a moral or spiritual level. In an age of free verse and experimentation, his technical expertise is considered intolerably old-fashioned, but there is no doubt he was a master of many forms.  He was one of the poets I first encountered in American Literature class during my sophomore year of high school.  His poetry is often melancholy or even more drear, but I remember him as a master of poetic form and meter.  One of his most famous, and somewhat autobiographical poems follows.

Miniver Cheevy

Miniver Cheevy, child of scorn,
Grew lean while he assailed the seasons;
He wept that he was ever born,
And he had reasons.

Miniver loved the days of old
When swords were bright and steeds were prancing;
The vision of a warrior bold
Would set him dancing.

Miniver sighed for what was not,
And dreamed, and rested from his labors;
He dreamed of Thebes and Camelot,
And Priam's neighbors.

Minever mourned the ripe renown
That made so many a name so fragrant;
He mourned Romance, now on the town,
And Art, a vagrant.

Minever loved the Medici,
Albeit he had never seen one;
He would have sinned incessantly
Could he have been one.

Miniver cursed the commonplace
And eyed a khaki suit with loathing;
He missed the mediæval grace
Of iron clothing.

Miniver scorned the gold he sought,
But sore annoyed was he without it;
Miniver thought, and thought, and thought,
And thought about it.

Miniver Cheevy, born too late,
Scratched his head and kept on thinking;
Miniver coughed, and called it fate,
And kept on drinking.

E.A. Robinson

Robinson: Selected Poems by Edwin Arlington Robinson. Penguin Books, 1997.


Amy said...

I like this:

"Minever loved the Medici,
Albeit he had never seen one;
He would have sinned incessantly
Could he have been one."

I suppose it's a sign of age, but it really seems to me that we read a lot more interesting stuff in high school lit classes 30+ years ago than what's being assigned today.

M. said...

Also a favorite of my high school days. It was an example of "irony" in poetry. But you meant Edwin Arliington Robinson, no?

James said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
James said...

Thanks Amy. I'm sure you are right about the classes and I'm glad I read poets like Robinson (40+ years ago for me).

James said...

Thanks M. My spellchecker missed that one, so I updated it. Robinson was a master of irony.