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This review is taken from PN Review 129, Volume 26 Number 1, September - October 1999.

SOME VAST MAGIC UNDIVINED The Poetry of E.A. Robinson, Selected and with an Introduction and Notes by Robert Mezey (The Modern Library) $19.95

I have known and loved the poems of Edwin Arlington Robinson for practically fifty years. When I was fourteen, his poems seemed agreeably gloomy to me. His subjects are good-for-nothings, non-starters, loners, weaklings. I liked how Robinson treated them: archly, satirically, harshly: just as I thought they deserved. And his poems were easy to memorize, with their ineluctable metres and never-failing rhymes. Here's an example, 'Reuben Bright' from Children of the Night, published in 1897 when Robinson was 27:

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.

Robinson's places were gloomy too. Here's the fragment of a city scape from his autobiographical 'Old Trails (Washington Square)': 'And soon we found ourselves outside once more, / Where now the lamps along the Avenue / Bloomed white for miles above an iron floor.' The lonesomeness of that last line finds its rural equivalent in 'The Dark Hills':

Dark hills at evening in the west,
Where sunset hovers like a sound
Of golden horns that sang to rest
Old bones ...


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