The Book, Cat, & Cat Book Lovers Almanac

of historical trivia regarding books, cats, and other animals. Actually this blog has evolved so that it is described better as a blog about cats in history and culture. And we take as a theme the advice of Aldous Huxley: If you want to be a writer, get some cats. Don't forget to see the archived articles linked at the bottom of the page.

April 6, 2017

April 6, 1935

Edwin Arlington Robinson (December 22, 1869 to April 6, 1935) has been blurbed as the winner:

of three Pulitzer Prizes.
..[This] American poet... broke with the tradition of late Romanticism, introducing instead an unadorned style of naturalism, blended with psychological portraiture.

Britannica reminds us:

After his family suffered financial reverses, Robinson cut short his attendance at Harvard University (1891–93) and returned to Gardiner
[Maine] to stay with his family, whose fortunes were disintegrating. The lives of both his brothers ended in failure and early death, and Robinson’s poetry is much concerned with personal defeat and the tragic complexities of life. Robinson himself endured years of poverty and obscurity before his poetry began to attract notice.

Robinson was struck by the lives around him experienced as meaningless. He studied the situation in his art but never seems to have gained a liberating perspective.

"Tasker Norton" is a poem like those which made Robinson famous, ("Richard Cory" for instance) but itself is not. The poem takes the perspective of recalling someone now dead. We excerpt:


“A time is given in Ecclesiastes 
For divers works,” I told him. “Is there one 
For saying nothing in return for nothing? 
If not, there should be.” I could feel his eyes, 
And they were like two cold inquiring points 
Of a sharp metal. When I looked again, 
To see them shine, the cold that I had felt 
Was gone to make way for a smouldering 
Of lonely fire that I, as I knew then, 
Could never quench with kindness or with lies. 

.... we do not seem to know 
That we remember any good of him, 
Or any evil that is interesting. ....
They might have said it in all sorts of ways; 
And then, if they perceived a cat, they might 
Or might not have remembered what they said. 
The cat might have a personality— 
And maybe the same one the Lord left out 
Of Tasker Norcross, who, for lack of it, 
Saw the same sun go down year after year; 
All which at last was my discovery. 
And only mine, so far as evidence 
Enlightens one more darkness. ....— 

“He knew, and in his knowledge there was death. 
He knew there was a region all around him 
That lay outside man’s havoc and affairs, 
And yet was not all hostile to their tumult, 
Where poets would have served and honored him, 
And saved him, had there been anything to save. 
But there was nothing....

Kings of song 
Are not for thrones in deserts. Towers of sound 
And flowers of sense are but a waste of heaven 
Where there is none to know them from the rocks 
And sand-grass of his own monotony 
That makes earth less than earth. He could see that, 
And he could see no more. ....

‘Art,’ he would have said, 
‘Is not life, and must therefore be a lie;’ 
And with a few profundities like that 
He would have controverted and dismissed 
The benefit of the Greeks. He had heard of them, 
As he had heard of his aspiring soul— 
Never to the perceptible advantage, 
In his esteem, of either. ‘Faith,’ he said, 
Or would have said if he had thought of it, 
‘Lives in the same house with Philosophy, 
Where the two feed on scraps and are forlorn 
As orphans after war. He could see stars, 
On a clear night, but he had not an eye 
To see beyond them. He could hear spoken words, 
But had no ear for silence when alone. 

The prizes Robinson won point to the accuracy of his pictures, or at least a resonance with his own times. It is possible Robinson never succeeded in amplifying the light around a modern phenomenon which he was the first to describe: that numbness which attends the mechanical dimensions of modernity. Not for Robinson the easy out of those who see violence as a cure. Not only was Robinson the first to describe a certain inability to respond, he rejected easy generalizations, and that is a triumph. 

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