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The Three Taverns
by Edwin Arlington Robinson
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Nimmo



Since you remember Nimmo, and arrive At such a false and florid and far drawn Confusion of odd nonsense, I connive No longer, though I may have led you on.

So much is told and heard and told again, So many with his legend are engrossed, That I, more sorry now than I was then, May live on to be sorry for his ghost.

You knew him, and you must have known his eyes, — How deep they were, and what a velvet light Came out of them when anger or surprise, Or laughter, or Francesca, made them bright.

No, you will not forget such eyes, I think, — And you say nothing of them. Very well. I wonder if all history's worth a wink, Sometimes, or if my tale be one to tell.

For they began to lose their velvet light; Their fire grew dead without and small within; And many of you deplored the needless fight That somewhere in the dark there must have been.

All fights are needless, when they're not our own, But Nimmo and Francesca never fought. Remember that; and when you are alone, Remember me — and think what I have thought.

Now, mind you, I say nothing of what was, Or never was, or could or could not be: Bring not suspicion's candle to the glass That mirrors a friend's face to memory.

Of what you see, see all, — but see no more; For what I show you here will not be there. The devil has had his way with paint before, And he's an artist, — and you needn't stare.

There was a painter and he painted well: He'd paint you Daniel in the lions' den, Beelzebub, Elaine, or William Tell. I'm coming back to Nimmo's eyes again.

The painter put the devil in those eyes, Unless the devil did, and there he stayed; And then the lady fled from paradise, And there's your fact. The lady was afraid.

She must have been afraid, or may have been, Of evil in their velvet all the while; But sure as I'm a sinner with a skin, I'll trust the man as long as he can smile.

I trust him who can smile and then may live In my heart's house, where Nimmo is today. God knows if I have more than men forgive To tell him; but I played, and I shall pay.

I knew him then, and if I know him yet, I know in him, defeated and estranged, The calm of men forbidden to forget The calm of women who have loved and changed.

But there are ways that are beyond our ways, Or he would not be calm and she be mute, As one by one their lost and empty days Pass without even the warmth of a dispute.

God help us all when women think they see; God save us when they do. I'm fair; but though I know him only as he looks to me, I know him, — and I tell Francesca so.

And what of Nimmo? Little would you ask Of him, could you but see him as I can, At his bewildered and unfruitful task Of being what he was born to be — a man.

Better forget that I said anything Of what your tortured memory may disclose; I know him, and your worst remembering Would count as much as nothing, I suppose.

Meanwhile, I trust him; and I know his way Of trusting me, as always in his youth. I'm painting here a better man, you say, Than I, the painter; and you say the truth.



Peace on Earth



He took a frayed hat from his head, And "Peace on Earth" was what he said. "A morsel out of what you're worth, And there we have it: Peace on Earth. Not much, although a little more Than what there was on earth before. I'm as you see, I'm Ichabod, — But never mind the ways I've trod; I'm sober now, so help me God."

I could not pass the fellow by. "Do you believe in God?" said I; "And is there to be Peace on Earth?"

"Tonight we celebrate the birth," He said, "of One who died for men; The Son of God, we say. What then? Your God, or mine? I'd make you laugh Were I to tell you even half That I have learned of mine today Where yours would hardly seem to stay. Could He but follow in and out Some anthropoids I know about, The God to whom you may have prayed Might see a world He never made."

"Your words are flowing full," said I; "But yet they give me no reply; Your fountain might as well be dry."

"A wiser One than you, my friend, Would wait and hear me to the end; And for His eyes a light would shine Through this unpleasant shell of mine That in your fancy makes of me A Christmas curiosity. All right, I might be worse than that; And you might now be lying flat; I might have done it from behind, And taken what there was to find. Don't worry, for I'm not that kind. 'Do I believe in God?' Is that The price tonight of a new hat? Has He commanded that His name Be written everywhere the same? Have all who live in every place Identified His hidden face? Who knows but He may like as well My story as one you may tell? And if He show me there be Peace On Earth, as there be fields and trees Outside a jail-yard, am I wrong If now I sing Him a new song? Your world is in yourself, my friend, For your endurance to the end; And all the Peace there is on Earth Is faith in what your world is worth, And saying, without any lies, Your world could not be otherwise."

"One might say that and then be shot," I told him; and he said: "Why not?" I ceased, and gave him rather more Than he was counting of my store. "And since I have it, thanks to you, Don't ask me what I mean to do," Said he. "Believe that even I Would rather tell the truth than lie — On Christmas Eve. No matter why."

His unshaved, educated face, His inextinguishable grace, And his hard smile, are with me still, Deplore the vision as I will; For whatsoever he be at, So droll a derelict as that Should have at least another hat.



Late Summer

(Alcaics)



Confused, he found her lavishing feminine Gold upon clay, and found her inscrutable; And yet she smiled. Why, then, should horrors Be as they were, without end, her playthings?

And why were dead years hungrily telling her Lies of the dead, who told them again to her? If now she knew, there might be kindness Clamoring yet where a faith lay stifled.

A little faith in him, and the ruinous Past would be for time to annihilate, And wash out, like a tide that washes Out of the sand what a child has drawn there.

God, what a shining handful of happiness, Made out of days and out of eternities, Were now the pulsing end of patience — Could he but have what a ghost had stolen!

What was a man before him, or ten of them, While he was here alive who could answer them, And in their teeth fling confirmations Harder than agates against an egg-shell?

But now the man was dead, and would come again Never, though she might honor ineffably The flimsy wraith of him she conjured Out of a dream with his wand of absence.

And if the truth were now but a mummery, Meriting pride's implacable irony, So much the worse for pride. Moreover, Save her or fail, there was conscience always.

Meanwhile, a few misgivings of innocence, Imploring to be sheltered and credited, Were not amiss when she revealed them. Whether she struggled or not, he saw them.

Also, he saw that while she was hearing him Her eyes had more and more of the past in them; And while he told what cautious honor Told him was all he had best be sure of,

He wondered once or twice, inadvertently, Where shifting winds were driving his argosies, Long anchored and as long unladen, Over the foam for the golden chances.

"If men were not for killing so carelessly, And women were for wiser endurances," He said, "we might have yet a world here Fitter for Truth to be seen abroad in;

"If Truth were not so strange in her nakedness, And we were less forbidden to look at it, We might not have to look." He stared then Down at the sand where the tide threw forward

Its cold, unconquered lines, that unceasingly Foamed against hope, and fell. He was calm enough, Although he knew he might be silenced Out of all calm; and the night was coming.

"I climb for you the peak of his infamy That you may choose your fall if you cling to it. No more for me unless you say more. All you have left of a dream defends you:

"The truth may be as evil an augury As it was needful now for the two of us. We cannot have the dead between us. Tell me to go, and I go." — She pondered:

"What you believe is right for the two of us Makes it as right that you are not one of us. If this be needful truth you tell me, Spare me, and let me have lies hereafter."

She gazed away where shadows were covering The whole cold ocean's healing indifference. No ship was coming. When the darkness Fell, she was there, and alone, still gazing.



An Evangelist's Wife



"Why am I not myself these many days, You ask? And have you nothing more to ask? I do you wrong? I do not hear your praise To God for giving you me to share your task?

"Jealous — of Her? Because her cheeks are pink, And she has eyes? No, not if she had seven. If you should only steal an hour to think, Sometime, there might be less to be forgiven.

"No, you are never cruel. If once or twice I found you so, I could applaud and sing. Jealous of — What? You are not very wise. Does not the good Book tell you anything?

"In David's time poor Michal had to go. Jealous of God? Well, if you like it so."



The Old King's New Jester



You that in vain would front the coming order With eyes that meet forlornly what they must, And only with a furtive recognition See dust where there is dust, — Be sure you like it always in your faces, Obscuring your best graces, Blinding your speech and sight, Before you seek again your dusty places Where the old wrong seems right.

Longer ago than cave-men had their changes Our fathers may have slain a son or two, Discouraging a further dialectic Regarding what was new; And after their unstudied admonition Occasional contrition For their old-fashioned ways May have reduced their doubts, and in addition Softened their final days.

Farther away than feet shall ever travel Are the vague towers of our unbuilded State; But there are mightier things than we to lead us, That will not let us wait. And we go on with none to tell us whether Or not we've each a tether Determining how fast or far we go; And it is well, since we must go together, That we are not to know.

If the old wrong and all its injured glamour Haunts you by day and gives your night no peace, You may as well, agreeably and serenely, Give the new wrong its lease; For should you nourish a too fervid yearning For what is not returning, The vicious and unfused ingredient May give you qualms — and one or two concerning The last of your content.



Lazarus



"No, Mary, there was nothing — not a word. Nothing, and always nothing. Go again Yourself, and he may listen — or at least Look up at you, and let you see his eyes. I might as well have been the sound of rain, A wind among the cedars, or a bird; Or nothing. Mary, make him look at you; And even if he should say that we are nothing, To know that you have heard him will be something. And yet he loved us, and it was for love The Master gave him back. Why did He wait So long before He came? Why did He weep? I thought He would be glad — and Lazarus — To see us all again as He had left us — All as it was, all as it was before."

Mary, who felt her sister's frightened arms Like those of someone drowning who had seized her, Fearing at last they were to fail and sink Together in this fog-stricken sea of strangeness, Fought sadly, with bereaved indignant eyes, To find again the fading shores of home That she had seen but now could see no longer. Now she could only gaze into the twilight, And in the dimness know that he was there, Like someone that was not. He who had been Their brother, and was dead, now seemed alive Only in death again — or worse than death; For tombs at least, always until today, Though sad were certain. There was nothing certain For man or God in such a day as this; For there they were alone, and there was he — Alone; and somewhere out of Bethany, The Master — who had come to them so late, Only for love of them and then so slowly, And was for their sake hunted now by men Who feared Him as they feared no other prey — For the world's sake was hidden. "Better the tomb For Lazarus than life, if this be life," She thought; and then to Martha, "No, my dear," She said aloud; "not as it was before. Nothing is ever as it was before, Where Time has been. Here there is more than Time; And we that are so lonely and so far From home, since he is with us here again, Are farther now from him and from ourselves Than we are from the stars. He will not speak Until the spirit that is in him speaks; And we must wait for all we are to know, Or even to learn that we are not to know. Martha, we are too near to this for knowledge, And that is why it is that we must wait. Our friends are coming if we call for them, And there are covers we'll put over him To make him warmer. We are too young, perhaps, To say that we know better what is best Than he. We do not know how old he is. If you remember what the Master said, Try to believe that we need have no fear. Let me, the selfish and the careless one, Be housewife and a mother for tonight; For I am not so fearful as you are, And I was not so eager."

Martha sank Down at her sister's feet and there sat watching A flower that had a small familiar name That was as old as memory, but was not The name of what she saw now in its brief And infinite mystery that so frightened her That life became a terror. Tears again Flooded her eyes and overflowed. "No, Mary," She murmured slowly, hating her own words Before she heard them, "you are not so eager To see our brother as we see him now; Neither is He who gave him back to us. I was to be the simple one, as always, And this was all for me." She stared again Over among the trees where Lazarus, Who seemed to be a man who was not there, Might have been one more shadow among shadows, If she had not remembered. Then she felt The cool calm hands of Mary on her face, And shivered, wondering if such hands were real.

"The Master loved you as He loved us all, Martha; and you are saying only things That children say when they have had no sleep. Try somehow now to rest a little while; You know that I am here, and that our friends Are coming if I call."

Martha at last Arose, and went with Mary to the door, Where they stood looking off at the same place, And at the same shape that was always there As if it would not ever move or speak, And always would be there. "Mary, go now, Before the dark that will be coming hides him. I am afraid of him out there alone, Unless I see him; and I have forgotten What sleep is. Go now — make him look at you — And I shall hear him if he stirs or whispers. Go! — or I'll scream and bring all Bethany To come and make him speak. Make him say once That he is glad, and God may say the rest. Though He say I shall sleep, and sleep for ever, I shall not care for that . . . Go!"

Mary, moving Almost as if an angry child had pushed her, Went forward a few steps; and having waited As long as Martha's eyes would look at hers, Went forward a few more, and a few more; And so, until she came to Lazarus, Who crouched with his face hidden in his hands, Like one that had no face. Before she spoke, Feeling her sister's eyes that were behind her As if the door where Martha stood were now As far from her as Egypt, Mary turned Once more to see that she was there. Then, softly, Fearing him not so much as wondering What his first word might be, said, "Lazarus, Forgive us if we seemed afraid of you;" And having spoken, pitied her poor speech That had so little seeming gladness in it, So little comfort, and so little love.

There was no sign from him that he had heard, Or that he knew that she was there, or cared Whether she spoke to him again or died There at his feet. "We love you, Lazarus, And we are not afraid. The Master said We need not be afraid. Will you not say To me that you are glad? Look, Lazarus! Look at my face, and see me. This is Mary."

She found his hands and held them. They were cool, Like hers, but they were not so calm as hers. Through the white robes in which his friends had wrapped him When he had groped out of that awful sleep, She felt him trembling and she was afraid. At last he sighed; and she prayed hungrily To God that she might have again the voice Of Lazarus, whose hands were giving her now The recognition of a living pressure That was almost a language. When he spoke, Only one word that she had waited for Came from his lips, and that word was her name.

"I heard them saying, Mary, that He wept Before I woke." The words were low and shaken, Yet Mary knew that he who uttered them Was Lazarus; and that would be enough Until there should be more . . . "Who made Him come, That He should weep for me? . . . Was it you, Mary?" The questions held in his incredulous eyes Were more than she would see. She looked away; But she had felt them and should feel for ever, She thought, their cold and lonely desperation That had the bitterness of all cold things That were not cruel. "I should have wept," he said, "If I had been the Master. . . ."

Now she could feel His hands above her hair — the same black hair That once he made a jest of, praising it, While Martha's busy eyes had left their work To flash with laughing envy. Nothing of that Was to be theirs again; and such a thought Was like the flying by of a quick bird Seen through a shadowy doorway in the twilight. For now she felt his hands upon her head, Like weights of kindness: "I forgive you, Mary. . . . You did not know — Martha could not have known — Only the Master knew. . . . Where is He now? Yes, I remember. They came after Him. May the good God forgive Him. . . . I forgive Him. I must; and I may know only from Him The burden of all this. . . . Martha was here — But I was not yet here. She was afraid. . . . Why did He do it, Mary? Was it — you? Was it for you? . . . Where are the friends I saw? Yes, I remember. They all went away. I made them go away. . . . Where is He now? . . . What do I see down there? Do I see Martha — Down by the door? . . . I must have time for this."

Lazarus looked about him fearfully, And then again at Mary, who discovered Awakening apprehension in his eyes, And shivered at his feet. All she had feared Was here; and only in the slow reproach Of his forgiveness lived his gratitude. Why had he asked if it was all for her That he was here? And what had Martha meant? Why had the Master waited? What was coming To Lazarus, and to them, that had not come? What had the Master seen before He came, That He had come so late?

"Where is He, Mary?" Lazarus asked again. "Where did He go?" Once more he gazed about him, and once more At Mary for an answer. "Have they found Him? Or did He go away because He wished Never to look into my eyes again? . . . That, I could understand. . . . Where is He, Mary?"

"I do not know," she said. "Yet in my heart I know that He is living, as you are living — Living, and here. He is not far from us. He will come back to us and find us all — Lazarus, Martha, Mary — everything — All as it was before. Martha said that. And He said we were not to be afraid." Lazarus closed his eyes while on his face A tortured adumbration of a smile Flickered an instant. "All as it was before," He murmured wearily. "Martha said that; And He said you were not to be afraid . . . Not you . . . Not you . . . Why should you be afraid? Give all your little fears, and Martha's with them, To me; and I will add them unto mine, Like a few rain-drops to Gennesaret."

"If you had frightened me in other ways, Not willing it," Mary said, "I should have known You still for Lazarus. But who is this? Tell me again that you are Lazarus; And tell me if the Master gave to you No sign of a new joy that shall be coming To this house that He loved. Are you afraid? Are you afraid, who have felt everything — And seen . . . ?"

But Lazarus only shook his head, Staring with his bewildered shining eyes Hard into Mary's face. "I do not know, Mary," he said, after a long time. "When I came back, I knew the Master's eyes Were looking into mine. I looked at His, And there was more in them than I could see. At first I could see nothing but His eyes; Nothing else anywhere was to be seen — Only His eyes. And they looked into mine — Long into mine, Mary, as if He knew."

Mary began to be afraid of words As she had never been afraid before Of loneliness or darkness, or of death, But now she must have more of them or die: "He cannot know that there is worse than death," She said. "And you . . ."

"Yes, there is worse than death." Said Lazarus; "and that was what He knew; And that is what it was that I could see This morning in his eyes. I was afraid, But not as you are. There is worse than death, Mary; and there is nothing that is good For you in dying while you are still here. Mary, never go back to that again. You would not hear me if I told you more, For I should say it only in a language That you are not to learn by going back. To be a child again is to go forward — And that is much to know. Many grow old, And fade, and go away, not knowing how much That is to know. Mary, the night is coming, And there will soon be darkness all around you. Let us go down where Martha waits for us, And let there be light shining in this house."

He rose, but Mary would not let him go: "Martha, when she came back from here, said only That she heard nothing. And have you no more For Mary now than you had then for Martha? Is Nothing, Lazarus, all you have for me? Was Nothing all you found where you have been? If that be so, what is there worse than that — Or better — if that be so? And why should you, With even our love, go the same dark road over?"

"I could not answer that, if that were so," Said Lazarus, — "not even if I were God. Why should He care whether I came or stayed, If that were so? Why should the Master weep — For me, or for the world, — or save Himself Longer for nothing? And if that were so, Why should a few years' more mortality Make Him a fugitive where flight were needless, Had He but held his peace and given his nod To an old Law that would be new as any? I cannot say the answer to all that; Though I may say that He is not afraid, And that it is not for the joy there is In serving an eternal Ignorance Of our futility that He is here. Is that what you and Martha mean by Nothing? Is that what you are fearing? If that be so, There are more weeds than lentils in your garden. And one whose weeds are laughing at his harvest May as well have no garden; for not there Shall he be gleaning the few bits and orts Of life that are to save him. For my part, I am again with you, here among shadows That will not always be so dark as this; Though now I see there's yet an evil in me That made me let you be afraid of me. No, I was not afraid — not even of life. I thought I was . . . I must have time for this; And all the time there is will not be long. I cannot tell you what the Master saw This morning in my eyes. I do not know. I cannot yet say how far I have gone, Or why it is that I am here again, Or where the old road leads. I do not know. I know that when I did come back, I saw His eyes again among the trees and faces — Only His eyes; and they looked into mine — Long into mine — long, long, as if He knew."

THE END

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