Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

This poem is about lonely, old Eben Flood. He was not always a loner, however. Robinson explains that in Tilbury Town “friends of other days had honored him.” However, he has outlived his friends, he might even suffer mockery from new residents, and he now must cope with numbing solitude. He can occasionally do so by leaving his “upland hermitage” and walking to town for a jugful of liquor, which it was illegal to buy if the time of the action is 1921 (the year the poem was published), because Amendment XVIII (national prohibition) had been ratified two years earlier. This bothered neither Flood nor Robinson, who reputedly had a problem with alcohol and who, being a bachelor with dysfunctional brothers (one an alcoholic, the other a probable suicide), often struggled with loneliness and poverty.

Robinson’s best poems are often short, tightly structured vignettes about men challenged by hardship, loss or personal deficiency, consequent defeat, and privation. The adverse fate of his numerous titular heroes varies. Some, such as Richard Cory, kill themselves. The title character of “Miniver Cheevy,” weaker than Eben Flood, merely “Scratched his head and kept on thinking,/. . . And kept on drinking.” Flammonde, protagonist of the poem of the same name, borrows cash to maintain a debonair lifestyle and helps enemies become friends but has a “small satanickink/. . . in his brain” that keeps him from greatness. The heroine of “Eros...

(The entire section is 546 words.)