How might one list everything we know about the title character of Edwin Arlington Robinson's poem "Luke Havergal"?

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vangoghfan | College Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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SOMETHING EXTRA: Edwin Arlington Robinson's poem "Luke Havergal" is a work that invites attention from an "archetypal" perspective. Archetypal critics (that is, analysts) of literature assume that almost all human beings are motivate by the same basic desires and fears and that these desires and fears are part of "human nature." They also assume that certain basic stories are told over and over again, partly because they seem relevant to those basic desires and fears.  Finally, they assume that certain images and symbols tend to be repeated in one work after another because (again) they evoke or seem relevant to basic desires and fears.

In Arlington's poem, the fear of death seems to be implied, but also the desire for death that many people can often feel at times. The "west" and the "setting sun" are symbolically associated with death, while the "gate" might be seen as a symbol of crossing a threshold from one realm of existence to another. Clearly this poem is also rooted in deep desires, whether of erotic longing or of a more Platonic kind of love. The speaker of the poem might be seen as a version of the archetypal figure of the tempter, and Havergal might be seen as a version of the archetypal figure of the desperate person whose life seems literally hopeless. Finally, the poem might be seen as appealing to a deep archetypal pleasure that many people take in the mysterious and suggestive.  It would be hard to imagine, for instance, lines more mysterious or suggestive than these:

Out of a grave I come to tell you this, Out of a grave I come to quench the kiss That flames upon your forehead with a glow That blinds you to the way that you must go.

 

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vangoghfan | College Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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Edwin Arlington Robinson’s poem “Luke Havergal” reports or implies varies details about the title character, including following:

  • He apparently lives within walking distance of a “western gate” that seems to part of a vine-covered wall (1-2).
  • Apparently Havergal has somehow lost a female who is important to him (4), presumably a wife or lover.
  • Apparently Havergal is both tormented and depressed, as is implied when the speaker refers metaphorically to “the fiery night that’s in your eyes” (10).
  • Apparently Havergal was once kissed on his forehead, presumably by the female he has lost and whom he now misses (18-19).
  • Havergal either is literally being spoken to by a voice coming from beyond death or he imagines being so addressed:

Out of a grave I come to tell you this,

Out of a grave I come to quench the kiss

That flames upon your forehead with a glow

That blinds you to the way that you must go.  (17-20)

  • Havergal either is literally tempted to commit suicide by this voice or he only imagines that he is being tempted.
  • Havergal seems fairly passive, since he never responds to the voice and since we don’t in fact know that he does anything, including moving toward the western gate.

 

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