Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

It is particularly ironic that so many critics and scholars classified Robinson as an old-fashioned writer because he clung to traditional forms, when in subject matter he was as unconventional as any of his contemporaries. There is not a trace of nineteenth century sentimentalism in Robinson’s poetry. He does not believe that in this world God makes everything right. However, though they are pitiable, human beings are so blind, so intent on rejecting divine direction, that one can hardly blame God for permitting them to suffer. Nevertheless, Robinson believes that beyond the darkness there is light, and once they pass beyond their suffering, human beings can perceive God’s plan.

Many of the poems in The Children of the Night deal with misery, failure, and death. Admittedly, some of Robinson’s characters, such as the materialists in the octave beginning “To me the groaning of world-worshippers,” do not realize that their lives are empty. The miser Aaron Stark, who represents the very worst in human nature, is actually pleased with his reputation for heartlessness; the pity of a tender-hearted soul, who recognizes his friendlessness, merely provides Stark with an excuse for laughter. However, not all of the prosperous are so blind as to be contented with their condition in life. Some, like the glittering Richard Cory, find that wealth and social status are not enough to bring happiness.

A nineteenth century sentimentalist might have had his characters find fulfillment in romantic love. However, Robinson is a twentieth century realist. Often, he knows, what others call love is merely a sexual obsession, like that which drives John Evereldown. In fact, love is so often both obsessive and possessive that it seems to make disaster inevitable. The husband in “The Story of the Ashes and the Flame,” even though his wife has first been unfaithful and then deserted him, loves her so much that he retreats from life in order to dream of her return. Similarly, when the beloved one dies, as in “Luke Havergal,” “Amaryllis,” and “Reuben Bright,” the person left behind is so...

(The entire section is 865 words.)