The Poems

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

At its publication in 1897, Edwin Arlington Robinson’s The Children of the Night consisted of eighty-seven poems, forty-four of which had appeared in The Torrent and the Night Before, a pamphlet printed at the author’s own expense the previous year. In addition, the new volume contained another forty-three poems. When the author incorporated The Children of the Night into later collections of his poetry he made some alterations, a situation that can be very confusing for readers. For example, some poems were eliminated altogether, and because of deletions the “Octaves” in the collections do not bear the same numbers that they did in the 1897 book. Nevertheless, while scholars find both the originals and revisions of interest, most students will find the later versions of The Children of the Night as useful for study as the original.

Robinson believed that he would be remembered primarily for his thirteen long narrative poems, beginning with Merlin (1917) and including Tristram (1927), which not only won for him a Pulitzer Prize but also was his only commercial success. Ironically, however, it is his short poems, many of them contained in The Children of the Night, on which Robinson’s literary reputation now depends.

The poems in this collection fall into several different categories. Some of them are addressed to people who actually lived. For example, “Zola” pays tribute to the French novelist Émile Zola for his dedication to truth, while “Verlaine” is a defense of the French poet Paul Verlaine, who is believed to have influenced some of Robinson’s works, notably “Luke Havergal.” Other poems are about fictional characters from “Tilbury Town,” which represents Gardiner, Maine, where Robinson spent most of his early years. Although all of them are relatively short, crisp in style, and ironic in tone, the Tilbury Town poems vary in subject matter and in pattern.

“John Evereldown,” for instance, is...

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Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

In Children of the Night Robinson demonstrates his knowledge of his craft and his poetic skill by utilizing a number of traditional forms. “Three Quatrains,” “Two Quatrains,” and “Richard Cory,” for example, consist of Sicilian quatrains; the tetrameter poem “Two Men” is written in long measure, or long hymnal measure; and for “Boston” Robinson uses two Italian quatrains, shaped into an envelope stanza. The collection also includes an ode, “The Chorus of Old Men in Aegeus,” and though “John Evereldown” does not have the most common ballad format, its question-answer pattern and its incremental repetition recall such well-known ballads as “Lord Randal” and “The Three Ravens.”

Robinson is also adept in the most exacting French forms. “Ballade by the Fire” and “Ballade of Broken Flutes” meet the strict requirements of the ballade, including the refrain at the end of each stanza, the envoy, the limitation on the number of rhymes, and the rhyme pattern itself. Another difficult French form that Robinson handles superbly is the villanelle, as seen in “Villanelle of Change” and “The House on the Hill.”

The poetic patterns that appear most frequently in The Children of the Night, however, are the Petrarchan sonnet and the blank verse octave. The poet uses the sonnet for a wide variety of poems. It is highly effective in the philosophical “Credo,” in which the statement of despair in the octave is answered in the sestet by the proclamation that, despite the darkness all around him, the speaker can “feel the coming glory of the Light.” Just as impressive are the Petrarchan sonnets that describe the people of Tilbury Town, often (as in “Cliff Klingenhagen”) narrating a story to do so. In the octave of that poem, the speaker sets up a mystery. After their dinner together one evening, Cliff, the host, downs a glass of wormwood, while offering his guest the usual wine. In the sestet, Cliff smilingly refuses to explain, and all the speaker can say is that Cliff seems to be...

(The entire section is 849 words.)


(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Anderson, Wallace L. Edwin Arlington Robinson: A Critical Introduction. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1968.

Bloom, Harold, ed. Edwin Arlington Robinson. New York: Chelsea House, 1988.

Coxe, Louis. Edwin Arlington Robinson: The Life of Poetry. New York: Pegasus, 1969.

Franchere, Hoyt C. Edwin Arlington Robinson. New York: Twayne, 1968.

Joyner, Nancy Carol. Edwin Arlington Robinson: A Reference Guide. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1978.

Murphy, Francis, ed. Edwin Arlington Robinson: A Collection of Critical Essays. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1970.

Smith, Chard Powers. Where the Light Falls: A Portrait of Edwin Arlington Robinson. New York: Macmillan, 1965.