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...

(The entire section is 830 words.)