The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Eros Turannos” (“tyrannic love”) is an incisive verse portrait of forty-eight lines, depicting an aging wife willing to lead a life of self-deception to hold onto her marriage with a worthless husband. The noteworthy twentieth century poet and critic Yvor Winters, in Edwin Arlington Robinson (1946), considers this poem to be not only one of the best in the Robinson canon but also “one of the greatest short poems in the language.” It first appeared in the same 1913 issue of Poetry that published the first group of Carl Sandburg’s award-winning Chicago Poems (1916). While critics’ estimates of Sandburg’s work subsequently have declined, critical esteem of Robinson’s work, for “Eros Turannos” especially, has increased gradually.

Reared in Gardiner, Maine, Robinson often used a small-town New England scene as the setting for verse portraits of lonely people, such as the wife in “Eros Turannos,” who lead wasted, blighted, or impoverished lives. Robinson’s poetry reflected the realism of much European literature of the late nineteenth century, and this poem is almost a realistic short story in verse. The “plot” of the poem involves inertia, regret, and illusory love worsened by the passing of time and middle age.

The title “Eros Turannos” is an echo of Sophocles’ tragedy Oedipus Tyrannos (which has been translated as meaning “Oedipus the king” or “Oedipus the tyrant,” although “tyrant” would...

(The entire section is 612 words.)