The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Luke Havergal” is a haunting poem of thirty-two lines about a desperately bereaved man being tempted by a voice from the grave to commit suicide in order to reunite with a beloved woman who is dead.

One of Edwin Arlington Robinson’s finest performances, “Luke Havergal” was a favorite of President Theodore Roosevelt, who, even though he promoted the poem and the poet’s career, found the contents of the poem to be obscure in meaning. Although Robinson by his own admission aimed “to put a little mysticism” in his verses, the morbid death-prone mysticism of “Luke Havergal” is not all that difficult to decipher. The poem conveys, through sound and image, a compelling emotion of a half-crazed longing for love that entices a man grieving over the death of his beloved woman to take his own life.

Reared in Gardiner, Maine, Edwin Arlington Robinson created a mythical “Tilbury Town” out of his New England birthplace and populated the fictional place with eccentrics, such as this desolate lover, who lead wasted, blighted, or impoverished lives. The poet was an American exemplar of the realism permeating European literature, especially novels and short stories, in the second half of the nineteenth century. Appropriately,“Luke Havergal” reads like a revealing and realistic short story in verse, providing readers with a snapshot portrait of a lonely main character; its “plot” is a sad case of grief-stricken abandonment of the...

(The entire section is 426 words.)