Last Updated September 5, 2023.
Eben Flood/Mr. Flood
The title of this poem is ironic; it implies a well-attended, festive affair hosted by or perhaps honoring a man, but the poem instead offers the reality of a man who is entirely alone with his jug of alcohol, thoughts, and memories on an autumn evening. The titular character is described by the poem's first word as "old," and he walks alone on a hill above Tilbury Town. Eben Flood is engaged in a conversation with himself; he refers to his imaginary companion and himself as "we" and answers with the first-person pronoun "I."
If there are other characters in the poem besides Eben Flood, they would be the speaker and the historical figures and poets to whom he alludes. For example, the poem's speaker describes Eben Flood as standing in the road "like Roland's ghost winding a silent horn." The allusion refers to a military figure in the time of Charlemagne immortalized in The Song of Roland, an eleventh century epic that depicts Roland with a signaling horn.
In the second stanza, Eben Flood's imagined companion quotes the final line of "The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam," when he asserts "the bird is on the wing." Flood's companion (himself) also suggests that he drink a toast to "auld lang syne," a Scottish phrase that means "old long since," or times long ago. It is also a poem by Robert Burns that was put to music and is often sung to reflect on times past, as Eben Flood is doing on this evening.
Eben Flood is reflecting on his mortality and the changes that time has wrought. The friends that he has known have passed on or moved on, and he finds himself alone in the twilight of his life, looking down at a village that has closed its doors to him. Mr. Flood's "party" may be thought of as a wake, perhaps, and his drinking is a reflection of that ritual of loss. Mr. Flood becomes a symbolic character who holds the grief of many years—some even beyond his own—as evidenced by the allusions to other figures.