Captain Craig

Edwin Arlington Robinson 1869 – 1935

I

I doubt if ten men in all Tilbury Town
Had ever shaken hands with Captain Craig,
Or called him by his name, or looked at him
So curiously, or so concernedly,
As they had looked at ashes; but a few—
Say five or six of us—had found somehow
The spark in him, and we had fanned it there,
Choked under, like a jest in Holy Writ,
By Tilbury prudence. He had lived his life
And in his way had shared, with all mankind,
Inveterate leave to fashion of himself,
By some resplendent metamorphosis,
Whatever he was not. And after time,
When it had come sufficiently to pass
That he was going patch-clad through the streets,
Weak, dizzy, chilled, and half starved, he had laid
Some nerveless fingers on a prudent sleeve,
And told the sleeve, in furtive confidence,
Just how it was: “My name is Captain Craig,”
He said, “and I must eat.” The sleeve moved on,
And after it moved others—one or two;
For Captain Craig, before the day was done,
Got back to the scant refuge of his bed
And shivered into it without a curse—
Without a murmur even. He was cold,
And old, and hungry; but the worst of it
Was a forlorn familiar consciousness
That he had failed again. There was a time
When he had fancied, if worst came to worst,
And he could do no more, that he might ask
Of whom he would. But once had been enough,
And soon there would be nothing more to ask.
He was himself, and he had lost the speed
He started with, and he was left behind.
There was no mystery, no tragedy;
And if they found him lying on his back
Stone dead there some sharp morning, as they might,—
Well, once upon a time there was a man—
Es war einmal ein König, if it pleased him.
And he was right: there were no men to blame:
There was just a false note in the Tilbury tune—
A note that able-bodied men might sound
Hosannas on while Captain Craig lay quiet.
They might have made him sing by feeding him
Till he should march again, but probably
Such yielding would have jeopardized the rhythm;
They found it more melodious to shout
Right on, with unmolested adoration,
To keep the tune as it had always been,
To trust in God, and let the Captain starve.

He must have understood that afterwards—
When we had laid some fuel to the spark
Of him, and oxidized it—for he laughed
Out loud and long at us to feel it burn,
And then, for gratitude, made game of us:
“You are the resurrection and the life,”
He said, “and I the hymn the Brahmin sings;
O Fuscus! and we’ll go no more a-roving.”
We were not quite accoutred for a blast
Of any lettered nonchalance like that,
And some of us—the five or six of us
Who found him out—were singularly struck.
But soon there came assurance of his lips,
Like phrases out of some sweet instrument
Man’s hand had never fitted, that he felt
“No penitential shame for what had come,
No virtuous regret for what had been,—
But rather a joy to find it in his life
To be an outcast usher of the soul
For such as had good courage of the Sun
To pattern Love.” The Captain had one chair;
And on the bottom of it, like a king,
For longer time than I dare chronicle,
Sat with an ancient ease and eulogized
His opportunity. My friends got out,
Like brokers out of Arcady; but I—
May be for fascination of the thing,
Or may be for the larger humor of it—
Stayed listening, unwearied and unstung.
When they were gone the Captain’s tuneful ooze
Of rhetoric took on a change; he smiled
At me and then continued, earnestly:
“Your friends have had enough of it; but you,
For a motive hardly vindicated yet
By prudence or by conscience, have remained;
And that is very good, for I have things
To tell you: things that are not words alone—
Which are the ghosts of things—but something firmer.
“First, would I have you know, for every gift
Or sacrifice, there are—or there may be—
Two kinds of gratitude: the sudden kind
We feel for what we take, the larger kind
We feel for what we give. Once we have learned
As much as this, we know the truth has been
Told over to the world a thousand times;—
But we have had no ears to listen yet
For more than fragments of it: we have heard
A murmur now and then, and echo here
And there, and we have made great music of it;
And we have made innumerable books
To please the Unknown God. Time throws away
Dead thousands of them, but the God that knows
No death denies not one: the books all count,
The songs all count; and yet God’s music has
No modes, his language has no adject
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Submitted on May 13, 2011

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Edwin Arlington Robinson

Edwin Arlington Robinson was an American poet who won three Pulitzer Prizes for his work Edwin Arlington Robinson won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry three times in 1922 for his first Collected Poems in 1925 for The Man Who Died Twice and in 1928 for Tristram Robinson was born in Head Tide Lincoln County Maine but his family moved to Gardiner Maine in 1870 He described his childhood in Maine as stark and unhappy his parents having wanted a girl did not name him until he was six months old when they visited a holiday resort other vacationers decided that he should have a name and selected a man from Arlington Massachusetts to draw a name out of a hat Robinsons early difficulties led many of his poems to have a dark pessimism and his stories to deal with an American dream gone awry His brother Dean died of a drug overdose His other brother Herman a handsome and charismatic man married the woman Edwin himself loved but Herman suffered business failures became an alcoholic and ended up estranged from his wife and children dying impoverished in a charity hospital in 1901 Robinsons poem Richard Cory is thought to refer to this brother In late 1891 at the age of 21 Edwin entered Harvard University as a special student He took classes in English French and Shakespeare as well as one on Anglo-Saxon that he later dropped His mission was not to get all As as he wrote his friend Harry Smith B and in that vicinity is a very comfortable and safe place to hang His real desire was to get published in one of the Harvard literary journals Within the first fortnight of being there The Harvard Advocate published Robinsons Ballade of a Ship He was even invited to meet with the editors but when he returned he complained to his friend Mowry Saben I sat there among them unable to say a word Robinsons literary career had false-started Edwins father Edward died after Edwins first year at Harvard Edwin returned to Harvard for a second year but it was to be his last one as a student there Though short his stay in Cambridge included some of his most cherished experiences and there he made his most lasting friendships He wrote his friend Harry Smith on June 21 1893 I suppose this is the last letter I shall ever write you from Harvard The thought seems a little queer but it cannot be otherwise Sometimes I try to imagine the state my mind would be in had I never come here but I cannot I feel that I have got comparatively little from my two years but still more than I could get in Gardiner if I lived a century Robinson had returned to Gardiner by mid-1893 He had plans to start writing seriously In October he wrote his friend Gledhill Writing has been my dream ever since I was old enough to lay a plan for an air castle Now for the first time I seem to have something like a favorable opportunity and this winter I shall make a beginning With his father gone Edwin became the man of the household He tried farming and developed a close relationship with his brothers wife Emma Robinson who after her husband Hermans death moved back to Gardiner with her children She twice rejected marriage proposals from Edwin after which he permanently left Gardiner He moved to New York where he led a precarious existence as an impoverished poet while cultivating friendships with other writers artists and would-be intellectuals In 1896 he self-published his first book The Torrent and the Night Before paying 100 dollars for 500 copies Robinson meant it as a surprise for his mother Days before the copies arrived Mary Palmer Robinson died of diphtheria His second volume The Children of the Night had a somewhat wider circulation Its readers included President Theodore Roosevelts son Kermit who recommended it to his father Impressed by the poems and aware of Robinsons straits Roosevelt in 1905 secured the writer a job at the New York Customs Office Robinson remained in the job until Roosevelt left office Gradually his literary successes began to mount He won the Pulitzer Prize three times in the 1920s During the last twenty years of his life he became a regular summer resident at the MacDowell Colony in New Hampshire where several women made him the object of their devoted attention but he maintained a solitary life and never married Robinson died of cancer on April 6 1935 in the New York Hospital now New York Cornell Hospital in New York City more…

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"Captain Craig" Poetry.net. STANDS4 LLC, 2020. Web. 6 Aug. 2020. <https://www.poetry.net/poem/9955/captain-craig>.

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