The woman Robinson writes about in this poem must choose between a disastrous love affair and no love affair at all. She chooses the calamity. The material is like that of much American country music–this is a cheatin’ song, in its way, and also a song about small-town life, the way gossip about an extraordinary person can somehow elevate both the locale and that heroic figure. Story becomes myth in that communal whispering, an effect Robinson imitates with his amazing rhymes, a kind of hyper-ballad. It’s worth noting that Robinson knew small-town life and also suffering; he was destitute until President Theodore Roosevelt, directed by one of the Roosevelt children to a book of Robinson’s, created a government job for the poet.
She fears him, and will always ask
What fated her to choose him;
She meets in his engaging mask
All reasons to refuse him;
But what she meets and what she fears
Are less than are the downward years
Drawn slowly to the foamless weirs
Of age, were she to lose him.
Between a blurred sagacity
That once had power to sound him,
And Love, that will not let him be
The Judas that she found him,
Her pride assuages her almost,
As if it were alone the cost.
He sees that he will not be lost,
And waits and looks around him.
A sense of ocean and old trees
Envelops and allures him;
Tradition, touching all he sees,
Beguiles and reassures him;
And all her doubts of what he says
Are dimmed with what she knows of days–
Till even prejudice delays,
And fades, and she secures him.
The falling leaf inaugurates
The reign of her confusion;
The pounding wave reverberates
The dirge of her illusion;
And home, where passion lived and died,
Becomes a place where she can hide,
While all the town and harbor side
Vibrate with her seclusion.
We tell you, tapping on our brows,
The story as it should be,
As if the story of a house
Were told, or ever could be;
We’ll have no kindly veil between
Her visions and those we have seen,
As if we guessed what hers have been,
Or what they are or would be.
Meanwhile we do no harm; for they
That with a god have striven,
Not hearing much of what we say,
Take what the god has given;
Though like waves breaking it may be,
Or like a changed familiar tree,
Or like a stairway to the sea
Where down the blind are driven.