Edwin Arlington Robinson (1869–1935). Collected Poems. 1921.

I. The Man Against the Sky

25. Bokardo

WELL, Bokardo, here we are;

Make yourself at home.

Look around—you haven’t far

To look—and why be dumb?

Not the place that used to be,

Not so many things to see;

But there’s room for you and me.

And you—you’ve come.

Talk a little; or, if not,

Show me with a sign

Why it was that you forgot

What was yours and mine.

Friends, I gather, are small things

In an age when coins are kings;

Even at that, one hardly flings

Friends before swine.

Rather strong? I knew as much,

For it made you speak.

No offense to swine, as such,

But why this hide-and-seek?

You have something on your side,

And you wish you might have died,

So you tell me. And you tried

One night last week?

You tried hard? And even then

Found a time to pause?

When you try as hard again,

You’ll have another cause.

When you find yourself at odds

With all dreamers of all gods,

You may smite yourself with rods—

But not the laws.

Though they seem to show a spite

Rather devilish,

They move on as with a might

Stronger than your wish.

Still, however strong they be,

They bide man’s authority:

Xerxes, when he flogged the sea,

May’ve scared a fish.

It’s a comfort, if you like,

To keep honor warm,

But as often as you strike

The laws, you do no harm.

To the laws, I mean. To you—

That’s another point of view,

One you may as well indue

With some alarm.

Not the most heroic face

To present, I grant;

Nor will you insure disgrace

By fearing what you want.

Freedom has a world of sides,

And if reason once derides

Courage, then your courage hides

A deal of cant.

Learn a little to forget

Life was once a feast;

You aren’t fit for dying yet,

So don’t be a beast.

Few men with a mind will say,

Thinking twice, that they can pay

Half their debts of yesterday,

Or be released.

There’s a debt now on your mind

More than any gold?

And there’s nothing you can find

Out there in the cold?

Only—what’s his name?—Remorse?

And Death riding on his horse?

Well, be glad there’s nothing worse

Than you have told.

Leave Remorse to warm his hands

Outside in the rain.

As for Death, he understands,

And he will come again.

Therefore, till your wits are clear,

Flourish and be quiet—here.

But a devil at each ear

Will be a strain?

Past a doubt they will indeed,

More than you have earned.

I say that because you need

Ablution, being burned?

Well, if you must have it so,

Your last flight went rather low.

Better say you had to know

What you have learned.

And that’s over. Here you are,

Battered by the past.

Time will have his little scar,

But the wound won’t last.

Nor shall harrowing surprise

Find a world without its eyes

If a star fades when the skies

Are overcast.

God knows there are lives enough,

Crushed, and too far gone

Longer to make sermons of,

And those we leave alone.

Others, if they will, may rend

The worn patience of a friend

Who, though smiling, sees the end,

With nothing done.

But your fervor to be free

Fled the faith it scorned;

Death demands a decency

Of you, and you are warned.

But for all we give we get

Mostly blows? Don’t be upset;

You, Bokardo, are not yet

Consumed or mourned.

There’ll be falling into view

Much to rearrange;

And there’ll be a time for you

To marvel at the change.

They that have the least to fear

Question hardest what is here;

When long-hidden skies are clear,

The stars look strange