Wednesday, September 16, 2015

The Children of the Night: A Book of Poems

I read The Children of the Night: A Book of Poems by Edwin Arlington Robinson (1869-1935) to meet the Read Harder Book challenge. It counts unsurprisingly as a collection of poetry. It was published in 1919 and can be read online here. Robinson won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry in 1922 (Collected Poems), 1925 (The Man Who Died Twice), and 1928 (John Brown's Body).

Robinson had a sad childhood beginning when his parents wanted a girl and so didn't get around to naming him. He had a disappointing love life with his chosen one choosing his brother and continuing to reject him even after that marriage ended miserably. His childhood home is a National Historic Landmark, though it is privately owned.

This is the first poem in this collection:

The Children of the Night

For those that never know the light,
The darkness is a sullen thing;
And they, the Children of the Night,
Seem lost in Fortune's winnowing.

But some are strong and some are weak, —
And there's the story. House and home
Are shut from countless hearts that seek
World-refuge that will never come.

And if there be no other life,
And if there be no other chance
To weigh their sorrow and their strife
Than in the scales of circumstance,

'T were better, ere the sun go down
Upon the first day we embark,
In life's imbittered sea to drown,
Than sail forever in the dark.

But if there be a soul on earth
So blinded with its own misuse
Of man's revealed, incessant worth,
Or worn with anguish, that it views

No light but for a mortal eye,
No rest but of a mortal sleep,
No God but in a prophet's lie,
No faith for "honest doubt" to keep;

If there be nothing, good or bad,
But chaos for a soul to trust, —
God counts it for a soul gone mad,
And if God be God, He is just.

And if God be God, He is Love;
And though the Dawn be still so dim,
It shows us we have played enough
With creeds that make a fiend of Him.

There is one creed, and only one,
That glorifies God's excellence;
So cherish, that His will be done,
The common creed of common sense.

It is the crimson, not the gray,
That charms the twilight of all time;
It is the promise of the day
That makes the starry sky sublime;

It is the faith within the fear
That holds us to the life we curse; —
So let us in ourselves revere
The Self which is the Universe!

Let us, the Children of the Night,
Put off the cloak that hides the scar!
Let us be Children of the Light,
And tell the ages what we are!


  1. Odd story about how he got his name. I guess many of our greatest artists had a tough upbringing and turned to art to cope. I can´t remember what German actor who said that for him, it was "the stage or death".

    1. Yes, I thought the naming was so sad.

      I don't know that quote, but I think some people have a single-minded passion.

  2. I had never heard of Robinson until you profiled his work. Of course, I had to check out the wiki link and all I can say is, this guy had nothing but bad luck most of his life! To think his mother died shortly before he had a chance to surprise her with the books he purchased and how seemingly little his parents thought of him when he was born. Glad I had the chance to learn about him.

    1. It sounds like his parents didn't even try. So sad. At least he lived to see professional success and knew the public had a real appreciation of his work. I hope he came to understand that it was his family who failed him and not the other way around.