Edwin Arlington Robinson

(22 December 1869 – 6 April 1935 / Maine / United States)

As a World Would Have It


ALCESTIS


Shall I never make him look at me again?
I look at him, I look my life at him,
I tell him all I know the way to tell,
But there he stays the same.

Shall I never make him speak one word to me?
Shall I never make him say enough to show
My heart if he be glad? Be glad? … ah! God,
Why did they bring me back?

I wonder, if I go to him again,
If I take him by those two cold hands again,
Shall I get one look of him at last, or feel
One sign—or anything?

Or will he still sit there in the same way,
Without an answer for me from his lips,
Or from his eyes,—or even with a touch
Of his hand on my hand?…

“Will you look down this once—look down at me?
Speak once—and if you never speak again,
Tell me enough—tell me enough to make
Me know that you are glad!

“You are my King, and once my King would speak:
You were Admetus once, you loved me once:
Life was a dream of heaven for us once—
And has the dream gone by?

“Do I cling to shadows when I call you Life?
Do you love me still, or are the shadows all?
Or is it I that love you in the grave,
And you that mourn for me?

“If it be that, then do not mourn for me;
Be glad that I have loved you, and be King.
But if it be not that—if it be true …
Tell me if it be true!”

Then with a choking answer the King spoke;
But never touched his hand on hers, or fixed
His eyes on hers, or on the face of her:
“Yes, it is true,” he said.

“You are alive, and you are with me now;
And you are reaching up to me that I—
That I may take you—I that am a King—
I that was once a man."

So then she knew. She might have known before;
Truly, she thought, she must have known it long
Before: she must have known it when she came
From that great sleep of hers.

She knew the truth, but not yet all of it:
He loved her, but he would not let his eyes
Prove that he loved her; and he would not hold
His wife there in his arms.

So, like a slave, she waited at his knees,
And waited. She was not unhappy now.
She quivered, but she knew that he would speak
Again—and he did speak.

And while she felt the tremor of his words,
He told her all there was for him to tell;
And then he turned his face to meet her face,
That she might look at him.

She looked; and all her trust was in that look,
And all her faith was in it, and her love;
And when his answer to that look came back,
It flashed back through his tears.

So then she put her arms around his neck,
And kissed him on his forehead and his lips;
And there she clung, fast in his arms again,
Triumphant, with closed eyes.

At last, half whispering, she spoke once more:
“Why was it that you suffered for so long?
Why could you not believe me—trust in me?
Was I so strange as that?

“We suffer when we do not understand;
And you have suffered—you that love me now—
Because you are a man.… There is one thing
No man can understand.

“I would have given everything?—gone down
To Tartarus—to silence? Was it that?
I would have died? I would have let you live?—
And was it very strange?”

Submitted: Friday, January 03, 2003

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