Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Analysis of "A Happy Man" by Edwin Arlington Robinson

Poem found here: "A Happy Man" by Edwin Arlington Robinson


Written in four quatrains with an aabb rhyme scheme, the structure in the poem is very tight nit, first two lines then a semi-colon then the next two lines and end the sentence.  Each quatrain serves as a different focus on saying goodbye.

     When these graven lines you see,
     Traveller, do not pity me;
     Though I be among the dead,
      Let no mournful word be said.

The conceit is established in the first stanza.  The first two lines address a traveller (the reader) and how the reader should't "pity" -- the semi-colon with the line brings the narrative together relying on the connection of "no pity" being reiterated "let now mournful word be said."

     Children that I leave behind,
     And their children, all were kind;
     Near to them and to my wife,
     I was happy all my life.

At this point and at least for me, I would be highly suspicious about the "happy" man -- how the reader should do the opposite and pity him for his unhappiness of leaving everything behind; however, I feel a certain genuineness with these lines with the language and kind and happy or rather, I don't see the turn in the lines just yet.

     My three sons I married right,
     And their sons I rocked at night;
     Death nor sorrow never brought
     Cause for one unhappy thought.

I think there's multiple reasons why I think this poem is genuine within the third stanza.  The poem has kept uniform up until this point and even the structure of the lines of the "sons" being first then the "I" and then the action.  Furthermore, the actions are so specific "married" and "rocked" that the comparative semi-colon announcing the lack of specificity to the speaker's own emotion belittles the emotional appeal or the chance for the speaker to create self-irony with his narrative.

     Now, and with no need of tears,
     Here they leave me, full of year,
     Leave me to my quiet rest
     In the region of the blest.

Here's where things get interesting.  The lack of the semi-colon opens up the poem for that cynical appeal, and what is focused on with the shift, "Here they leave me, full of year"  Note how the speaker state he's being left behind.  What does this do to the poem?  Does this invalidate his memories as his actions are less important so the family walks away with "full of year" actually meaning the opposite?  I don't know.  It can be.  But the bigger question then would be why overall?  Why should a deadman reiterate how his life was good?

Furthermore, is the plane that the speaker is talking the "region of the blest" a place where the speaker can linger in his own memories of being left behind?  Or is the speaker going back to a different "region of the blest"?  Again I don't know, but I feel arguments could be made on both sides and perhaps the other side would always win.

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