Dec. 22, 2002

The House on the Hill

by Edwin Arlington Robinson

(RealAudio) | How to listen

Poem: "The House on the Hill," by Edwin Arlington Robinson.

The House on the Hill

They are all gone away,
      The House is shut and still,
There is nothing more to say.

Through broken walls and gray
      The winds blow bleak and shrill:
They are all gone away.

Nor is there one to-day
      To speak them good or ill:
There is nothing more to say.

Why is it then we stray
      Around the sunken sill?
They are all gone away,

And our poor fancy-play
      For them is wasted skill:
There is nothing more to say.

There is ruin and decay
      In the House on the Hill:
They are all gone away,
There is nothing more to say.

It's the birthday of Kenneth Charles Marion Rexroth, born in South Bend, Indiana (1905). He said that he wrote poetry to "seduce women and overthrow the capitalist system." He was orphaned before he was twelve, got kicked out of high school, then worked as a reporter, and served a prison term for owning a brothel. After he moved to California he read mystic texts, sponsored Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg and some of the other early Beat poets, published his own poetry, and started translating the work of poets from Latin, Greek, Chinese, Japanese, Italian and Spanish. He spent as much of the year camping in the mountains as he could, long before camping emerged as a counter-culture thing to do; he produced a comprehensive manual on woodcraft with detailed instructions on packing knapsacks and making pine-bough beds.

It's the birthday of Edward Arlington Robinson, born in Head Tide, Maine (1869). He wrote "Richard Cory," and "Miniver Cheevy." He came from a wealthy family and expected a life of ease, but his father died, his family lost its fortune in the depression of the 1870s, and his mother was struck down by an illness so contagious that no undertaker would touch her body. The brothers had to dress her, make a coffin for her, and bury her themselves. One brother became an alcoholic, another a morphine addict, and Robinson himself lived on the brink of starvation, writing poetry that never attracted any notice. Somehow, though, Kermit Roosevelt came to read Robinson's poems; he gave them to his father, Theodore Roosevelt, who arranged a job for the poet in the Customs House. Roosevelt told him, "I expect you to think poetry first and customs second." All he had to do was show up at his desk, read the morning newspaper, and leave it on his chair to prove he had been in. This sustained him until he started to write poetry that won some praise; finally, in his fifties, he won the Pulitzer Prize the first year it was awarded. By the time he died, he was one of the best-known poets in the country.

On this day in 1849, Dostoevsky, who had joined a group of socialist thinkers, was taken away to be executed. They were all taken to Semyonovsky Square were the sentence of death was read out to them, they were made to kiss the cross, a sword was broken over their heads, and they were told to put on their white execution shirts. Then three them were tied to the posts to be executed. Dostoevsky was the sixth, and therefore in the second group of those to be executed. Then the retreat was sounded on the drums, those tied to the posts were taken back, and an order from His Imperial Majesty was read to the prisoners, granting the pardons.

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