“Another Dark Lady,” 29 of 30, by Edwin Arlington Robinson

English: Portrait of Edwin Arlington Robinson

Portrait of Edwin Arlington Robinson

My friend AngryRicky, who’s really not so angry, requested something by Edwin Arlington Robinson. So no more than two hours left in my personal challenge of thirty poetry recordings in thirty days for the month of April, National Poetry Month here in the USA, I bring you “Another Dark Lady.” I cannot say Ricky’s story fits the poem perfectly, but the title did leap out at me as appropriate.The fact that it’s a sonnet (only 14 lines!) doesn’t hurt since I am pressed for time.

But then I always get into this commentary thing, and this poem just demands a touch of it at least. I thought it would also be really helpful to have some visual aids here in case you were not familiar with beech trees. So, of course instead of a brief SoundCloud clip I was compelled to break out the video editor, which on this old laptop is getting to be rather slow.

So, since I still have one more poem to get out tonight, let me just say a few brief things. It seems obvious that he is comparing his Dark Lady to the Dark Lady of Shakespeare’s sonnets. Like Shakespeare’s Dark Lady writings, Robinson’s is a sonnet. He even titled it “Another Dark Lady.” If you look up the Bard’s 127th sonnet. . . Oh heck, let’s just print it out here:

In the old age black was not counted fair,
Or if it were, it bore not beauty’s name;
But now is black beauty’s successive heir,
And beauty slandered with a bastard shame:
For since each hand hath put on Nature’s power,
Fairing the foul with Art’s false borrowed face,
Sweet beauty hath no name, no holy bower,
But is profaned, if not lives in disgrace.
Therefore my mistress’ eyes are raven black,
Her eyes so suited, and they mourners seem
At such who, not born fair, no beauty lack,
Sland’ring creation with a false esteem:
Yet so they mourn becoming of their woe,
That every tongue says beauty should look so.

The words “false” and “fair” are repeated, along with themes of darkness contrasted with beauty. There is even a bower of trees in Robinson’s poem, and it too turns out to be an unholy one, before the memories of “golden” woods turned toward something evil.

Lilith (1892) by John Collier in Southport Atk...

Lilith (1892) by John Collier in Southport Atkinson Art Gallery (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Shakespeare allusions are meant to be obvious, and since Robinson is talking about fairness and youth, at least at first, when he talks of his memories, “I loved you then,” is it so far a stretch to think that he is implying some sentiments from William S.’s “Fair Young Man” sonnets as well?

Okay, maybe the young man part is a bit out there, but maybe in this poem Robinson’s speaker is the young man, in love with a Dark Lady? In any case the theme of fair youth–”The woods were golden then”–contrast with what later turned quite dark, comparing her to Lilith and the Devil.

As for Lilith, she is the legendary first wife of Adam, who would not submit to her husband. John Collier depicts Lilith with a snake, and the Celts often associate beech trees with snakes, perhaps because of the look of some of their longer roots.

Let’s look more closely at those beech trees, particularly their “feet,” or roots. In the video below you’ll see some photo that give you the idea of why he compared them to the devil’s cloven hooves, and in the end intimates that he should have realized that her feet, which must have been bare while in the woods with him, were more cloven (Faun and Devil imagery) than even the birch trees!

Wait a minute, didn’t I tell you to “let me just me say a few brief things?” Enough then! Here’s your request, Ricky. As usual the text is below the video.

I think if I had had more time I’d have done this reading a bit differently, but I’ll be curious to know what you think. I hope things are well for you on your side of the Pond, and I wish I could see you on your Summer return. Hang in there!

Another Dark Lady by Edwin Arlington Robinson

Think not, because I wonder where you fled,
That I would lift a pin to see you there;
You may, for me, be prowling anywhere,
So long as you show not your little head:
No dark and evil story of the dead
Would leave you less pernicious or less fair—
Not even Lilith, with her famous hair;
And Lilith was the devil, I have read.

I cannot hate you, for I loved you then.
The woods were golden then. There was a road
Through beeches; and I said their smooth feet showed
Like yours. Truth must have heard me from afar,
For I shall never have to learn again
That yours are cloven as no beech’s are.

10 thoughts on ““Another Dark Lady,” 29 of 30, by Edwin Arlington Robinson

  1. Thank you for this. And, for the love of poets, here’s an EAR poem for you:

    Walt Whitman

    The master-songs are ended, and the man
    That sang them is a name. And so is God
    A name; and so is love, and life, and death,
    And everything. But we, who are too blind
    To read what we have written, or what faith
    Has written for us, do not understand:
    We only blink, and wonder.

    Last night it was the song that was the man,
    But now it is the man that is the song.
    We do not hear him very much to-day:
    His piercing and eternal cadence rings
    Too pure for us — too powerfully pure,
    Too lovingly triumphant, and too large;
    But there are some that hear him, and they know
    That he shall sing to-morrow for all men,
    And that all time shall listen.

    The master-songs are ended? Rather say
    No songs are ended that are ever sung,
    And that no names are dead names. When we write
    Men’s letters on proud marble or on sand,
    We write them there forever.

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    • I think I know what happened. I am guessing that you are reading from the email notification. In which case there was an html mistake. Try going directly to the site. Thanks!

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  2. Finally getting caught up here… I LOVE this Robinson post. I really enjoy the backstory you provide re: Shakespeare and Lilith (literature! mythology! trees!), and your reading is magnificent. I think you do rhymed & metered poetry brilliantly–not necessarily easy to pull off in our free-verse age.

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    • Thank you, Jennifer! I really appreciate that. Looking back now I see one spot where I wrote birch, but meant beech! People must have kindly gathered my meaning from the context, and thus ignored the typo. I too have a lot of catching up to do. I think your chap book must be out by now? I will come check things out. Thank you again for the wonderful feedback.

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  3. Pingback: Poets Have a Tree Fetish – Reading Aloud Project, Richard Aldington | The Dad Poet

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