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The House on the Hill -- Edwin Arlington Robinson

Posting this for Martin, who's currently offline:
(Poem #872) 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 today
 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.
-- Edwin Arlington Robinson
Not, perhaps, a poem about depression, but certainly a depressing poem.
Arlington, here, doesn't attempt to overcome the intrinsic limitations of
the villanelle; rather, he uses the repetition and the choppiness to
reinforce the images of passing time, death and decay.

The theme is, in fact, very reminiscent of Hardy, if not handled with the
latter's skill. Arlington's keenly observant eye, very much in evidence in
his character-based poems, seems to have deserted him here; the images don't
quite ring true, or evoke the mood the poet is trying for.

Indeed, the main reason I like this poem is as an example of how clever
wordplay, meaning twists and grammatical tricks are not necessary in order
to write a villanelle, nor is any sort of self-reference, humour or allusion
to the form. 'The House on the Hill' is a straightforward use of the form -
the repeated lines are simply repeated, with no apology or workaround. And
if this isn't that good a poem, the fault is in the content, not the form.


Biography: poem #234


  Compare Hardy's 'During Wind and Rain' for a better treatment of the
  theme: poem #96

  And Thomas's 'Do Not Go Gentle' for the canonical example of a villanelle
  that works both around and with the form:
    poem #38

  See, also, the archive for several better poems by Robinson:
    [broken link]

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I love Arlington. I wish there were authors as unique as he was nowadays. Reading this piece made me want to brush up on my old collection.

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Anonymous said...

I still dont understand what the poem means . :(

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