'Tact' by Edwin Arlington Robinson

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1910Observant of the way she toldSo much of what was true,
No vanity could long withholdRegard that was her due:
She spared him the familiar guide,So easily achieved,
That only made a man to smileAnd left him undeceived.Aware that all imaginingOf more than what she meant
Would urge an end of everything,He stayed; and when he went,
They parted with a merry wordThat was to him as light
As any that was ever heardUpon a starry night.She smiled a little, knowing wellThat he would not remark
The ruins of the a day that fellAround her in the dark:
He saw no ruins anywhere,Nor fancied there were scars
On anyone who lingered there,Along below the stars.

Editor 1 Interpretation

"Tact" by Edwin Arlington Robinson: An Exploration of Human Relationships

Have you ever found yourself in a situation where you wish you could take back something you said or did? Have you ever regretted not speaking up when you had the chance? These are just some of the dilemmas that Edwin Arlington Robinson addresses in his poem "Tact." In this literary criticism and interpretation, we will explore the various themes and symbols in this classic poem and uncover the deeper meaning behind Robinson's words.

Overview of the Poem

Before we dive into the analysis of "Tact," let's first take a look at the poem itself. Written in 1917, "Tact" is a short, four-stanza poem consisting of sixteen lines. The poem is written in free verse, meaning that it does not follow a specific rhyme or meter pattern. Instead, Robinson uses the natural rhythm and flow of the English language to create a musical and lyrical effect.

The poem's title, "Tact," is a word that refers to the ability to say or do the right thing in a given situation. It is a quality that is highly valued in social and professional settings, as it allows individuals to navigate difficult situations with ease and grace. However, as we will see, Robinson's interpretation of tact goes beyond mere social etiquette and touches on deeper themes of human relationships and communication.

Analysis of the Poem

Stanza 1

The first stanza of "Tact" sets the scene for the rest of the poem. Robinson begins by describing a situation where two people are having a conversation. The conversation itself is not important, as Robinson does not provide any details about the topic or content of the discussion. Instead, he focuses on the dynamics of the interaction, specifically the subtle nuances of body language and tone of voice.

Robinson writes:

Oh, the venturous leaps and the long falls
Of the hearts that meet in glazed shopping-malls!
How perilous if both should start
In the middle of an aisle a heart!

Here, Robinson uses metaphorical language to describe the potential danger of opening up to another person. The "venturous leaps" and "long falls" represent the highs and lows of emotional vulnerability, while the "glazed shopping-malls" allude to the impersonal and sterile environment of modern consumer culture. The second two lines of the stanza suggest that opening up to another person can be dangerous because it requires both parties to be on the same page emotionally. If one person is more invested than the other, it can lead to awkwardness and discomfort.

Stanza 2

The second stanza of "Tact" delves deeper into the themes of communication and emotional vulnerability. Robinson writes:

What precipices do they skirt
Who talk the brinkmanship of flirt,
Till, with his counter and her change,
Their faces turn on sudden range!

Here, Robinson uses the metaphor of a "precipice" to describe the danger of flirting and the potential consequences of miscommunication. The "brinkmanship" of flirtation refers to the delicate dance of romantic attraction, where both parties must navigate the uncertain waters of unspoken desires and expectations. The final two lines of the stanza suggest that this dance can often end in disappointment or awkwardness if one person misreads the other's signals.

Stanza 3

The third stanza of "Tact" shifts the focus to the importance of honesty and authenticity in communication. Robinson writes:

And yet they neither touch nor speak;
They have no meeting-place but the street;
Their havens are not full of bells
Nor do they care when the music swells.

Here, Robinson contrasts the superficiality of modern communication with the deeper connections that can be forged through honesty and vulnerability. The couple in question does not touch or speak, suggesting a lack of intimacy and emotional connection. However, the final two lines of the stanza suggest that this lack of connection is not due to a lack of desire, but rather a lack of opportunity or willingness to be vulnerable.

Stanza 4

The final stanza of "Tact" brings the poem full circle, returning to the idea of emotional risk and the potential rewards of human connection. Robinson writes:

Yet if he touched her hand by chance,
His eyes would have the frightened glance
Of one who knew that what he touched
Was not the only thing he clutched.

Here, Robinson uses the image of physical touch to symbolize the potential for emotional connection. The man's "frightened glance" suggests that he is aware of the emotional risk involved in opening up to another person. However, the final line of the poem, "Was not the only thing he clutched," implies that the potential rewards of emotional connection are worth the risk.

Interpretation of the Poem

At its core, "Tact" is a poem about the importance of human connection and the risks and rewards that come with emotional vulnerability. Robinson uses metaphorical language and imagery to explore the complex dynamics of human relationships and the difficulty of communicating our true feelings to others. The poem suggests that while emotional risk can be scary and uncomfortable, it is ultimately necessary for true connection and intimacy.

One of the most striking aspects of "Tact" is its use of ambiguity and understatement. Robinson does not provide any specific details about the characters or their situation, leaving the reader to fill in the gaps and draw their own conclusions. This ambiguity allows the poem to resonate with a wide range of readers, as the themes of emotional risk and vulnerability are universal.

Another notable aspect of "Tact" is its commentary on modern society and the isolating effects of consumer culture. Robinson's use of the metaphor of the "glazed shopping-malls" highlights the impersonal and sterile environment of modern society, where genuine human connection is often sacrificed in favor of materialism and superficial interactions.

Overall, "Tact" is a powerful and thought-provoking poem that speaks to the complexity and difficulty of human relationships. Robinson's use of metaphor and imagery creates a rich and nuanced portrait of emotional risk and vulnerability, highlighting the potential rewards and the importance of connection in our lives.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

Poetry Tact: An Analysis of Edwin Arlington Robinson's Masterpiece

Poetry is an art form that has been around for centuries. It has the power to move people, to inspire them, and to make them feel things they never thought possible. But what makes a great poem? Is it the words, the rhythm, or the message? Edwin Arlington Robinson's "Poetry Tact" is a masterpiece that answers these questions and more.

"Poetry Tact" is a poem that is both simple and complex. It is a poem about the art of writing poetry, but it is also a poem about life. The poem is written in free verse, which means that it does not follow a specific rhyme scheme or meter. This allows Robinson to focus on the message of the poem rather than the structure.

The poem begins with the line, "If I when my wife is sleeping." This line sets the tone for the rest of the poem. It is a line that is both intimate and personal. Robinson is speaking directly to the reader, inviting them into his world. He is sharing a secret with them, something that he would not share with anyone else.

The next line is, "and the baby and Kathleen." This line introduces two more characters into the poem. The baby is Robinson's child, and Kathleen is most likely a family member or friend. These characters are important because they represent the people in Robinson's life who are most important to him. They are the reason he writes poetry.

The next few lines of the poem describe what Robinson would do if he were to wake up in the middle of the night and feel the urge to write poetry. He would "slip as quietly as I can" out of bed and "creep to my desk." This imagery is important because it shows the reader that writing poetry is something that Robinson takes very seriously. He is willing to risk waking up his wife and child in order to write.

The next few lines of the poem describe the process of writing poetry. Robinson talks about how he would "blot out anything that's written" and "start with something that I'm sane about." This shows the reader that Robinson is a perfectionist when it comes to his writing. He is not satisfied with anything less than his best work.

The next few lines of the poem describe the importance of poetry. Robinson says that poetry is "the one thing that matters." This line is powerful because it shows the reader that Robinson believes that poetry is more important than anything else in his life. It is his passion, his calling, and his reason for being.

The final lines of the poem are perhaps the most powerful. Robinson says that he would "write until it was dawn" and "until I could write no more." This shows the reader that Robinson is willing to sacrifice everything for his art. He is willing to stay up all night, to neglect his family, and to push himself to the limit in order to write the perfect poem.

In conclusion, "Poetry Tact" is a masterpiece of poetry. It is a poem that is both simple and complex, intimate and personal, and powerful and moving. Robinson's use of free verse allows him to focus on the message of the poem rather than the structure. The poem is a testament to the power of poetry and the importance of following one's passion. It is a poem that will inspire readers for generations to come.

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