'Why He Was There' by Edwin Arlington Robinson
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Much as he left it when he went from us
Here was the room again where he had been
So long that something oh him should be seen,
Or felt-and so it was. Incredulous,
I turned about, loath to be greeted thus,
And there he was in his old chair, serene
As ever, and as laconic as lean
As when he lived, and as cadaverous.Calm as he was of old when we were young,
He sat there gazing at the pallid flame
Before him. "And how far will this go on?"
I thought. He felt the failure of my tongue,
And smiled: "I was not here until you came;
And I shall not be here when you are gone."
Editor 1 Interpretation
Understanding Edwin Arlington Robinson's "Why He Was There"
Have you ever felt like you were in the wrong place at the wrong time? Or perhaps, you felt like you were meant to be somewhere else, doing something else entirely? Edwin Arlington Robinson's poem "Why He Was There" explores the theme of displacement and the search for purpose in life.
Let's dive deeper into the poem and explore its literary elements, themes, and interpretations.
Form and Structure
"Why He Was There" is a 12-stanza poem, each consisting of four lines, with no set rhyme scheme. The lack of a consistent rhyme scheme adds to the poem's feeling of displacement and lack of structure. The poem is written in free verse, which allows the poet to express his ideas more freely without adhering to a specific meter or rhyme scheme.
Robinson uses vivid imagery throughout the poem, painting a picture of a man who is lost and searching for his place in the world. In the first stanza, the man is described as being "like a straw / Blown through a dusty street." This imagery creates a sense of powerlessness and aimlessness, as though the man is being tossed around by the winds of fate.
In the following stanzas, the man is described as wandering through a desolate landscape, with "no living thing in sight." This imagery further emphasizes the man's isolation and loneliness.
The tone of the poem is melancholic and introspective. Robinson explores the inner turmoil of a man who feels as though he is not living up to his potential. The poem's tone is also reflective, as the man looks back on his life and tries to make sense of how he ended up where he is.
Robinson uses several symbols throughout the poem to convey deeper meanings. The dusty street and barren landscape symbolize the man's lack of direction and purpose in life. The "hourglass running down" in the final stanza is a metaphor for the man's mortality and the limited time he has left to find his place in the world.
The main theme of the poem is displacement. The man is lost and wandering, unsure of where he belongs or what he should be doing with his life. He feels as though he is in the wrong place at the wrong time, and that he is not living up to his potential.
Another theme of the poem is the search for purpose. The man is searching for his place in the world, trying to find a sense of meaning and fulfillment in his life. He feels as though he is wasting his time and talents, and that there must be something more meaningful for him to do.
The final stanza of the poem introduces the theme of mortality. The man realizes that time is running out, and that he may never find his purpose in life. This realization adds a sense of urgency to the poem, as the man tries to make the most of the time he has left.
One interpretation of the poem is that it is an existentialist reflection on the human condition. The man is searching for meaning and purpose in a world that seems indifferent to his existence. He is questioning the nature of existence itself, and trying to make sense of his place in the world.
Another interpretation of the poem is that it is a reflection on regret. The man is looking back on his life and realizing that he has not accomplished what he wanted to. He is filled with regret for the opportunities he missed and the time he wasted. This interpretation adds a sense of sadness and melancholy to the poem.
The poem is deliberately ambiguous, leaving the reader to interpret its meaning in their own way. The man's backstory and motivations are never fully explained, leaving the reader to wonder what events led him to where he is. This ambiguity allows the poem to be interpreted in many different ways, depending on the reader's own experiences and worldview.
"Why He Was There" is a powerful poem that explores the themes of displacement, purpose, and mortality. Robinson's use of vivid imagery and symbolism creates a sense of isolation and introspection, while the poem's melancholic tone adds to its emotional impact. The poem's deliberate ambiguity allows for multiple interpretations, making it a thought-provoking piece of literature that resonates with readers of all backgrounds.
Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation
Why He Was There: A Masterpiece of Edwin Arlington Robinson
Edwin Arlington Robinson is one of the most celebrated poets of the 20th century. His works are known for their deep insights into human nature and their ability to capture the essence of the human experience. One of his most famous poems is "Why He Was There," which explores the themes of loneliness, regret, and the search for meaning in life. In this article, we will take a closer look at this masterpiece and analyze its meaning and significance.
The poem "Why He Was There" is a narrative poem that tells the story of a man who has come to a small town and is staying at a boarding house. The man is described as being "old and gray" and "bent with the weight of many years." He is a solitary figure who keeps to himself and does not interact with the other guests at the boarding house. The poem begins with the narrator asking the question, "Why was he there?"
The first stanza of the poem sets the tone for the rest of the poem. The narrator describes the man as being "like a ghost" and "haunted by some strange unrest." The man is clearly not at peace with himself and is searching for something that he cannot find. The use of the word "ghost" suggests that the man is not fully alive and is perhaps already dead in some sense. The word "haunted" suggests that the man is tormented by something from his past that he cannot escape.
In the second stanza, the narrator describes the man's appearance in more detail. He is described as being "worn and thin" and "gray as the dust of the road." The use of the word "worn" suggests that the man has lived a hard life and has been through many struggles. The word "thin" suggests that he is not well-fed and may be suffering from poverty. The use of the word "gray" suggests that the man is old and has lost his vitality. The image of the man being "gray as the dust of the road" suggests that he has been on a long journey and has experienced many hardships along the way.
In the third stanza, the narrator describes the man's behavior. He is described as being "silent and strange" and "watching the world with unseeing eyes." The use of the word "silent" suggests that the man does not speak to anyone and keeps to himself. The word "strange" suggests that the man is not like the other guests at the boarding house and is perhaps from a different place or culture. The image of the man "watching the world with unseeing eyes" suggests that he is not fully present in the world and is perhaps lost in his own thoughts.
In the fourth stanza, the narrator speculates about the man's past. He suggests that the man may have been a soldier who fought in a war and is now suffering from the trauma of his experiences. The narrator also suggests that the man may have been a criminal who is on the run from the law. The use of the word "perhaps" suggests that the narrator is not sure about the man's past and is only speculating.
In the fifth stanza, the narrator describes the man's room at the boarding house. The room is described as being "bare and bleak" and "without a touch of home." The use of the word "bare" suggests that the room is empty and devoid of any personal belongings. The word "bleak" suggests that the room is cold and unwelcoming. The image of the room being "without a touch of home" suggests that the man is not comfortable in his surroundings and does not feel at home.
In the sixth stanza, the narrator describes the man's behavior at night. He is described as being "restless and still" and "listening to the silence of the house." The use of the word "restless" suggests that the man is not able to sleep and is perhaps tormented by his thoughts. The word "still" suggests that the man is not moving and is perhaps lost in his own thoughts. The image of the man "listening to the silence of the house" suggests that he is searching for some kind of meaning or purpose in his life.
In the seventh stanza, the narrator describes the man's departure from the boarding house. He is described as being "silent as he came" and "leaving without a word." The use of the word "silent" suggests that the man does not speak to anyone and keeps to himself. The word "leaving" suggests that the man is on a journey and is perhaps searching for something that he cannot find. The image of the man "leaving without a word" suggests that he is not able to communicate his thoughts and feelings to others.
In the final stanza, the narrator reflects on the man's presence at the boarding house. He suggests that the man was searching for something that he could not find and that he was haunted by some kind of inner unrest. The use of the word "haunted" suggests that the man was tormented by something from his past that he could not escape. The image of the man being "like a ghost" suggests that he was not fully alive and was perhaps already dead in some sense.
In conclusion, "Why He Was There" is a powerful and haunting poem that explores the themes of loneliness, regret, and the search for meaning in life. The poem is a masterful example of Edwin Arlington Robinson's ability to capture the essence of the human experience and to convey deep insights into the human condition. The poem leaves the reader with a sense of sadness and longing, as we are left to wonder about the man's fate and the meaning of his journey.
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