Take Heart: A Conversation in Poetry: The Clerks

Edited and introduced by Wesley McNair, Maine Poet Laureate

The traditional sonnet is normally reserved for ideas, thoughts and sentiments. What makes the sonnets of Maine’s Edwin Arlington Robinson so original is that he uses them to tell stories. Today’s poem, one of his best, offers an example.

The Clerks by Edwin Arlington Robinson

I did not think that I should find them there
When I came back again; but there they stood,
As in the days they dreamed of when young blood
Was in their cheeks and women called them fair.
Be sure, they met me with an ancient air, --
And yes, there was a shop-worn brotherhood
About them; but the men were just as good,
And just as human as they ever were.
And you that ache so much to be sublime,
And you that feed yourself with your descent,
What comes of all your visions and your fears?
Poets and kings are but the clerks of Time,
Tiering the same dull webs of discontent,
Clipping the same sad alnage of the years.

Take Heart: A Conversation in Poetry is produced in collaboration with the Maine Writers & Publishers Alliance. Public Domain. Reprinted from The Maine Poets, Down East Books, 2003. Questions about submitting to Take Heart may be directed to David Turner, Special Assistant to the Maine Poet Laureate, at poetlaureate@mainewriters.org or 207-228-8263.