Edwin Arlington Robinson
Dear friends, reproach me not for what I do,
Nor counsel me, nor pity me; nor say
That I am wearing half my life away
For bubble-work that only fools pursue.
And if my bubbles be too small for you,
Blow bigger then your own: the games we play
To fill the frittered minutes of a day,
Good glasses are to read the spirit through.
And whoso reads may get him some shrewd skill;
And some unprofitable scorn resign,
To praise the very thing that he deplores;
So, friends (dear friends), remember, if you will,
The shame I win for singing is all mine,
The gold I miss for dreaming is all yours.
If you are familiar with the poems of Edwin Arlington Robinson then you probably know him for his poems "Richard Cory" or "Miniver Cheevy." If you aren't familiar with these two poems, I wrote a post about them nearly two years ago. In that particular post, I took these two poems and gave them a new personal meaning for me. I think that is the purpose of a lot of poetry. A poet may have a particular theme in mind when they write a poem, yet if it doesn't resonate with the reader, then it really is just a personal exercise for the poet. Yet sometimes they have a special meaning for those who read them. Edwin Arlington Robinson's poems always have a special meaning for me.
In "Dear Friends," Arlington is explaining his craft of writing poetry. You can just picture his friends bemoaning his writing career. He was not particularly successful until later In life. It's very sweet - their care - and very misdirected which is why I like his response to them in this poem - it's still sweet and kind, but also firm as he says "this is my passion, so let me be." As a teacher, people often wonder how I can stand my job. Yet, I truly love teaching. As Arlington says in the last three lines:
So, friends (dear friends), remember, if you will,The shame I win for singing is all mine,The gold I miss for dreaming is all yours.
Teaching is not about the money I make. I could do other things and make more money, yet my passion is to share my knowledge. So when someone disparages my career choice, I know that t was the calling that I was given. Yes, sometimes I might have felt like stepping outside my classroom and yelling, "This is not a classroom; it is Hell with fluorescent lighting!" Yet, this year I've taken a more positive approach, and it is slowly bit surely going to make this school year better.
I think, for those of us who tend to find their dreams at odds with popular tastes and are constantly torn between being true to themselves as square pegs and resigning themselves to whittling away at the corners in order to fit round holes, Robinson's poem will resonate a lot. Not just as a teacher might I find it hard to fit expectations, but also as a gay man. Because I grew up in the South, there were certain expectations of me: get an education, get a good job, get married, have a family. Yet, I don't fit those perfectly, nor will I ever. I am who I am, and that makes me the person I want to be. We should always remember that.