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Miniver is the archetypal frustrated romantic idealist, born in the wrong time for idealism. He is close enough to being Robinson himself so that Robinson can smile at him and let the pathos remain unspoken.

Miniver Cheevy, child of scorn,

    Grew lean while he assailed the seasons.

He wept that he was ever born,

    And he had reasons.

Here and throughout the poem the relation between what Miniver knows and what the speaker knows is subtle and effective. Miniver wept and the poet does not weep, but not because he thinks there are no reasons to weep. Robinson knew too much about the reasons for an idealist to weep to permit him to make Miniver a mere butt of humor. Apart from his intellectual reasons, which I have already said enough about, there were more personal and emotional ones that are relevant to any discussion of Robinson's identification with Miniver Cheevy. Robinson was born the third son of a family whose hearts were so set on having a daughter this time that they had made no provisions for the name of an unwanted son. For more than six months the boy remained unnamed, until strangers at a summer resort, feeling that he ought to be granted an identity beyond that of simply "the baby," put slips of paper with male first names written on them into a hat and chose someone to draw one out. The man who drew out the slip with "Edwin" written on it happened to live in Arlington, Massachusetts, which seemed to provide the easiest choice for a second name; and so by an "accident of fate," we have a poet named Edwin Arlington Robinson. Robinson hated the name and thought of himself as a child of scorn--and he had reasons.

Miniver sighed for what was not,

    And dreamed, and rested from his labors;

He dreamed of Thebes and Camelot,

    And Priam's neighbors.


Miniver mourned the ripe renown

    That made so many a name so fragrant;

He mourned Romance, now on the town,

    And Art, a vagrant.

Like Miniver too, Robinson "dreamed of Camelot"--and wrote three very long, and very tedious, Arthurian poems in which the "dreaming' is compulsive and unrecognized. But in "Miniver Cheevv" the dreaming is compulsive only for Miniver, not for the poet. Who would not turn to the past for his values if he lived in an age when the "facts" of coldly objective knowledge seemed to leave no room for any "ideal" values and when a "mere poet" who made no money was considered a failure by Tilbury Town's standards? For Romance to be "on the town" meant for it to be the object of the township's charity, in the poor farm or on home relief; in either case the object not only of "charity" but of the scorn that would accompany it. "Vagrants"--tramps--would sometimes spend a few days or weeks "on the town" before wandering on. The connection between Miniver and Emerson comes through Captain Craig, who was also described as a "vagrant" and was also the object of charity; for the penniless philosopher of the earlier poem was not, as critics have so often said, Robinson himself but Emerson in extremis.

Miniver scorned the gold he sought,

    But sore annoyed was he without it;

Miniver thought, and thought, and thought,

    And thought about it.


Miniver Cheevy, born too late,

    Scratched his head and kept on thinking;

Miniver coughed, and called it fate,

    And kept on drinking.

But unlike the Captain, Miniver is Robinson, or at least that part of Robinson that Robinson recognized as being romantic and idealistic. He too had "thought, and thought, and thought, / And thought about it," without arriving at any conclusions definite enough to be stated very clearly, even to himself. He too had resented his poverty while condemning practical materialism and popular notions of success. He too had "called it fate" and for many years "kept on drinking." A good deal of the time he was almost as convinced as Miniver that he had been "born too late."

It should be unnecessary to say that such a lining-up of the parallels between Robinson and his character is no substitute for a close critical analysis of the ways in which the poem works. My purpose in calling attention to the analogy is twofold. First, to illustrate the earlier generalization that Robinson wrote at his best level in the Tilbury Town poems when he wrote about a projection of an aspect of himself; and second, to prepare the way for a further conclusion, namely, that the side of himself that Robinson could stand off from and smile at was the believing side, never the deeper self that felt only the grief.