“Do I hear them? Yes, I hear the children singing—and what of it?
by Edwin Arlington Robinson
Have you come with eyes afire to find me now and ask me that?
If I were not their father and if you were not their mother,
We might believe they made a noise…. What are you—driving at!”
“Well, be glad that you can hear them, and be glad they are so near us,—
For I have heard the stars of heaven, and they were nearer still.
All within an hour it is that I have heard them calling,
And though I pray for them to cease, I know they never will;
For their music on my heart, though you may freeze it, will fall always,
Like summer snow that never melts upon a mountain-top.
Do you hear them? Do you hear them overhead—the children—singing?
Do you hear the children singing?… God, will you make them stop!”
“And what now in His holy name have you to do with mountains?
We’re back to town again, my dear, and we’ve a dance tonight.
Frozen hearts and falling music? Snow and stars, and—what the devil!
Say it over to me slowly, and be sure you have it right.”
“God knows if I be right or wrong in saying what I tell you,
Or if I know the meaning any more of what I say.
All I know is, it will kill me if I try to keep it hidden—
Well, I met him…. Yes, I met him, and I talked with him—today.”
“You met him? Did you meet the ghost of someone you had poisoned,
Long ago, before I knew you for the woman that you are?
Take a chair; and don’t begin your stories always in the middle.
Was he man, or was he demon? Anyhow, you’ve gone too far
To go back, and I’m your servant. I’m the lord, but you’re the master.
Now go on with what you know, for I’m excited.”
“Do you mean—
Do you mean to make me try to think that you know less than I do?”
“I know that you foreshadow the beginning of a scene.
Pray be careful, and as accurate as if the doors of heaven
Were to swing or to stay bolted from now on for evermore.”
“Do you conceive, with all your smooth contempt of every feeling,
Of hiding what you know and what you must have known before?
Is it worth a woman’s torture to stand here and have you smiling,
With only your poor fetish of possession on your side?
No thing but one is wholly sure, and that’s not one to scare me;
When I meet it I may say to God at last that I have tried.
And yet, for all I know, or all I dare believe, my trials
Henceforward will be more for you to bear than are your own;
And you must give me keys of yours to rooms I have not entered.
Do you see me on your threshold all my life, and there alone?
Will you tell me where you see me in your fancy—when it leads you
Far enough beyond the moment for a glance at the abyss?”
“Will you tell me what intrinsic and amazing sort of nonsense
You are crowding on the patience of the man who gives you—this?
Look around you and be sorry you’re not living in an attic,
With a civet and a fish-net, and with you to pay the rent.
I say words that you can spell without the use of all your letters;
And I grant, if you insist, that I’ve a guess at what you meant.”
“Have I told you, then, for nothing, that I met him? Are you trying
To be merry while you try to make me hate you?”
My dear, before you tell me, in a language unbecoming
To a lady, what you plan to tell me next. If I complain,
If I seem an atom peevish at the preference you mention—
Or imply, to be precise—you may believe, or you may not,
That I’m a trifle more aware of what he wants than you are.
But I shouldn’t throw that at you. Make believe that I forgot.
Make believe that he’s a genius, if you like,—but in the meantime
Don’t go back to rocking-horses. There, there, there, now.”
When you see me standing helpless on a plank above a whirlpool,
Do I drown, or do I hear you when you say it? Make believe?
How much more am I to say or do for you before I tell you
That I met him! What’s to follow now may be for you to choose.
Do you hear me? Won’t you listen? It’s an easy thing to listen….”
“And it’s easy to be crazy when there’s everything to lose.”
“If at last you have a notion that I mean what I am saying,
Do I seem to tell you nothing when I tell you I shall try?
If you save me, and I lose him—I don’t know—it won’t much matter.
I dare say that I’ve lied enough, but now I do not lie.”
“Do you fancy me the one man who has waited and said nothing
While a wife has dragged an old infatuation from a tomb?
Give the thing a little air and it will vanish into ashes.
There you are—piff! presto!”
“When I came into this room,
It seemed as if I saw the place, and you there at your table,
As you are now at this moment, for the last time in my life;
And I told myself before I came to find you, ‘I shall tell him,
If I can, what I have learned of him since I became his wife.’
And if you say, as I’ve no doubt you will before I finish,
That you have tried unceasingly, with all your might and main,
To teach me, knowing more than I of what it was I needed,
Don’t think, with all you may have thought, that you have tried in vain;
For you have taught me more than hides in all the shelves of knowledge
Of how little you found that’s in me and was in me all along.
I believed, if I intruded nothing on you that I cared for,
I’d be half as much as horses,—and it seems that I was wrong;
I believed there was enough of earth in me, with all my nonsense
Over things that made you sleepy, to keep something still awake;
But you taught me soon to read my book, and God knows I have read it—
Ages longer than an angel would have read it for your sake.
I have said that you must open other doors than I have entered,
But I wondered while I said it if I might not be obscure.
Is there anything in all your pedigrees and inventories
With a value more elusive than a dollar’s? Are you sure
That if I starve another year for you I shall be stronger
To endure another like it—and another—till I’m dead?”
“Has your tame cat sold a picture?—or more likely had a windfall?
Or for God’s sake, what’s broke loose? Have you a bee-hive in your head?
A little more of this from you will not be easy hearing
Do you know that? Understand it, if you do; for if you won’t….
What the devil are you saying! Make believe you never said it,
And I’ll say I never heard it…. Oh, you…. If you….”
“If I don’t?”
“There are men who say there’s reason hidden somewhere in a woman,
But I doubt if God himself remembers where the key was hung.”
“He may not; for they say that even God himself is growing.
I wonder if He makes believe that He is growing young;
I wonder if He makes believe that women who are giving
All they have in holy loathing to a stranger all their lives
Are the wise ones who build houses in the Bible….”
“…Or that souls are any whiter when their bodies are called wives.
If a dollar’s worth of gold will hoop the walls of hell together,
Why need heaven be such a ruin of a place that never was?
And if at last I lied my starving soul away to nothing,
Are you sure you might not miss it? Have you come to such a pass
That you would have me longer in your arms if you discovered
That I made you into someone else…. Oh!…Well, there are worse ways.
But why aim it at my feet—unless you fear you may be sorry….
There are many days ahead of you.”
“I do not see those days.”
“I can see them. Granted even I am wrong, there are the children.
And are they to praise their father for his insight if we die?
Do you hear them? Do you hear them overhead—the children—singing?
Do you hear them? Do you hear the children?”
“Damn the children!”
What have they done?…Well, then,—do it…. Do it now, and have it over.”
“Oh, you devil!…Oh, you….”
“No, I’m not a devil, I’m a prophet—
One who sees the end already of so much that one end more
Would have now the small importance of one other small illusion,
Which in turn would have a welcome where the rest have gone before.
But if I were you, my fancy would look on a little farther
For the glimpse of a release that may be somewhere still in sight.
Furthermore, you must remember those two hundred invitations
For the dancing after dinner. We shall have to shine tonight.
We shall dance, and be as happy as a pair of merry spectres,
On the grave of all the lies that we shall never have to tell;
We shall dance among the ruins of the tomb of our endurance,
And I have not a doubt that we shall do it very well.
There!—I’m glad you’ve put it back; for I don’t like it. Shut the drawer now.
No—no—don’t cancel anything. I’ll dance until I drop.
I can’t walk yet, but I’m going to…. Go away somewhere, and leave me….
Oh, you children! Oh, you children!…God, will they never stop!”