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A. Mary Murphy

"MINIVER CHEEVY" EDWIN ARLINGTON ROBINSON (1910) Although in many ways a poet of the 19th century, Edwin Arlington robinson is an important transitional figure whose poems inspired many 20th-century poets. "Miniver Cheevy" is the first American poem to express dissatisfaction with the modern age by satirically contrasting it with earlier eras. In this sense the poem anticipates T. S. eliots the waste land (1922) and Ezra pound's "Hugh Selwyn Mauberley" (1920). Although Robinson's poem engages the perception of difference between the present and the past mostly for comic purposes, it provides an example of 20th-century poets' sense of attenuated cultural and artistic life in the modern age.

The speaker of the poem subtly delineates Miniver's situation, which, as Wallace Anderson points out, is suggested by the word vagrant and the phrase "on the town," meaning "to be supported by the town, a charity case. Miniver ... is the town ne'er-do-well, the town loafer" (107). But Miniver perceives his condition as a cruel accident of fate. He believes that had he been born to an earlier age, he would have known romance and created art. Instead his untimely and prosaic existence is a burden that he must bear tragically but philosophically. While presenting Minivers appraisal of his situation, the poem provides no support for his opinion; rather, it undermines Miniver's false sense of martyrdom with exaggerated diction, and excessive repetition.

The first stanza of the poem initiates the ironic tone. Hyperbolic verbs, such as "assailed," expose Miniver's notion that he is a kind of romantic sufferer. Moreover the final line is deliberately truncated so that the solemnity of the rhythm is undercut: "He wept that he was ever born, / And he had reasons." In the third stanza, feminine rhymes (ending in unstressed syllables,) give a humorous, mock-heroic tone to Miniver's fantasies about living in the legendary ages of King Arthur or the Trojans ("Priam's neighbors"), of whom he dreams while "resting" from his decidedly less than Herculean "labors." When rhymed with "labors," "neighbors" not only sounds comically forced and stilted but also echoes the melodramatic falling rhythm.

The concluding stanzas more directly mock Miniver's self-pity. In the penultimate stanza, the repetition of the verb "thought" sarcastically undermines Minivers self-commiseration. As Anderson notes, "the addition of the fourth 'thought' changes the tone of the stanza entirely, making it absurd" (107). The last stanza provides Miniver's convenient excuse for drowning his sorrows in alcohol: He was born to the wrong time. The rhyming of "thinking" and "drinking" suggests not only that his drinking comes from thinking about his fate but also that his drinking influences his thinking, his bathetic delusion of being destined to languish in a fallen era.

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