Summary and Analysis of Sonnet by Edwin Arlington Robinson: 2022

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Last updated on September 9th, 2022 at 03:42 pm


A three time Pulitzer Prize winner and a four time nominee for Nobel Prize in Literature, Edwin Arlington Robinson, born in 1869, was one of the most prolific major American poet and widely recognized as ‘a brilliant sonneteer’ was ironically, best remembered for only a handful of short poems. Robinson is considered unique among American poets of his time for his devotion to his art; he published virtually nothing during his long career except poetry.  Robinson’s early struggles led many of his poems to have a dark pessimism and his stories to deal with “an American dream gone awry.” Despite the fact that much of Robinson’s verse dealt with failed lives, several critics see his work as life-affirming. His real desire was to get published in one of the Harvard literary journals. Robinson’s struggles were not yet over but his path became easier and gradually his literary successes began to mount but he eventually died of cancer in 1935.


‘Sonnet’ is one of the poems listed under “Children Of the Night” by Robinson. Many of the poems in The Children of the Night style=”font-weight: 400;”> deal with misery and failure. Taken as a subject this outlook could reasonably be seen as dead-ending in despair and pessimism, a criticism Robinson was sensitive to.


stanza 1
                        beacon bright  (line 1)
                       glimmer of dead gray (line 2)
                       Songs without souls and flicker for (line 7)
Stanza 2
              The seasons, and the sunset (line 3)
               wrench one banner from the western (line 5)


Oh for a poet—for a beacon bright (A)
To rift this changeless glimmer of dead gray; (B)
To spirit back the Muses, long astray, (B)
And flush Parnassus with a newer light; (A)
To put these little sonnet-men to flight (A)
Who fashion, in a shrewd mechanic way, (B)
Songs without souls, that flicker for a day, (B)
To vanish in irrevocable night. (A)
What does it mean, this barren age of ours? (C)
Here are the men, the women, and the flowers, (C)
The seasons, and the sunset, as before. (D)
What does it mean? Shall there not one arise (E)
To wrench one banner from the western skies, (E)
And mark it with his name forevermore? (D)


The statement of despair in the octave is answered in the sestet by the proclamation that, despite the darkness all around him, the speaker can “feel the coming glory of the Light.” The poem also emphasize how people cannot escape a sense of personal isolation. A deep- meaning poem, ‘Sonnet’  deals with the loneliness and a sense of separation from one another.

Also Read:  Summary of A Light Exists in Spring by Emily Dickinson


This poem, is hardly time-locked. Instead, it is thoroughly modern in attitude because it stresses on how difficult it is to detect cause or motive in a basically mysterious world. Beneath the deceptive, smooth surfaces of the technically precise poetic forms, Robinson’s poems are disturbing, cheerless stories of people living far from their youthful hopes and dreams as seen in this ‘Sonnet’ too. Some deeper meaning lies beneath such ordinary appearances but unfortunately always remains beyond their understanding.


Robinson’s readers of the ‘Sonnet’ are left with shifting truths and unclear explanations about the meaning of life.


Robinson’s work suggests that loneliness, a sense of separation from one another, and also from ultimate meanings, is an inescapable human condition.
Robinson is always interested in how individual characters behave at their defining moments which can be seen in this ‘Sonnet’ too.
Contributor: Manasvi Gupta

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