Thursday, June 2, 2011

E.A. Robinson's "The Mill": a poem capturing todays I can't find a job / life's a bitch mood

E.A. Robinson

I thought and googled: The best I can't find a job poem is e.a. robinsons's "the mill"

"Perhaps no person can be a poet, or even can enjoy poetry, without a certain unsoundness of mind" (Thomas Babington Macaulay)

I will not pretend that poetry can be accessed and sought out by all people to find some solace like music or movies or even fiction. At least not today.

But hear me out those of you who think poetry is boring or hard: Reading E.A. Robinson's better poems, you understand how poems matter. I remember reading Robinson's "The Mill" as an undergraduate. I read him along with other Modern poets. Robinson, along with many other early modernists, wrote the kind of poems that outlined modernism's entire principles of mood and subject matter. Early modernist poets like Robinson (along with Housman and Hardy to name a few), made it so that poems could contain layers of ambiguity while attending to the readers' demand to literal meaning. This is no easy task. Later poets failed to achieve this duality of meaning and discovery.

Like I mentioned in an earlier post about poetry, there is no point debating the cultural utility and viability of Poetry in our age: it simply does not register as a cultural force or art form.

I have been having some conversations about how difficult and frustrating (and even scary) the job situation is in America, and in many parts of the world for that matter. We talk about how tough it is for college graduates to find jobs now, and we talk about how even skilled, experienced people are finding it difficult to land jobs.

Our conversations weave and wander through the typical related issues. We talk about how our parents didn't have it this hard; then we find ourselves saying this is probably wrong. We talk about how the world is different now, how we are at a moment of sweeping change due to the technological web 2.0x, digital  revolution.

First it was the music industry, then journalism and now marketing industries are feeling the pinch of digital change.

When a website in a couple of clicks can do what an entire marketing/ad agency can do, one can't blame the unease felt among ad agencies--and in the general labor market.

I thought of E.A. Robinson's poem "The Mill" as a perfect poem capturing the mood of many job hunters, perhaps (though I hope not to the suicidal extreme told in the poem). E.A. Robinson is often given the honor (?) of being the "first Modern American poet."

Robinson's poems convey the moods and topics which would become the hallmarks of Modernism. The poetry foundation tags this poem with the following subjects: Disappointment & Failure, Living, Seas, Rivers, & Streams, Activities, Nature, Time & Brevity, Jobs & Working.

Notice disappointment and failure is the first in the list. Robinson's  poems incite that terrifying subtext of disillusionment and despondency. His poems are accesible on the literal level: The language is direct, if a bit traditionally poetic (read: Victorian), he writes in meter and his poems provide a clear narrative or circumstance from which we can glean deeper insights.

The Mill
 By Edwin Arlington Robinson 1869–1935

The miller's wife had waited long,
      The tea was cold, the fire was dead;
And there might yet be nothing wrong
      In how he went and what he said:
"There are no millers any more,"
      Was all that she had heard him say;
And he had lingered at the door
      So long that it seemed yesterday.

Sick with a fear that had no form
      She knew that she was there at last;
And in the mill there was a warm
      And mealy fragrance of the past.
What else there was would only seem
      To say again what he had meant;
And what was hanging from a beam
      Would not have heeded where she went.

And if she thought it followed her,
      She may have reasoned in the dark
That one way of the few there were
      Would hide her and would leave no mark:
Black water, smooth above the weir
      Like starry velvet in the night,
Though ruffled once, would soon appear
      The same as ever to the sight.

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