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Poem by John Townsend Trowbridge


Old Robin


SELL old Robin, do you say? Well, I reckon not today!
I have let you have your way with the land,
With the meadows and the fallows, draining swamps and filling hollows,
And you're mighty deep, Dan Alvord! but the sea itself has shallows,
And there are things that you don't understand.

Youare not so green, of course, as to feed a worn-out horse,
Out of pity or remorse, very long!
But as sure as I am master of a shed and bit of pasture,
Not for all the wealth, I warn you, of a Vanderbilt or Astor,
Will I do old Robin there such a wrong.

He is old and lame, alas! Don't disturb him as you pass!
Let him lie there on the grass, while he may,
And enjoy the summer weather, free forever from his tether.
Sober veteran as you see him, we were young and gay together:
It was I who rode him firstah, the day!

I was just a little chap, in first pantaloons and cap,
And I left my mother's lap, at the door;
And the reins hung loose and idle, as we let him prance and sidle,
For my father walked beside me with his hand upon the bridle:
Yearling colt and boy of five, hardly more.

See him start and prick his ears! see how knowingly he leers!
I believe he overhears every word,
And once more, it may be, fancies that he carries me and prances,
While my mother from the doorway follows us with happy glances.
You may laugh, butwell, of course, it's absurd!

Poor old Robin! does he know how I used to cling and crow,
As I rode him to and fro and around?
Every day as we grew older, he grew gentler, I grew bolder,
Till, a hand upon the bridle and a touch upon his shoulder,
I could vault into my seat at a bound.

Ah, the nag you so disdain, with his scanty tail and mane,
And that ridge-pole to shed rain, called a back,
Then was taper-limbed and glossy,so superb a creature was he!
And he arched his neck, so graceful, and he tossed his tail, so saucy,
Like a proudly waving plume long and black!

He was light of hoof and fleet, I was supple, firm in seat,
And no sort of thing with feet, anywhere
In the country, could come nigh us; scarce the swallows could outfly us;
But the planet spun beneath us, and the sky went whizzing by us,
In the hurricane we made of the air.

Then I rode away to school in the mornings fresh and cool;
Till, one day, beside the pool where he drank,
Leaning on my handsome trotter, glancing up across the water
To the judge's terraced orchard, there I saw the judge's daughter,
In a frame of sunny boughs on the bank.

Looking down on horse and boy, smiling down, so sweet and coy,
That I thrilled with bashful joy, when she said,
Voice as sweet as a canary's,"Would you like to get some cherries?
You are welcome as the birds are; there are nice ones on this terrace;
These are white-hearts in the tree overhead."

Was it Robin more than I, that had pleased her girlish eye
As she saw us prancing by? half I fear!
Off she ran, but not a great way: white-hearts, black-hearts, sweethearts straightway!
Boy and horse were soon familiar with the hospitable gateway,
And a happy fool was I for a year.

Lord forgive an only child! All the blessings on me piled
Had but helped to make me wild and perverse.
What is there in honest horses that should lead to vicious courses?
Racing, betting, idling, tippling, wasted soon my best resources:
Small beginnings led to moreand to worse.

Father? happy in his grave! Praying mothers cannot save;
Mine? a flatterer and a slave to her son!
Often Mary urged and pleaded, and the good judge interceded,
Counseled, blamed, insisted, threatened: tears and threats were all unheeded,
And I answered him in wrath: it was done!

Vainly Mary sobbed and clung; in a fury out I flung,
To old Robin's back I sprung, and away!
No repentance, no compassion; on I plunged in headlong fashion,
In a night of rain and tempest, with a fierce, despairing passion,
Through the blind and raving gusts, mad as they.

Bad to worse was now my game: my poor mother, still the same,
Tried to shield me, to reclaimdid her best.
Creditors began to clamor; I could only lie and stammer;
All we had was pledged for payment; all was sold beneath the hammer
My old Robin there, along with the rest.

Laughing, jeering, I stood by, with a devil in my eye,
Watching those who came to buy: what was done
I had then no power to alter; I looked on and would not falter,
Till the last man had departed, leading Robin by the halter;
Then I flew into the loft for my gun.

I would shoot him! no, I said, I would kill myself instead!
To a lonely wood I fled, on a hill.
Hating Heaven and all its mercies for my follies and reverses,
There I plunged in self-abasement, there I burrowed in self-curses;
But the dying I put offas men will.

As I wandered back at night, something, far off, caught my sight,
Dark against the western light, in the lane;
Coming to the bars to meet mesome illusion sent to cheat me!
No, 't was Robin, my own Robin, dancing, whinnying to greet me!
With a small white billet sewed to his mane.

The small missive I unstrungon old Robin's neck I hung,
There I cried and there I clung! while I read,
In a hand I knew was Mary's "One whose kindness never varies
Sends this gift:" no name was written, but a painted bunch of cherries
On the dainty little note smiled instead.

There he lies now! lank and lame, stiff of limb and gaunt of frame,
But to her and me the same dear old boy!
Never steed, I think, was fairer! Still I see him the proud bearer
Of my pardon and salvation; and he yet shall be a sharer
As a poor dumb beast may sharein my joy.

It is strange that by the time, I, a man, am in my prime,
He is guilty of the crime of old age!
But no sort of circumvention can deprive him of his pension:
He shall have his rack and pasture, with a little kind attention,
And some years of comfort yet, I'll engage.

By long service and good will he has earned them, and he still
Has a humble place to fill, as you know.
Now my little shavers ride him, sometimes two or three astride him;
Mary watches from the doorway while I lead or walk beside him;
But his dancing all was done long ago.

See that merry, toddling lass tripping to and fro, to pass
Little handfuls of green grass, which he chews,
And the two small urchins trying to climb up and ride him lying;
And, hard-hearted as you are, Dan,eh? you don't say! you are crying?
Well, an old horse, after all, has his use!



John Townsend Trowbridge


John Townsend Trowbridge's other poems:
  1. Menotomy Lake
  2. Dorothy in the Garret
  3. The Old Burying-Ground
  4. The Pewee
  5. A Home Idyl


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