When I read poetry, I look for something that speaks to me. As someone who has studied history for so long, and made a career in educating the public by wearing the clothing and doing some of the work of the 18th century, this poem by Edwin Arlington Robinson certainly spoke to me. I usually don’t get this sarcastic or ironic about the subject, but I have often been told by people ‘It must have been so much better back then,’ or ‘It was simpler back then.’ As a history professional, I would need to gently tell people that really, it wasn’t that different ‘back then’ than it is today. Each person lives in the time they do, which sounds too simple, but actually means quite a lot. We live in the time we are best adapted to live in, which is when we are born. We wouldn’t do well shifting to a different time, and if we were born in that time period, then we wouldn’t know about this one to compare! The past really wasn’t less complicated to anyone living then than our lives are to us now. And this poem, in a way that I think makes us laugh a little at the character, is telling us just that.
Miniver Cheevy, child of scorn, Grew lean while he assailed the seasons He wept that he was ever born, And he had reasons. Miniver loved the days of old When swords were bright and steeds were prancing; The vision of a warrior bold Would set him dancing. Miniver sighed for what was not And dreamed, and rested from his labours, He dreamed of Thebes and Camelot, And Priam's neighbors. Miniver mourned the ripe renown That made so many a name so fragrant, He mourned Romance, now on the town, And Art, a vagrant. Miniver loved the Medici, Albeit he had never seen one; He would have sinned incessantly Could he have been one. Miniver cursed the commonplace And eyed a khaki suit with loathing; He missed the medieval grace Of iron clothing. Miniver scorned the gold he sought, But sore annoyed was he without it; Miniver thought, and thought, and thought, And thought about it. Miniver Cheevy, born too late Scratched his head and kept on thinking; Miniver coughed, and called it fate, And kept on drinking. Edwin Arlington Robinson 1910, The Town down the River