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Understanding poetry Edwin Arlington Robinson's "Miniver Cheevy"


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The glass in greener at the bottom of a bottle
Edwin Arlington Robinson’s “Miniver Cheevy” is a cacophonous dramatic poem. It expresses bitterness for the mundane present and wistfulness for an idealized past. Robinson uses tone, meter, rhyme, personification and metaphor to accentuate the differences between Miniver’s real life and his fantasy life.
The first stanza introduces Miniver, (the protagonist), with a metaphor, “Miniver Cheevy, child of scorn,” [1] implying that he was an object of contempt as a child. The use of the word “assailed,” in the second line, suggests that growing up was a battle for him. In his use of the name Miniver Cheevy, the author sets the character apart, an odd name, it does not flow off the tongue; his name does not blend in to the poem, just as the character does not feel he belongs in his life, suggested by the line, “He wept that he was ever born,”[3] . . .
The second and third stanzas introduce Miniver’s escape from his hard reality, the romanticized ideal of the knight in shining armor.

Miniver loved the days of old
When swords were bright and steeds were prancing;
The vision of a warrior bold
Would set him dancing. [5-8]

He realizes it’s a dream he can’t actually live, “Miniver sighed for what was not / And dreamed, and rested from his labors;” [9&10] but the daydreams provide him with a pleasant escape from his monotonous daily routine. Miniver’s antagonist, fate [29&31], has set him down where he doesn’t feel he belongs. Miniver feels he would have been better off in Thebes, Camelot or Troy [11&12], though he may have been surprised to find life just as difficult. The verbs Robinson uses through the poem: assailed, wept, sighed, dreamed, rested, and dreamed – suggest that Miniver’s real problem may be a lack of work ethic, or motivation.
In the fourth stanza, Robinson uses personification in saying, “Miniver mourned the ripe renown” [13] he implies that renown is dead, so Miniver mourns the lack of heroes. In saying that “Romance (capitalized like a name would be) is on the town” [15] he says that Romance is gone, that it may be out there, but it is not accessible at home, it is out of Miniver’s reach. Likewise, saying ‘Art is a vagrant’ [16] implies that art is now a poor beggar compared to Miniver’s imaginings of the past; the grimy image of a vagrant does not compare to Miniver’s ideal of the shiny swords.
He found modern clothing distasteful, preferring the look of armor. “And eyed a khaki suit with loathing; / He missed the medieval grace / of iron clothing.”[22-24] Grace, though seeming an odd word to describe a clunking heavy iron suit, could be referring more to the artistic grace Miniver perceives.
Miniver worked for a living but disliked doing so immensely. “Miniver scorned the gold he sought,” [25] He thought he belonged in another time. Knowing there was nothing he could do about it, he chose to drink his sorrows away. He seems the type that would ruminate on his problems and never actually do anything about them, preferring to get lost in an alcoholic fantasy about how much better things would be, if only . . .

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. [27-32]

Robinson’s use of alliteration, assonance, and masculine rhyme (ABAB rhyme scheme) give the poem a cohesive quality. The meter is broken, wandering in and out of rhythm (mostly iambic tetrameter) enhancing the impression that things do not fit correctly in Miniver’s life, the uneven, interrupted meter could also be an imitation of Miniver’s drunken mannerisms.

Work cited
Robinson, Edwin A. “ Miniver Cheevy.” Literature: An Introduction to Fiction, Poetry, Drama, and Writing. Ed. X.J. Kennedy and Dana Gioia. New York: Pearson Longman, 2007.