Table of Contents
In the poem “Miniver Cheevy” by Edwin Arlington Robinson, the poet talks about the perils of being hung up in the past. The dangers of idealizing the past is reflected in the poem through the titular character, Miniver Cheevy. Miniver claims that the root cause of his sadness is because he is born in the wrong era. To cope up with his grief, he concots tales about popular figures from history, and engages in fantasies about different eras from ancient Greece to the Middle Ages. He wants to live the way he never experienced only because of being born in the wrong era. As the poem progresses, Miniver’s obsession with the past becomes apparent, and that evidently hinders his present life.
About the poet
Edwin Arlington Robinson, an American poet, is known for his narrative and dramatic poems which explored themes of human nature, social issues and the difficulties of life. His own personal life acts as an idea for his exploration of tragic themes. He gained critical recognition when his third collection of poetry was published, “The Children of the Night,” in 1897. He focused mainly on characters from small-town America, examining their dreams, failures, and struggles with society. He is also the first poet to win the Pulitzer Prize three times.
The poem contains 8 stanzas and each stanza of the poem has a regular syllable count. This enables alternate rhyme schemes in the poem.
Summary and Analysis
Miniver Cheevy, child of scorn, Grew lean while he assailed the seasons; He wept that he was ever born, And he had reasons.
The titular character, Miniver Cheevy, was known to be a “child of scorn” as he has plenty of reasons to despise the era he was a part of. He hated the present times and longed for the olden days. His journey was one out of frustration and always assailed the seasons. He bemoaned for ever being born and had strong reasons for contempt. The first stanza presents the character for the first time and eventually goes on to unfold Miniver’s distress.
Miniver is described in the first stanza as a “child of scorn.” He is characterized as being infantile in this statement. He adamantly rejects modernity and invests a lot of his days thinking and envisioning what it was like to reside in the Middle Ages. Due to his lack of food, he is referred to as lean and skinny. The poem’s narrator claims that Cheevy has endured his disdain for decades and cycles. Cheevy doesn’t just disapprove of everyone surrounding him. He also has contempt for himself. He sobs as a result of his remorse about his birth. The poem’s speaker observes that Cheevy has justifications for his hatred.
Miniver loved the days of old When swords were bright and steeds were prancing; The vision of a warrior bold Would set him dancing.
The speaker claims that Miniver Cheevy cherished the “days of old” in the subsequent verse. The poet then describes a time when “swords were bright and steeds were prancing”. It serves as a metaphor for the chevaliers or knights. In addition, the poet claims that the “vision of warrior” who was courageous would make him dance. He therefore cherished the pre-modern civilization in which heroes such as nobles and fighters were revered.
Despite being a sad person, Cheevy enjoys a specific item, according to the speaker. History appeals to Cheevy. He is more interested in earlier times in history than he is in the present or his own past. The use of the phrase “swords” by the protagonist alludes to the European Middle Ages. In the line that follows, the speaker asserts that Miniver Cheevy loved the “days of old”. The poet continues by describing a period in which “swords were bright and steeds were prancing.” It represents the chevaliers or knights metaphorically. The poet also asserts that the “vision of warrior” who was brave would cause him to dance. He therefore treasured the pre-modern culture, where warriors and nobility were held in high esteem.
Miniver sighed for what was not, And dreamed, and rested from his labors; He dreamed of Thebes and Camelot, And Priam’s neighbors
In the third stanza it showed that he therefore enjoyed immersing himself in recollections of the past. He had dreams about historic Thebes while he got a break from his routine employment. Ancient Greek city of Thebes. The “Camelot” court of King Arthur was an additional vision he had. He was also contended by what Priam, the last Trojan king, and the others around him were thinking. Miniver Cheevy, then, was a fan of both English folklore and classical architecture.
The speaker continues by describing Cheevy’s exalted reputation from earlier times. The steeds of the knights are skilled display animals in Cheevy’s dreams. He envisions these beasts carrying passengers in graceful movements. The speaker claims that while he visualizes these prehistoric soldiers wearing their defensive gear while perched on their livestock, Cheevy dances about. Thus, it was evident in the third verse that he delighted in losing himself in memories of the past. While taking a break from his regular work, he had visions about ancient Thebes. Thebes was a city in ancient Greece. Another vision he had was of King Arthur’s court in “Camelot.” The thoughts of those around him, including the previous Trojan king Priam, also troubled him. So Miniver Cheevy loved both classical architecture and English folklore.
Miniver mourned the ripe renown That made so many a name so fragrant; He mourned Romance, now on the town, And Art, a vagrant.
In the fourth stanza, the poem compares itself to ancient using the analogy of ripe fruit. The poet claimed that because old civilization was so advanced, it was “so fragrant” to hear and ponder about the identities of notable individuals. Miniver lamented the contemporary “Romance” that was prevalent in the city, stating that the medieval romance was significantly superior to it. Additionally, contemporary artwork was erratic like a nomad. Traditional art, on the other hand, rarely veered from the guidelines provided by very intelligent individuals.
This stanza reveals his disregard for his present life and how much he adored his past. He yearns for what is out of his reach. Classical art is viewed in the highest regard. So Miniver seeks solace in daydreaming about the lost glorious days which he can never attain in his life. He escapes to his own head where he has created fantasies regarding the past. His longing for the past is a mere disillusionment which he refuses to admit.
Miniver loved the Medici, Albeit he had never seen one; He would have sinned incessantly Could he have been one.
Here the speaker talks of his love towards Medici. The House of Medici was an Italian banking family that rose to fame in the 15th century in the Republic of Florence. It’s ironic that in spite of his adulation and admiration, Medici had never seen one of them. But he was willing to commit sins to reach the height of Medici. This showed how addicted Miniver Cheevy is.
Miniver clearly believes that he is too talented for the times he inhabits as a result of this way of reasoning. Miniver behaves as if he corresponds to a more advanced era since he romanticizes historical periods from prehistory to the middle ages and feels that he was “born too late.” This is often a rather arrogant method to navigate the globe. Miniver is able to persuade oneself that he is superior to his predecessors thanks to this mentality, notwithstanding the reality that he has done none to truly demonstrate this.
Miniver cursed the commonplace And eyed a khaki suit with loathing; He missed the mediæval grace Of iron clothing.
The speaker looked at a khaki suit with loathing. He despises that and bemoans the glorious armour worn by the warriors in the medieval period. It was more elegant than any uniform worn by anyone today. This reflected Miniver’s profound respect for ancient warriors.
Miniver’s obsession becomes apparent as the poem progresses. His idea of nobility rests with the valiant warriors of the medieval time. Miniver laments the long lost days and wishes it comes back. He refuses to be in the present and doesn’t associate with anyone as everyone is aware of his quirks. The speaker despised the khaki suit. He detests that and laments the magnificent armor that medieval soldiers wore. Compared to today’s uniforms, it was more elegant. This demonstrated Miniver’s deep admiration for ancestor soldiers.
Miniver scorned the gold he sought, But sore annoyed was he without it; Miniver thought, and thought, and thought, And thought about it.
The poet then likens the past to “gold” in the seventh verse of “Miniver Cheevy.” Antiquity was worth more to Miniver Cheevy than wealth. Even though he despised the past’s absence, being lacking it made him unhappy. He passed his time reflecting on the past as a result. The word “thought” is used multiple times in this sentence to emphasize both the process of pondering and a continuous stream of ideas.
Here the poet shows that all the riches don’t exist only through material wealth but through experiences and living the ideal life like the ones did in the past. It made him unhappy to think he is not going to be a part of that past ideal life. He passed his time reflecting on the past as a result. The word “thought” is used multiple times in this sentence to emphasize both the process of pondering and a continuous stream of ideas.
Miniver Cheevy, born too late, Scratched his head and kept on thinking; Miniver coughed, and called it fate, And kept on drinking.
Miniver doesn’t know how to console himself but believes that he is “born too late.” He puts it down and blames it on fate. Drinking soothes him as he escapes to his thoughts.
Miniver’s disappointment at being considered “born too late” is discussed in the concluding line. He therefore massaged his head in confusion and continued to contemplate. He occasionally choked and attributed it to “fate”. He continued to drink in spite of his abject contempt for his state. The poem’s final stanza is thought-provoking yet said in a bemusing behavior.