Karma by Edwin Arlington Robinson

The artist

As much as I love and enjoy literature, poetry is one of the most challenging aspect of literature to me. Many a times it isn’t easy to decode what the poet is trying to say due to its obscure meanings and hidden symbolisms. It is confusing. In the end, I try to avoid them altogether.

But on the insistence of Mr Chandran, our literature teacher, I forced myself to sit still and read the piece Karma, by Edwin Arlington Robinson :

Christmas was in the air and all was well
With him, but for a few confusing flaws
In divers of God’s images. Because
A friend of his would neither buy nor sell,
Was he to answer for the axe that fell?
He pondered; and the reason for it was,
Partly, a slowly freezing Santa Claus
Upon the corner, with his beard and bell.

Acknowledging an improvident surprise,
He magnified a fancy that he wished
The friend whom he had wrecked were here again.
Not sure of that, he found a compromise;
And from the fulness of his heart he fished
A dime for Jesus who had died for men.

At first read, I could not make it out. Who was the protagonist in this poem? And who is this friend? And why do I feel depressed after I was done reading it?

It was only later that I finally understood.

It was a story of a stockbroker, who betrayed his friend and made him bankrupt. He feels guilty about it. Due to the Christmas holidays, he tries to make himself feel better about it by donating to the charity. But his act of donating just ten cents makes the entire gesture farce.

The more I read it, the more I appreciated this piece of poetry. I can’t believe I actually decoded that one.

Mr Chandran says that a good piece of poetry retells a story in a very subtle manner. And suddenly I feel so enlightened.

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