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Featured Poem: Karma by Edwin Arlington Robinson

Written by Lisa Spurgin, 10th December 2018

The Reader's Learning and Quality Coordinator, Lisa Spurgin, shares her thoughts on this week's Featured Poem, Karma by Edwin Arlington Robinson.

The concept of ‘karma’ is an interesting one to think about in relation to this time of year. ‘What goes around comes around’ is the phrase that springs to mind, that little reminder in the back of our heads to strive to do the best we can, be kind and helpful to others even when we’re finding it hard ourselves. If someone is particularly adept at practicing karma then perhaps they’ll offer a hand or encouraging word to us at the time we most need it, if we happen to lift our head and be on the look-out. It’s these simple little acts that make the world continue to be a good place to live in, in spite of global events that seem to be spiraling out of control.

That little reminder is also making me think about two figures associated with the season, one of whom features in this poem, and who seems to act as a jolt of conscience for the person the poem centres upon:

He pondered; and the reason for it was,
Partly, a slowly freezing Santa Claus
Upon the corner, with his beard and bell.

I can picture this particular Santa in question, with a donation box as well as his beard, red suit and bell, still cheery despite ‘slowly freezing’ on a street corner, bringing a smile to passers-by. Parents might take the opportunity to point him out to their children, reminding them that they need to be nice to their siblings, eat their vegetables and go to bed on time, else Santa might not bring them the gifts that they want. As we get older, such warnings are in danger of going unheeded, and this might be true of this person too, given an ‘improvident surprise’ by the memory of his unfortunate friend.

I’m not entirely sure about the ‘divers of God’s images’ – religious followers, perhaps? Those who give of themselves more wholeheartedly? – but it does seem that the time of year is giving this person some pause for thought and soul-searching. The fact that ‘he magnified a fancy that he wished the friend whom he had wrecked were here again’ is touching, and makes me think that Christmas is the time of year where we often think of friendships lost, through whatever reason.

The second figure the ‘moral’ of the poem brings to mind is Ebenezer Scrooge, who almost appears as a mirror to the man in the poem: someone who has placed too much focus on his financial success at the detriment of personal relationships and is now regretting the fact. The person in this poem perhaps doesn’t have a revelation quite on the same grand scale as Scrooge but he does at least have a flash of something good, a surge in ‘the fulness of his heart’, and surely that small act is something worth celebrating in the hope that the coming years will bring forth yet more worthy deeds.


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.

by Edwin Arlington Robinson

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