‘Miniver Cheevy’ by Edwin Arlington Robinson talks about a person who was born in an age that seemed alien to him. Miniver Cheevy always kept himself busy in his self-aware thinking of his sense of being an anachronism or throwback. From the title of the poem, the poet tries to hint at the mental disposition of the character. The titular character has a name of medieval origin. From his name, it becomes clear Robinson is going to talk about a person who is an odd piece in the puzzle of time.
Summary of Miniver Cheevy
Miniver Cheevy was a “child of scorn” who had reasons to hate the time he belonged to. He longed for the “days of old” when kings and knights dominated society. Miniver Cheevy often thought about antiquity and it made him sad. The age was not for him as it didn’t match with the classical age in any sense. Whatsoever, he knew scorning what was not, increased the burden in his heart. Hence, he kept on drinking and subdued his emotions with the thoughts of the past.
Meaning of Miniver Cheevy
‘Miniver Cheevy’ has an interesting meaning behind its title or the name of the character. In the Medieval age, “Miniver” was a fur of white or spotted white and gray used for linings and trimmings. It also refers to any white fur, made of ermine, especially used on robes of state. Whereas, “Cheevy” resembles the French noun “cheval” which means horse. Another French noun, “chevalier” means an armed knight mounted on a horse. So, the name of the character dates back to the old times and is associated with the royal or chivalric codes.
Structure of Miniver Cheevy
‘Miniver Cheevy’ by Edwin Arlington Robinson consists of eight quatrains having a regular rhyme scheme. The rhyme scheme of the overall poem is ABAB. So, the lines of the poem rhyme alternatively. Moreover, each stanza of the poem contains a regular syllable count. The first three lines contain eight syllables each followed by a line containing five syllables in it. In each foot, stress falls on the second syllable. Hence, the poem is composed in iambic tetrameter and the last line of each stanza is hypermetrical and in iambic dimeter.
Literary Devices in Miniver Cheevy
‘Miniver Cheevy’ begins with a metaphor of “child of scorn”. Here, the poet compares Miniver Cheevy to a scornful child. The last two lines of the first stanza contain irony. Thereafter, the poet uses another metaphor in “days of old”. There is a hyperbaton in the line, “The vision of warrior bold”. In the third stanza, there are allusions to the ancient Greek city of “Thebes”, the royal court of King Arthur, “Camelot”, and the last Trojan King, “Priam”. Thereafter, in the fourth stanza, the poet uses personification. Here, he personifies “Romance” and “Art”. There is also a metonymy in the usage of the word “gold” in the seventh stanza. However, in the last two lines of the poem, the poet uses alliteration.
Themes in Miniver Cheevy
‘Miniver Cheevy’ contains several themes such as past vs present, antiquity, and cynicism. In this poem, the poet talks about a character who is stuck inside the clash between the past and present. According to him, the past is where the glory lies and the present is just a caricature of the past. His attitude to the present moment seems as if he was frustrated with the things happening around him. However, the theme of antiquity is another important aspect of the poem. It’s the poet’s love for classicism that he implies through the character sketch of Miniver Cheevy. Moreover, the theme of cynicism is present throughout the poem. Here, Miniver is doubtful about the dignity of contemporary art and harmony in the new social structure.
Analysis of Miniver Cheevy
Miniver Cheevy, child of scorn,
Grew lean while he assailed the seasons;
He wept that he was ever born,
And he had reasons.
The first stanza presents the character of Miniver Cheevy, a romantic and anachronic, in the first stanza. He is a “child of scorn” who hates the time when he was born. Miniver grew lean for frustration and always assailed the seasons. He wept that he was ever born and he had reasons for such contempt for the age he was living in. In the following stanzas, Robinson presents the reasons which cause Miniver Cheevy’s mental pain.
Miniver loved the days of old
When swords were bright and steeds were prancing;
The vision of a warrior bold
Would set him dancing.
In the second stanza, the poet says Miniver Cheevy loved the “days of old”. Thereafter, the poet refers to the age when “swords were bright and steeds were prancing”. It’s a symbolic representation of the chevaliers or knights. Moreover, the poet says, the “vision of warrior” who was bold, would set him dancing. So, he loved the old society where people worshipped the heroism of the knights or warriors.
Miniver sighed for what was not,
And dreamed, and rested from his labors;
He dreamed of Thebes and Camelot,
And Priam’s neighbors.
Thereafter, in the third stanza, Edwin Arlington Robinson says, “Miniver sighed for what was not”. So, he was a person who loved to be in his thoughts of antiquity. When he took rest from his daily work, he dreamed of ancient Thebes. Thebes is a city of ancient Greece. He also dreamed of King Arthur’s court, “Camelot”. Moreover, the thoughts of the last Trojan king, Priam, and his neighbors also gave him satisfaction. So, Miniver Cheevy was a lover of classicism as well as the folk tradition of England.
Miniver mourned the ripe renown
That made so many a name so fragrant;
He mourned Romance, now on the town,
And Art, a vagrant.
The poem uses a metaphor of ripe fruit to compare it with antiquity in the fourth stanza. Moreover, there is alliteration in “Miniver mourned” and “ripe renown” as well. According to the poet, ancient culture was at such a height that made the names of the figures belonging to that era “so fragrant” to hear and think about. However, Miniver mourned the modern “Romance” that was popular in the town as the medieval romance was far better than it. And, modern art was inconstant like a vagabond. Whereas, classical art never deviated from the rules suggested by highly intellectual minds.
Miniver loved the Medici,
Albeit he had never seen one;
He would have sinned incessantly
Could he have been one.
In the fifth stanza, Edwin Arlington Robinson says Miniver loved the Medici. The House of Medici was an Italian banking family and political dynasty that became prominent in the Republic of Florence in the 15th century. However, the poet says Miniver had never seen one of them. He would have sinned incessantly for reaching the height of the Medicis. Such was the fascination of Miniver Cheevy for the past.
Miniver cursed the commonplace
And eyed a khaki suit with loathing;
He missed the mediæval grace
Of iron clothing.
According to the poet, Miniver Cheevy cursed the “commonplace”. In contrast, he looked at a khaki suit with loathing. What he missed the most, was the medieval armor of the warriors. It was more graceful than the “khaki suit” or the uniform of modern soldiers. In this way, the poet refers to Miniver’s adoration for the ancient warriors. Mostly, he liked the things that had a medieval scent on it.
Miniver scorned the gold he sought,
But sore annoyed was he without it;
Miniver thought, and thought, and thought,
And thought about it.
Thereafter, in the seventh stanza of ‘Miniver Cheevy’, the poet compares the past to “gold”. Past was as precious as gold to Miniver Cheevy. Though he scorned the memory of the past, he became annoyed without it. For this reason, he spent the day thinking about the past. Here, the repetition of “thought” is meant for emphasizing the act of thinking and it also refers to a continuing chain of thoughts. However, this literary device is called palilogy.
Miniver Cheevy, born too late,
Scratched his head and kept on thinking;
Miniver coughed, and called it fate,
And kept on drinking.
The last stanza refers to Miniver’s frustration at having been “born too late”. Hence, he scratched his head for not knowing what to do and kept on thinking. Sometimes, he coughed and blamed his “fate”. In utter disgust for his condition, he kept on drinking. However, the last section of the poem is humorous enough.
Historical Context of Miniver Cheevy
‘Miniver Cheevy’ is a narrative poem that was first published in “The Town down the River” in 1910. According to scholars, the character of Miniver Cheevy is a self-portrait of the poet. Like Miniver, Robinson was also an anachronism or throwback. While some scholars suggest that Miniver was a critique of contemporary culture. Whatsoever, in this poem, Robinson tries to uncover the magnanimity and grace of ancient Greece, Rome, and England. Moreover, Robinson was fascinated with antiquity and ancient culture. Likewise, the character of Miniver Cheevy also “loved the days of old”.
Apart from that, the character sketch of Miniver Cheevy is similar to ‘Richard Cory’ by Edwin Arlington Robinson. Richard Cory is a deeply discontented individual who is unable to connect with modern society. However, Robinson’s preoccupation with such characters is one of the reasons why some critics called him, “America’s poet laureate of unhappiness”.
Like ‘Miniver Cheevy’ by Edwin Arlington Robinson, here is a list of a few poems that similarly talk about a person like Miniver indulged in the thoughts of past culture and similar kinds of themes.
- Luke Havergal by Edwin Arlington Robinson – Like ‘The Mill’ and ‘The House on the Hill’, the tone and mood of this poem are similar to that of ‘Miniver Cheevy’.
- Past Days by Anne Brontë – Here, in this poem, Anne Brontë explores one’s escapism to past thoughts and juxtaposes the past with the present innovatively.
- Past, Present, Future by Emily Brontë – In this poem, Emily Brontë talks about time and the differences between the past and the present.
- And Did Those Feet in Ancient Time by William Blake – In this poem, William Blake, one of the best 18th-century British poets, presents a contrast between tradition and modern industrialized society. It’s one of the best William Blake poems.