Mr. Flood’s Party

Edwin Arlington Robinson

‘Mr. Flood’s Party’ by Edwin Arlington Robinson describes a man’s later years in life and how lonely he has become. It suggests that a long life is not always a blessing. 

Edwin Arlington Robinson

Nationality: America

Edwin Arlington Robinson was an American poet.

He won the first Pulitzer Prize in Poetry.

Key Poem Information

Central Message: A long life isn't always a good thing.

Speaker: Unknown

Emotions Evoked: Grief, Sadness

Poetic Form: Octave

Time Period: 20th Century

Robinson alludes to the loneliness that often comes at the end of life in this poem.

This deeply sad poem focuses on a single man, Eben Flood, who has outlived everyone he’s ever loved. Now, alone in the world, he deals with intense loneliness and spends his time thinking about those he’s lost. The poem is divided into eight, even octaves that take readers into a few moments of one night in this man’s life. 

Mr. Flood's Party
Edwin Arlington Robinson

Old Eben Flood, climbing alone one night
Over the hill between the town below
And the forsaken upland hermitage
That held as much as he should ever know
On earth again of home, paused warily.
The road was his with not a native near;
And Eben, having leisure, said aloud,
For no man else in Tilbury Town to hear:

"Well, Mr. Flood, we have the harvest moon
Again, and we may not have many more;
The bird is on the wing, the poet says,
And you and I have said it here before.
Drink to the bird." He raised up to the light
The jug that he had gone so far to fill,
And answered huskily: "Well, Mr. Flood,
Since you propose it, I believe I will."

Alone, as if enduring to the end
A valiant armor of scarred hopes outworn,
He stood there in the middle of the road
Like Roland's ghost winding a silent horn.
Below him, in the town among the trees,
Where friends of other days had honored him,
A phantom salutation of the dead
Rang thinly till old Eben's eyes were dim.

Then, as a mother lays her sleeping child
Down tenderly, fearing it may awake,
He set the jug down slowly at his feet
With trembling care, knowing that most things break;
And only when assured that on firm earth
It stood, as the uncertain lives of men
Assuredly did not, he paced away,
And with his hand extended paused again:

"Well, Mr. Flood, we have not met like this
In a long time; and many a change has come
To both of us, I fear, since last it was
We had a drop together. Welcome home!"
Convivially returning with himself,
Again he raised the jug up to the light;
And with an acquiescent quaver said:
"Well, Mr. Flood, if you insist, I might.

"Only a very little, Mr. Flood—
For auld lang syne. No more, sir; that will do."
So, for the time, apparently it did,
And Eben evidently thought so too;
For soon amid the silver loneliness
Of night he lifted up his voice and sang,
Secure, with only two moons listening,
Until the whole harmonious landscape rang—

"For auld lang syne." The weary throat gave out,
The last word wavered; and the song being done,
He raised again the jug regretfully
And shook his head, and was again alone.
There was not much that was ahead of him,
And there was nothing in the town below—
Where strangers would have shut the many doors
That many friends had opened long ago.
Mr. Flood’s Party by Edwin Arlington Robinson


Summary 

‘Mr. Flood’s Party’ by Edwin Arlington Robinson is a heart-wrenching poem about loneliness and loss. 

The poem describes an old man walking up a hill, away from town, to his home. There, he walks outside alone, talking to ghosts of his past and thinking about everything that’s changed. It’s clear he’s entirely alone in the world and that everyone he’s loved has passed away. 

Structure and Form 

‘Mr. Flood’s Party’ by Edwin Arlington Robinson is a six-stanza poem that is divided into octaves or sets of eight lines. These lines follow a rhyme scheme of ABCBDEFE. There are only two repeated end sounds in each stanza. They are the second and fourth lines, as well as the sixth and eighth lines. This unique interwoven pattern creates a feeling of rhyme without overwhelming the reader with rhymed lines. 

Literary Devices 

The poet uses a few different literary devices that include: 

  • Caesura: an intentional pause in the middle of a line of verse. For example, “On earth again of home, paused warily.”
  • Assonance: the repetition of the same vowel sound. For example, “Old,” “alone,” “over,” and “below” in lines one and two of stanza one. 
  • Dialogue: there are examples of dialogue, or lines of speech often seen in quotation marks, in this poem. For instance, “And answered huskily: “Well, Mr. Flood, / Since you propose it, I believe I will.”
  • Simile: a comparison between two things that uses “like” or “as.” For example, “Alone, as if enduring to the end / A valiant armor of scarred hopes outworn.” 


Detailed Analysis 

Stanza One 

Old Eben Flood, climbing alone one night

Over the hill between the town below

And the forsaken upland hermitage

That held as much as he should ever know

On earth again of home, paused warily.

The road was his with not a native near;

And Eben, having leisure, said aloud,

For no man else in Tilbury Town to hear:

In the first lines of ‘Mr. Flood’s Party,’ the speaker begins by describing a man named “Eben Flood,” after whom the poem is named, walking up a hill between the “town” and the “hermitage” that’s upland (a hermitage is a small dwelling that belongs to a hermit). 

It was within that small home that Mr. Flood kept “as much as he should ever know / On earth again of home.” It was an important place to him and represented everything he had in the waking world. 

He paused as he walked, alone on his father with “not a native near.” This line suggests that Mr. Flood is not from the area and that he’s different in some way from those who are. But, he’s alone, unwatched, going about his business. 

The place gets a name in the last line of the stanza— “Tillbury Town.” He speaks to himself at this moment, knowing that there is no one around to hear him. The poet uses an example of enjambment, adding a feeling of suspense to the poem as readers wait to find out what it is Mr. Flood has to say. 

Stanza Two 

“Well, Mr. Flood, we have the harvest moon 

Again, and we may not have many more;

The bird is on the wing, the poet says,

And you and I have said it here before.

Drink to the bird.” He raised up to the light

The jug that he had gone so far to fill,

And answered huskily: “Well, Mr. Flood,

Since you propose it, I believe I will.”

He speaks in the third person, saying that it is the time is the harvest moon, near the end of September, and that as an old man, he may not experience many more moons such as this. While it may seem like Mr. Flood is talking to someone else, he’s only speaking to himself.

He decides to drink to his life and any time he has left. Although he’s talking to himself, his words are very congenial sounding. But, there is an unavoidable tinge of sadness to them as he is entirely alone. 

Stanza Three

Alone, as if enduring to the end

A valiant armor of scarred hopes outworn,

He stood there in the middle of the road

Like Roland’s ghost winding a silent horn.

Below him, in the town among the trees,

Where friends of other days had honored him,

A phantom salutation of the dead

Rang thinly till old Eben’s eyes were dim.

If readers were questioning his loneliness, the poet uses the word “Alone” at the beginning of the stanza, making sure all are aware that Flood is talking to himself. 

The man stands in the middle of the road, having endured a great deal throughout his life, “like Roland’s ghost.” This is an allusion to a tragic hero from French literature in the poem La Chanson de Roland. Roland dies valiantly on the battlefield (related to the speaker’s description of “valiant armor”). His armor is different, though; it’s made of hope that has been outworn with the passage of time. 

Mr. Flood is like Roland in that as the hero dies, he blows a horn that no one hears because all his soldiers are dead as well. This reemphasizes how alone Roland is. There is no one there to hear his toast. 

From where he stands, he can see the town below him where his friends and family members used to live. But, the poem reveals, they’re all dead now. Mr. Flood has outlived them all. 

Stanza Four

Then, as a mother lays her sleeping child

Down tenderly, fearing it may awake,

He set the jug down slowly at his feet

With trembling care, knowing that most things break;

And only when assured that on firm earth

It stood, as the uncertain lives of men

Assuredly did not, he paced away,

And with his hand extended paused again:

The poet uses a simile to describe how Mr. Flood puts his cup down on the ground. He does so gently as if he’s a mother trying not to wake her sleeping child. He knows that “most things break.” This is inspired by his long life in which he experienced a great deal of loss.

He only walked away from the cup after he knew it wouldn’t fall over. It stood there in a way that human lives do not. They are eventually going to fall over or die, and the cup is not. 

It’s with this that he walks away from the cup before pausing once more with his hand held out.

 

Stanza Five 

“Well, Mr. Flood, we have not met like this

In a long time; and many a change has come

To both of us, I fear, since last it was

We had a drop together. Welcome home!”

Convivially returning with himself,

Again he raised the jug up to the light;

And with an acquiescent quaver said:

“Well, Mr. Flood, if you insist, I might.

The man continues talking to himself in these next lines, presumably remembering friends and lost relatives that are returning to him in his mind. He converses with himself or with them and decides to drink from the cup. There are caring words in these lines, which are likely very welcome in Mr. Flood’s empty life. It’s this part of the poem that connects to the word “party” in the title. The deeply sad nature of the lines reveals how truly ironic the title is.

Stanza Six 

“Only a very little, Mr. Flood—

For auld lang syne. No more, sir; that will do.”

So, for the time, apparently it did,

And Eben evidently thought so too;

For soon amid the silver loneliness

Of night he lifted up his voice and sang,

Secure, with only two moons listening,

Until the whole harmonious landscape rang—

He decides to drink just a little from the cup, and it does, as he expects, seem like enough. It inspires him to sing into the lonely and empty night by himself on the hillside. He sings as if in celebration and as he is entirely by himself even though “two moons listened,” and he lets his harmonies ring out across the landscape. 

The singing is a part of Mr. Flood’s sad party celebrations. He sings as he would’ve with friends and relatives but is instead entirely alone. There is an element of beauty in these lines as the poet describes his song as bringing the entire landscape together in harmony. He’s a part of this place in a way that others are not since he’s lived there so long. It’s filled with his experiences.

Stanza Seven

“For auld lang syne.” The weary throat gave out,

The last word wavered; and the song being done,

He raised again the jug regretfully

And shook his head, and was again alone.

There was not much that was ahead of him,

And there was nothing in the town below—

Where strangers would have shut the many doors

That many friends had opened long ago.

He uses again the phrase “For auld lang syne” or “for the old times.” He’s singing for his past, those he used to know and lost, and likely who he used to be when those he loved were around him. 

He drank again and shook his head, shaking off the ghost-like memories of the dead that surrounded him on that hillside. The poet uses the line “There was not much that was ahead of him,” alluding to the fact that Mr. Flood is very old and doesn’t have many months or years left. 

There’s not much left for him in the way of years or when it comes to living his life in a way that makes him happy. He is without friends or family members, and there is no one in the town who cares about him. 

The final line of the poem is deeply sad. It describes strangers shutting the doors that friends opened many years ago. The homes that used to belong to his friends are now owned and lived in by strangers, people who want nothing to do with him. It’s clear he feels incredibly alone in a world that has little left of what he knew in his life. 

FAQs 

What is the meaning of ‘Mr. Flood’s Party?’

The meaning is that old age isn’t always a blessing. Eben Flood is entirely alone in the world. So much so that strangers are living in the homes that used to belong to his close friends. 

What is the message of ‘Mr. Flood’s Party?’

The message is that one should love and appreciate their friends and family members while they can, as life and companionship don’t last forever. 

What is the tone of ‘Mr. Flood’s Party?’

The tone is sorrowful and lonely. The subject of the poem is entirely alone in the world and, despite the use of the word “party” in the title and some warmer language in the poem, is without a friend in the world. 

What is ironic about the title of ‘Mr. Flood’s Party?’

The “party” described in the title is nothing of the sort. It is ironic because Mr. Flood is alone, and his “party” consists of him talking to himself. 


Similar Poetry 

Readers who enjoyed this poem should also consider reading some other Edwin Arlington Robinson poems. For example: 

  • Luke Havergal– speaks about themes of suicide and love. 
  • Miniver Cheevy’ – speaks about alienation and someone who feels like he’s living in the wrong time. 
  • Richard Cory’ – alludes to perceptions and reality and reminds readers how important it is to avoid judging based on appearances. 

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About
Emma graduated from East Carolina University with a BA in English, minor in Creative Writing, BFA in Fine Art, and BA in Art Histories. Literature is one of her greatest passions which she pursues through analyzing poetry on Poem Analysis.
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