Miniver Cheevy by Edwin Arlington Robinson: Summary and Analysis

Edwin Arlington Robinson's Miniver Cheevy is a narrative poem of thirty two lines first published in 1910 in 'The Town Down the River'. Robinson analyzes the modernist tendency of nostalgia through the medium of his character Miniver Cheevy. Miniver Cheevy spends his time thinking what would have happened to him if he was born in the earlier period.

Edwin A. Robinson (1869-1935)

In this narrative poem, the speaker simply narrates the lifestyle and thought patterns of Miniver Cheevy. The speaker doesn't seem as a person who keeps weeping all the time. There are reasons behind his weeping. Miniver Cheevy loves the past only because the past was the time of warriors and heroism, but a sense of heroism is no more in existence in these modern days. Everything now has become mechanized and human strength has been replaced by machinery power. In addition, he mourns for the literature of the past. He laments medieval forms and genres of literature are no more in existence. Likewise Cheevy dreams of falling in love with Medici to whom he has never seen. In fact Cheevy goes back to the imagination of past life. All this lamentation is the result of his sense of belatedness. He blames his futility and unlucky timing of his existence.

In the surface, this poem is mourning, sighing, weeping and nostalgia of a character for what is gone, but in a depth this poem represents the modernist people's attitude towards the past. Modernists feel that they are the late comers in history. Before they come many more things were consumed by their ancestors. So they have the sense of belatedness and nostalgia for what is gone. In this sense, belatedness and nostalgia are the dominant themes of modernist writings. This poem shows that modernists are nostalgia towards the past and nostalgia is the defining feature of romantics borrowed by modernism.

Some of the scholars criticize Robinson’s Miniver for not adjusting and not being able to integrate with society and its obvious changes. His extreme level of negation towards the change and lamentation on his own birth in this modern age is a king of self-destruction. Because of the creation of this type of sad and depressed characters, some critics call Robinson ‘America’s poet laureate of unhappiness.’

Miniver Cheevy is generally regarded as a self-portrait of the poet himself. The tone, characteristics sketched by Robinson and shared by the speaker Miniver, and the satiric humor of the poem all lead to that interpretation. Although as a satire of the poet himself, it is a delightful poem. More than a clever parody of Robinson as Miniver, the poem satirizes the age and, especially, its literary taste.

This poem is a satire with a double edged blade that cuts both the dullness of modern life and environment, and daydreams of the drunkard who just makes complaints and do nothing else to improve the situations. It minutely reveals the realistic story of American realism through the verse where a major character fails in action and falls into the grip of modern absurd daydreaming.

The title of the poem Miniver Cheevy is true to its theme of inaction and underachiever as the title is metaphorical. The meaning of the title is the one who is passive in action and small achiever. The character in the poem also complaints his present situation scorns his untimely birth in modern time. He wishes to be born in the medieval time where bravery and courage were counted. He does nothing to improve his current passive situation, rather he blames the modern development of technologies. He achieves nothing and his pain is more fueled by the intake of alcoholism.

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Edwin Arlington Robinson: Biography