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Mr. Flood's Party
By Edwin Arlington Robinson (1869-1935)
A Study Guide
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Type of Work
Setting
Text of the Poem
Summary
Figures of Speech
Eben Flood: Play on Words
Rhyme Scheme
Meter
Themes
Robinson as Mr. Flood
Questions, Essay Topics
Author's Biography
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Compiled by Michael J. Cummings... 2008
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Type of Work

.......“Mr. Flood's Party” is a dramatic lyric poem centering on a lonely old man. The poem consists of seven stanzas, each with eight lines, for a total of fifty-six lines. The Nation magazine published it on November 24, 1920. In 1921, the Macmillan Company published it in New York in Collected Poems (of Edwin Arlington Robinson).

Setting

.......The action takes place near fictional Tilbury Town, a community modeled on Robinson’s hometown of Gardiner, Maine. Gardiner is on the Kennebec River in southwestern Maine a few miles south of the state capital, Augusta. Robinson used Tilbury Town as the setting of many of his poems, including the highly popular Richard Cory and Miniver Cheevy, although his poems seldom mention the town by name. In "Mr. Flood's Party," the action begins and ends on a deserted road between Tilbury Town and Mr. Flood's house.
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Text of the Poem

Old Eben Flood, climbing along 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.         5
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; 10
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, 15
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.        20
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        25
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        30
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        35
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.        40

“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        45
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, 50
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 55
That many friends had opened long ago.

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Summary With Explanations

.......After filling a jug with liquor in Tilbury Town, old Eben Flood returns to his home at the end of a deserted road. He lives there alone. All his old friends are dead now. Whether he once had a wife and children is not revealed. 
.......It is the time of the harvest moon, a full moon that appears at the beginning of autumn. Looking at it, Eben Flood must wonder whether he himself ever produced anything worth harvesting.
.......At the top of a hill between the town and his house, Eben pauses to talk to his companion—himself—noting, “The bird is on the wing.” It is a quotation from a famous lyric poem, the Rubiyt of Omar Khayym. The bird is time, which stops for no man. Everyone must grow old; everyone must die. So Eben decides that he and his companion “[d]rink to the bird” (line 13) as they have done on previous trips back from town, while there is still time left for them to make merry.
.......Eben's other self responds to the invitation, saying, “Well, Mr. Flood, / Since you propose it, I believe I will” (lines 15-16). Then the lonely old man in the middle of the road takes a swig. In a metaphor, the narrator of Mr. Flood’s little story observes that Eben is like a warrior outfitted with armor. But Eben’s armor is fashioned from the hopes he carried into his battles with life—hopes scarred by combat before he had a chance to fulfill them, hopes now outmoded by the passage of time.
.......In some ways, the narrator says, Eben is like Roland, the tragic hero of a French epic poem, The Song of Roland (La Chanson de Roland), centering on the Battle of Roncevalles (near a village with a similar name, Roncevaux) in 778 between the forces of Charlemagne and an invading force of Moors. As Roland commands Charlemagne’s rear guard at Roncevalles, he fights valiantly but dies after blowing his horn to summon help that never comes because all his soldiers are dead. 
.......So it is that the narrator compares Eben Flood to “Roland’s ghost winding a silent horn” (line 20). No one pays attention to Eben anymore; he has only himself.
.......Eben gently puts down the jug and addresses his other self, saying it has been awhile since they have been together on this road; many changes have taken place. To celebrate their reunion, Eben picks up the jug and drinks to “auld lang syne” (line 42)—that is, to the good old days—then breaks out into song. Afterward, he takes another swig. By this time, he is feeling quite tipsy. In fact, when he looks at the sky, he sees two moons.
.......Ahead of him on the road is his empty house. Behind him is a town where his friends once lived, friends who had respected him. Now only strangers live there, and the doors of their homes are no longer open to him.

Examples of Figures of Speech

Alliteration: not a native near (line 6)
Metaphor: valiant armor of scarred hopes (line 18, comparing a protective covering to desires)
Metaphor: scarred hopes (line 18, comparing hopes to objects that can be marred or disfigured)
Simile: He stood there . . . like Roland's ghost (lines 19-20, comparing Mr. Flood to a ghost)
Metaphor: knowing that most things break (line 28, an implied comparison of the jug and other things to broken human beings)
Alliteration: soon amid the silver
Metaphor: silver loneliness (line 45, comparing loneliness to an object with a hue)
Metaphor: two moons listening (line 47, comparing the moons to creatures that can hear)
Alliteration: whole harmonious (line 48)
Alliteration: word wavered (line 50)

Eben Flood: a Play on Words

.......K. L. Knickerbocker and H. Willard Reninger say the name Eben Flood represents "ebb and flood, the passing of time" (Interpreting Literature. New York: Holt, 1969, page 329). Other scholars maintain that the name suggests the ebb and flow (or flood) of Mr. Flood's life. He had his ups (flows) and downs (ebbs)—mostly downs, apparently. Eben is short for Ebenezer, a biblical name. In 1 Samuel of the Hebrew and Protestant Bibles (and 1 Kings in the Catholic Bible), chapters 7-12 present an account of how Samuel—a judge, prophet, and military leader—defeated the Philistines near Mizpah (also called Mizpeh and Masphath) after sacrificing a lamb to the Lord and calling upon his help. In observance of the victory, he erected a memorial stone called Ebenezer, meaning "stone of help," between Mizpah and Shen (also called Sen) at the site of the battle. 
.......It is interesting to note that "Mr. Flood's Party" contains military imagery suggesting that Mr. Flood took part in a battle:

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. 
Roland is the tragic hero of a French epic poem, The Song of Roland (La Chanson de Roland), centering on the Battle of Roncevalles (near a village with a similar name, Roncevaux) in 778 between the forces of Charlemagne and an invading force of Moors. As Roland commands Charlemagne’s rear guard at Roncevalles, he fights valiantly but dies after blowing his horn to summon help that never comes because all his soldiers are dead. 
.......It is also interesting to note that the poem places Eben Flood on a road between two locales, Tilbury Town and his house. (Samuel erected the stone of help between two towns.) Was Eben Flood at one time a "stone of help"? The poem suggests in lines 21-24 that he had done something to earn recognition and respect from his friends. From their graves, they give him a "phantom salutation" (line 23). But now, like the Ebenezer stone of the Bible, he is no more than a memorial—a relic from days gone by. 

Rhyme Scheme and Meter

.......In each stanza, the second line rhymes with the fourth and the sixth with the eighth. The meter is iambic pentameter, with ten syllables (or four feet) per line. An iambic foot consists of an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable. The first four lines of the poem demonstrate the metric pattern.

....1................2...................3................4.................5
Old E..|..ben FLOOD,..|..climb ING..|..a LONG..|..one NIGHT 
....1...............2.................3................4.................5
Ov ER..|..the HILL..|..be TWEEN..|..the TOWN..|..be LOW
.....1................2.............3................4................5
And THE..|..for SA..|..ken UP..|..land HERM..|..i TAGE
......1..................2...............3..............4.................5
That HELD..|..as MUCH..|..as HE..|..should EV..|..er KNOW
E. A. Robinson: a Successful Mr. Flood

.......When Edwin Arlington Robinson created Mr. Flood, he looked inward; for in a way he was Mr. Flood—a man driven to drink. 
.......In the 1890s, when Robinson was in his twenties, his brother Herman married the woman Edwin loved. Then Edwin's father died, his family went bankrupt, his mother died, his brother Herman began drinking heavily, and in 1899 his brother Dean died after becoming addicted to Morphine. 
.......Edwin worked at various jobs to sustain himself while writing his verses. He knew poverty. He knew failure. And, like Mr. Flood and his brother Herman, he turned to alcohol. However, after his poetry gained recognition in the first decade of the twentieth century—President Theodore Roosevelt was one of his admirers—he began succeeding as a poet even though he continued to struggle financially. After Roosevelt intervened on his behalf to get him a government job in a customs house, Robinson's financial problems eased, and he received favorable reviews for his poetry. Eventually, he went on to win three Pulitzer Prizes.

Themes

.......The themes of "Mr. Flood's Party" include the following:

Loneliness

Mr. Flood lives alone, all his friends have died, and the townspeople shun him. 

Desperation

Mr. Flood is so desperate for company that he talks to himself.

Carpe Diem (Seize the Day)

In line 11, Mr. Flood notes that "[t]he bird is on the wing," meaning that time is passing swiftly. So, realizing that death is not far off, he tries to make the most of the time he has left—by holding a drinking party with himself: 

“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.” (lines 9-13)
Inexorable Passage of Time

Mr. Flood is keenly aware that time is racing by and that there is nothing he can do to stop it. The harvest moon (line 9), the bird (line 11), and his dead friends (lines 22-23) all remind him that time stops for no one.

Study Questions and Essay Topics

1. Mr. Flood drinks to ease the pain of loneliness. Is loneliness a major problem of today's elderly?
2. Write a two-stanza poem centering on loneliness.
3. In an essay, compare and contrast Mr. Flood with Miniver Cheevy, the subject of another Robinson poem. Click here to access the "Richard Cory" study guide.
4. Write an essay based on a theme in the poem.
5. Is the road a symbol (for life, for example)? What about the house (upland hermitage, line 3)?
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