Captain Israel Jordan House,
74 Lincoln Avenue
A sea captain, Captain Israel Jordan, had lived diagonally opposite the Robinson house, “with his hard, red face that only his laughter could wrinkle.” His widow, Lydia J. (Farnsworth) Jordan, dominated the children, secluding them in the house, finding Edwin Arlington Robinson an acceptable playmate for her children, Gus (Augustus) and Alice.
Portrait of Captain Israel Jordan
by A. Loos, Antwerp, 1859.*
The Jordan house was a refuge where the cookie jar in the pantry was open to him at all times. He relished the apples from the Jordan orchard, and they sent him those apples long after he left Gardiner. Gus and Alice understood him and made him feel important. With Gus and Alice he carried on a game of word hunting. Once he shouted, “I have found a new name! Melchizekek!” A wonderfully powerful portrait in oils and gilt frame depicts Captain Jordan. The painting is in the Special Collections Department at Colby College, but this poem immortalizes Captain Jordan, who drowned with his entire crew of the ship Washington in 1885.
The association of Captain Israel Jordan with the drowned captain in “Pasa Thalassa Thalassa” accords with the list of identifications compiled by Emma Robinson as well as all biographies of Robinson. The title of this poem is a Greek phrase, “the sea is everywhere the sea,” derived from The Greek Anthology that Robinson had read in translation. It is an elegy, a lament on death. Robinson used elegiac dactylic hexameter couplets with a pause in the middle of the second line.
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Pasa Thalassa Thalassa
“The sea is everywhere the sea.”
Gone—faded out of the story, the sea-faring friend I remember?
Gone for a decade, they say: never a word or a sign.
Gone with his hard red face that only his laughter could wrinkle,
Down where men go to be still, by the old way of the sea.
Never again will he come, with rings in his ears like a pirate,
Back to be living and seen, here with his roses and vines;
Here where the tenants are shadows and echoes of years uneventful,
Memory meets the event, told from afar by the sea.
Smoke that floated and rolled in the twilight away from the chimney
Floats and rolls no more. Wheeling and falling, instead,
Down with a twittering flash go to the smooth and inscrutable swallows,
Down to the place made theirs by the cold work of the sea.
Roses have had their day, and the dusk is on yarrow and wormwood—
Dusk that is over the grass, drenched with memorial dew;
Trellises lie like bones in a ruin that once was a garden,
Swallows have lingered and ceased, shadows and echoes are all.
Where is he lying to-night, as I turn away down to the valley,
Down where the lamps of men tell me the streets are alive?
Where shall I ask, and of whom, in the town or on land or on water,
News of a time and a place buried alike and with him?
Few now remain who may care, nor may they be wiser for caring,
Where or what manner of doom, whether by day or by night;
Whether in Indian deeps or on flood-laden fields of Atlantis,
Or by the roaring Horn, shrouded in silence he lies.
Few now remain who return by the weed-weary path to his cottage,
Drawn by the scene as it was—met by the chill and the change;
Few are alive who report, and few are alive who remember,
More of him now than a name carved somewhere on the sea.
“Where is he lying?” I ask, and the lights in the valley are nearer;
Down to the streets I go, down to the murmur of men.
Down to the roar of the sea in a ship may be well for another—
Down where he lies to-night, silent, and under the storms.
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