Edwin Arlington Robinson
Biography of Edwin Arlington Robinson
Edwin Arlington Robinson was an American poet who won three Pulitzer Prizes for his work.
Robinson was born in Head Tide, Lincoln County, Maine, but his family moved to Gardiner, Maine, in 1870. He described his childhood in Maine as "stark and unhappy": his parents, having wanted a girl, did not name him until he was six months old, when they visited a holiday resort; other vacationers decided that he should have a name, and selected a man from Arlington, Massachusetts to draw a name out of a hat.
Robinson's early difficulties led many of his poems to have a dark pessimism and his stories to deal with "an American dream gone awry". His brother Dean died of a drug overdose. His other brother, Herman, a handsome and charismatic man, married the woman Edwin himself loved, but Herman suffered business failures, became an alcoholic, and ended up estranged from his wife and children, dying impoverished in a charity hospital in 1901. Robinson's poem "Richard Cory" is thought to refer to this brother.
In late 1891, at the age of 21, Edwin entered Harvard University as a special student. He took classes in English, French, and Shakespeare, as well as one on Anglo-Saxon that he later dropped. His mission was not to get all A's, as he wrote his friend Harry Smith, "B, and in that vicinity, is a very comfortable and safe place to hang".
His real desire was to get published in one of the Harvard literary journals. Within the first fortnight of being there, The Harvard Advocate published Robinson's "Ballade of a Ship". He was even invited to meet with the editors, but when he returned he complained to his friend Mowry Saben, "I sat there among them, unable to say a word". Robinson's literary career had false-started.
Edwin's father, Edward, died after Edwin's first year at Harvard. Edwin returned to Harvard for a second year, but it was to be his last one as a student there. Though short, his stay in Cambridge included some of his most cherished experiences, and there he made his most lasting friendships. He wrote his friend Harry Smith on June 21, 1893:
I suppose this is the last letter I shall ever write you from Harvard. The thought seems a little queer, but it cannot be otherwise. Sometimes I try to imagine the state my mind would be in had I never come here, but I cannot. I feel that I have got comparatively little from my two years, but still, more than I could get in Gardiner if I lived a century.
Robinson had returned to Gardiner by mid-1893. He had plans to start writing seriously. In October he wrote his friend Gledhill:
Writing has been my dream ever since I was old enough to lay a plan for an air castle. Now for the first time I seem to have something like a favorable opportunity and this winter I shall make a beginning.
With his father gone, Edwin became the man of the household. He tried farming and developed a close relationship with his brother's wife Emma Robinson, who after her husband Herman's death moved back to Gardiner with her children. She twice rejected marriage proposals from Edwin, after which he permanently left Gardiner. He moved to New York, where he led a precarious existence as an impoverished poet while cultivating friendships with other writers, artists, and would-be intellectuals. In 1896 he self-published his first book, The Torrent and the Night Before, paying 100 dollars for 500 copies. Robinson meant it as a surprise for his mother. Days before the copies arrived, Mary Palmer Robinson died of diphtheria.
His second volume, The Children of the Night, had a somewhat wider circulation. Its readers included President Theodore Roosevelt's son Kermit, who recommended it to his father. Impressed by the poems and aware of Robinson's straits, Roosevelt in 1905 secured the writer a job at the New York Customs Office. Robinson remained in the job until Roosevelt left office.
Gradually his literary successes began to mount. He won the Pulitzer Prize three times in the 1920s. During the last twenty years of his life he became a regular summer resident at the MacDowell Colony in New Hampshire, where several women made him the object of their devoted attention, but he maintained a solitary life and never married. Robinson died of cancer on April 6, 1935 in the New York Hospital (now New York Cornell Hospital) in New York City.
Edwin Arlington Robinson won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry three times: in 1922 for his first Collected Poems, in 1925 for The Man Who Died Twice, and in 1928 for Tristram.
Edwin Arlington Robinson's Works:
The Torrent and the Night Before (1896)
Luke Havergal (1897)
The Children of the Night (1897)
Richard Cory (1897)
Captain Craig and Other Poems (1902)
The Town Down the River (1910)
Miniver Cheevy (1910)
The Man Against the Sky (1916)
Ben Trovato (1920)
The Three Taverns (1920)
Avon's Harvest (1921)
Collected Poems (1921)
Haunted House (1921)
Roman Bartholomew (1923)
The Man Who Died Twice (1924)
Dionysus in Doubt (1925)
Sonnets, 1889-1917 (1928)
Cavender's House (1929)
The Glory of the Nightingales (1930)
Matthias at the Door (1931)
Selected Poems (1931)
King Jasper (1935)
Collected Poems (1937)
Van Zorn (1914)
The Porcupine (1915)
Selected Letters (1940)
Untriangulated Stars: Letters to Harry de Forest Smith 1890-1905 (1947)
Edwin Arlington Robinson's Letters to Edith Brower (1968)
Uncollected Poems and Prose (1975)
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Edwin Arlington Robinson Poems
Whenever Richard Cory went down town, We people on the pavement looked at him: He was a gentleman from sole to crown, Clean favored, and imperially slim.
A Happy Man
When these graven lines you see, Traveller, do not pity me; Though I be among the dead, Let no mournful word be said.
Mr. Flood's Party
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
An Old Story
Strange that I did not know him then. That friend of mine! I did not even show him then One friendly sign;
Miniver Cheevy, child of scorn, Grew lean while he assailed the seasons; He wept that he was ever born, And he had reasons.
Ballad of Dead Friends
As we the withered ferns By the roadway lying, Time, the jester, spurns All our prayers and prying --
Another Dark Lady
Think not, because I wonder where you fled, That I would lift a pin to see you there; You may, for me, be prowling anywhere, So long as you show not your little head:
We parted where the old gas-lamp still burned Under the wayside maple and walked on, Into the dark, as we had always done; And I, no doubt, if he had not returned,
She fears him, and will always ask What fated her to choose him; She meets in his engaging mask All reason to refuse him.
Time was when his half million drew The breath of six per cent; But soon the worm of what-was-not Fed hard on his content;
Withal a meagre man was Aaron Stark, -- Cursed and unkempt, shrewd, shrivelled, and morose. A miser was he, with a miser's nose, And eyes like little dollars in the dark.
Ballad of Broken Flutes
In dreams I crossed a barren land, A land of ruin, far away; Around me hung on every hand A deathful stillness of decay;
Ballad by the Fire
Slowly I smoke and hug my knee, The while a witless masquerade Of things that only children see Floats in a mist of light and shade:
Dear Friends, reproach me not for what I do, Nor counsel me, nor pity me; nor say That I am wearing half my life away For bubble-work that only fools pursue.
“Whether all towns and all who live in them—
So long as they be somewhere in this world
That we in our complacency call ours—
Are more or less the same, I leave to you.
I should say less. Whether or not, meanwhile,
We’ve all two legs—and as for that, we haven’t—
There were three kinds of men where I was born:
The good, the not so good, and Tasker Norcross.
Now there are two kinds.”