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Biography of Edwin Arlington Robinson

Edwin Arlington Robinson

Edwin Arlington Robinson (1869 - 1935)

Edwin Arlington Robinson was a poet of transition. He lived at the time following the Civil War when America was rebuilding and changing rapidly and when the dominant values of the country seemed to be growing increasingly materialistic. Robinson's poetry was transitional, evaluating the present by using traditional forms and by including elements of transcendentalism and puritanism.

Robinson spent his childhood in a small town in Maine, a town which furnished him a setting for many of his poems as well as models for his characters. His father was a prosperous merchant; his mother had been a schoolteacher. The parents were primarily interested in their two older sons and tended to ignore Edwin, though they recognized his exceptional intelligence. While fond of his family, Edwin felt himself an outsider among them, as he also felt alienated from the society of his town.

Robinson studied at Harvard from 1891 to 1893 and afterward returned to Maine to stay for three years. Miserable and lonely most of the time, he moved to New York in 1895. His first volume of poems had been published while he was at home in Maine; in 1897 a second volume appeared. But he prospered neither as a poet nor as a businessman and ended by working as a checker of loads of shale during the building of the New York subway. In earning his living as a writer Robinson experienced the same difficulties as Hawthorne had fifty years before and was forced to the same humiliating expedients. Hawthorne checked sacks of coal as they were loaded in Boston Harbor; Robinson checked shale. Franklin Pierce, a grateful President, had rewarded his friend and campaign biographer, Hawthorne, with a post in the Sales Customs House and then with a more lucrative post as consul in Liverpool. Just so another president of the United States, Theodore Roosevelt, found Robinson's poetry impressive and helped him get a clerkship in the New York Customs House, where he worked until 1910. He sometimes may have encountered the ghost of Melville, who had spent the last lonely years of his life there, haunted by the feeling that he had failed as a writer.

Suddenly, with the poetic revival that preceded World War I, Robinson began to play a major role as a poet. After going his own way quietly for so many years, he became widely read and exerted a strong influence on other poets, notably Robert Frost. He was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for poetry three times in the 1920's, a record exceeded only by Frost, who received the prize four times in all.

The core of Robinson's philosophy is the belief that man's highest duty is to develop his best attributes as fully as possible. Success is measured by the intensity and integrity of his struggle; failure consists only in a lack of effort. Robinson was most interested in people who had either failed spiritually, or who seemed failures to the world but had really succeeded in gaining spiritual wisdom. Despite his apparent pessimism he refused to subscribe to a naturalistic view of life. Being by nature introspective and conscious of psychological depths, he was acutely aware of the spiritual side of man and relatively uninterested in the surface aspects of man's life as a social creature.

Robinson's best known statement on the hollowness of conventional success is the lyric poem, "Richard Cory". Although everyone respects and envies Cory, one night he fires a bullet through his head. We are left asking why, and Robinson does not give an answer. We can only suppose that what other people think and feel is not as important as what a person himself believes. Since Cory knows his life is worthless in spite of his "success," he puts an end to it.

In the other poems we see Robinson's compassion and humor. They are differently blended in each poem. "Miniver Cheevy" is marked by a broad, hyperbolic humor. The character whom the poem displays is a figure of fun. However, the humor is wry; we can laugh at the drunkard who drinks to escape, only as long as we ignore his plight. There is more than a him of self-portraiture in Miniver's deluded enchantment with a past that never was. The poem suggests, in a comic way, what Eugene O'Neill portrays in The Iceman Cometh; the survival value for the unsuccessful of delusion plus drink; for those who, like Cory, face up to the truth of things, a bullet may be inevitable.

We feel an even greater sympathy when we read "Mr. Flood's Party". For here is an old man, now completely friendless, his only company a jug of liquor. He is so lonely he talks to himself; so friendless that he has nothing left in life. Nevertheless, the situation Robinson describes to us is never mawkish. We sympathize, but we smile at the same time. Robinson uses mock-heroic comparisons and mock solemnity here with a delicate effect absent in "Miniver Cheevy." He invites our sympathy; he does not command it. When he compares Mr. Flood with the great medieval warrior Roland, blowing his horn to summon his comrades in an epic battle, he expects us to remember that splendid as Roland was in that battle, he died without his companions ever answering the call of his horn. Not the least of Robinson's skill lies in another technique; his ability to manage rhythms and sounds to convey the meaning and mooed of the poem. A good example is the perfectly modulated concluding lines of "Mr. Flood's Party." Robinson could have ended the poem with emphasis; he chooses instead to soften the rhythms and to diminish the ending with two dependent clauses. Our voice drops naturally and then levels off as we finish reading the poem, the old man's horn echoes and dies, unanswered.



177 Poems written by Edwin Arlington Robinson

The poems are by default sorted according to volume, but you can also choose to sort them alphabetically or by page views.

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Miscellaneous

Firelight Comments and analysis of Firelight by Edwin Arlington Robinson 22 Comments
Haunted House Comments and analysis of Haunted House by Edwin Arlington Robinson 34 Comments
Karma Comments and analysis of Karma by Edwin Arlington Robinson 3 Comments
Maya
Tact Comments and analysis of Tact by Edwin Arlington Robinson 1 Comment
The Story Of The Ashes And The Flame Comments and analysis of The Story Of The Ashes And The Flame by Edwin Arlington Robinson 44 Comments
The Tree In Pamela's Garden Comments and analysis of The Tree In Pamela's Garden by Edwin Arlington Robinson 21 Comments
Thomas Hood
Why He Was There Comments and analysis of Why He Was There by Edwin Arlington Robinson 2 Comments
A Happy Man Comments and analysis of A Happy Man by Edwin Arlington Robinson 3 Comments
A Song at Shannon's
Aaron Stark Comments and analysis of Aaron Stark by Edwin Arlington Robinson 6 Comments
Afterthoughts Comments and analysis of Afterthoughts by Edwin Arlington Robinson 1 Comment
Alma Mater
Amaryllis Comments and analysis of Amaryllis by Edwin Arlington Robinson 1 Comment
An Evangelist's Wife
An Island Comments and analysis of An Island by Edwin Arlington Robinson 1 Comment
An Old Story Comments and analysis of An Old Story by Edwin Arlington Robinson 6 Comments
Another Dark Lady Comments and analysis of Another Dark Lady by Edwin Arlington Robinson 1 Comment
Archibald's Example Comments and analysis of Archibald's Example by Edwin Arlington Robinson 6 Comments
As a World Would Have It Comments and analysis of As a World Would Have It by Edwin Arlington Robinson 6 Comments
Atherton's Gambit
Aunt Imogen Comments and analysis of Aunt Imogen by Edwin Arlington Robinson 37 Comments
Avon's Harvest Comments and analysis of Avon's Harvest by Edwin Arlington Robinson 9 Comments
Ballad by the Fire
Ballad of a Ship
Ballad of Broken Flutes Comments and analysis of Ballad of Broken Flutes by Edwin Arlington Robinson 1 Comment
Ballad of Dead Friends Comments and analysis of Ballad of Dead Friends by Edwin Arlington Robinson 3 Comments
Ben Jonson Entertains a Man from Stratford
Ben Trovato
Bewick Finzer
Bokardo
Bon Voyage
Boston
But for the Grace of God
Calvary Comments and analysis of Calvary by Edwin Arlington Robinson 3 Comments
Calverly's
Captain Craig Comments and analysis of Captain Craig by Edwin Arlington Robinson 11 Comments
Caput Mortuum Comments and analysis of Caput Mortuum by Edwin Arlington Robinson 1 Comment
Cassandra Comments and analysis of Cassandra by Edwin Arlington Robinson 1 Comment
Charles Carville's Eyes
Clavering
Cliff Klingenhagen Comments and analysis of Cliff Klingenhagen by Edwin Arlington Robinson 8 Comments
Cortège
Credo
Dear Friends Comments and analysis of Dear Friends by Edwin Arlington Robinson 3 Comments
Demos
Discovery
Doctor of Billiards
Erasmus
Eros Turannos Comments and analysis of Eros Turannos by Edwin Arlington Robinson 216 Comments
Exit
Flammonde Comments and analysis of Flammonde by Edwin Arlington Robinson 2 Comments
Fleming Helphenstine
For a Dead Lady Comments and analysis of For a Dead Lady by Edwin Arlington Robinson 1 Comment
For Ariva Comments and analysis of For Ariva by Edwin Arlington Robinson 5 Comments
For Some Poems by Matthew Arnold
Fragment
George Crabbe
Her Eyes Comments and analysis of Her Eyes by Edwin Arlington Robinson 31 Comments
Hillcrest
Horace to Leuconoë
How Annandale Went Out Comments and analysis of How Annandale Went Out by Edwin Arlington Robinson 3 Comments
Inferential
Isaac and Archibald Comments and analysis of Isaac and Archibald by Edwin Arlington Robinson 219 Comments
Job the Rejected
John Brown
John Evereldown
John Gorham Comments and analysis of John Gorham by Edwin Arlington Robinson 251 Comments
Lancelot
Late Summer
Lazarus Comments and analysis of Lazarus by Edwin Arlington Robinson 16 Comments
Leffingwell
Leonora
Lingard and the Stars
Lisette and Eileen
Llewellyn and the Tree
London Bridge Comments and analysis of London Bridge by Edwin Arlington Robinson 6 Comments
Lost Anchors
Luke Havergal Comments and analysis of Luke Havergal by Edwin Arlington Robinson 19 Comments
L'envoy
Many Are Called
Merlin
Miniver Cheevy Comments and analysis of Miniver Cheevy by Edwin Arlington Robinson 491 Comments
Modernities
Momus Comments and analysis of Momus by Edwin Arlington Robinson 1 Comment
Monadnock through the Trees
Mr Flood's Party Comments and analysis of Mr Flood's Party by Edwin Arlington Robinson 31 Comments
Neighbors
New England
Nimmo
Octaves
Old King Cole
Old Trails
On the Night of a Friend's Wedding Comments and analysis of On the Night of a Friend's Wedding by Edwin Arlington Robinson 5 Comments
On the Way
Partnership Comments and analysis of Partnership by Edwin Arlington Robinson 10 Comments
Pasa Thalassa Thalassa
Peace on Earth
Rahel to Varnhagen
Recalled
Rembrandt to Rembrandt Comments and analysis of Rembrandt to Rembrandt by Edwin Arlington Robinson 15 Comments
Reuben Bright Comments and analysis of Reuben Bright by Edwin Arlington Robinson 3 Comments
Richard Cory Comments and analysis of Richard Cory by Edwin Arlington Robinson 1040 Comments
Sainte-Nitouche Comments and analysis of Sainte-Nitouche by Edwin Arlington Robinson 4 Comments
Shadrach O'Leary Comments and analysis of Shadrach O'Leary by Edwin Arlington Robinson 1 Comment
Siege Perilous
Sonnet Comments and analysis of Sonnet by Edwin Arlington Robinson 2 Comments
Souvenir
Stafford's Cabin
Supremacy
Tasker Norcross
The Altar
The Book of Annandale
The Burning Book
The Children of the Night Comments and analysis of The Children of the Night by Edwin Arlington Robinson 2 Comments
The Chorus of Old Men in Aegus
The Clerks
The Clinging Vine Comments and analysis of The Clinging Vine by Edwin Arlington Robinson 9 Comments
The Companion
The Corridor Comments and analysis of The Corridor by Edwin Arlington Robinson 1 Comment
The Dark Hills Comments and analysis of The Dark Hills by Edwin Arlington Robinson 2 Comments
The Dark House Comments and analysis of The Dark House by Edwin Arlington Robinson 32 Comments
The Dead Village
The False Gods
The Field of Glory
The Flying Dutchman
The Garden
The Gift of God Comments and analysis of The Gift of God by Edwin Arlington Robinson 1 Comment
The Growth of Lorraine
The House on the Hill Comments and analysis of The House on the Hill by Edwin Arlington Robinson 246 Comments
The Klondike
The Long Race
The Man Against the Sky Comments and analysis of The Man Against the Sky by Edwin Arlington Robinson 34 Comments
The Master Comments and analysis of The Master by Edwin Arlington Robinson 1 Comment
The Mill Comments and analysis of The Mill by Edwin Arlington Robinson 17 Comments
The New Tenants
The Old King's New Jester Comments and analysis of The Old King's New Jester by Edwin Arlington Robinson 1 Comment
The Pilot
The Pity of the Leaves
The Poor Relation
The Rat
The Return of Morgan and Fingal
The Revealer
The Sage
The Sunken Crown
The Tavern Comments and analysis of The Tavern by Edwin Arlington Robinson 2 Comments
The Three Taverns
The Torrent
The Town Down by the River
The Unforgiven
The Valley of the Shadow
The Voice of Age
The Wandering Jew
The Whip
The White Lights
The Wilderness
The Wise Brothers
The Woman and the Wife
The World Comments and analysis of The World by Edwin Arlington Robinson 2 Comments
Theophilus Comments and analysis of Theophilus by Edwin Arlington Robinson 1 Comment
Three Quatrains
Twilight Song
Two Gardens in Linndale
Two Men Comments and analysis of Two Men by Edwin Arlington Robinson 1 Comment
Two Octaves
Two Quatrains
Two Sonnets
Uncle Ananias
Vain Gratuities Comments and analysis of Vain Gratuities by Edwin Arlington Robinson 1 Comment
Variations of Greek Themes Comments and analysis of Variations of Greek Themes by Edwin Arlington Robinson 6 Comments
Verlaine
Veteran Sirens Comments and analysis of Veteran Sirens by Edwin Arlington Robinson 1 Comment
Vickery's Mountain
Villanelle of Change
Walt Whitman Comments and analysis of Walt Whitman by Edwin Arlington Robinson 1 Comment
Zola


Books by Edwin Arlington Robinson
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