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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.

Volume | Alphabetically | [Page Views] | Comments | First Lines


Page ViewsPoemComments
36963 Mr Flood's Party Comments and analysis of Mr Flood's Party by Edwin Arlington Robinson 34 Comments
20198 Luke Havergal Comments and analysis of Luke Havergal by Edwin Arlington Robinson 20 Comments
18924 The Mill Comments and analysis of The Mill by Edwin Arlington Robinson 24 Comments
14620 Haunted House Comments and analysis of Haunted House by Edwin Arlington Robinson 35 Comments
12104 Eros Turannos Comments and analysis of Eros Turannos by Edwin Arlington Robinson 222 Comments
11662 Reuben Bright Comments and analysis of Reuben Bright by Edwin Arlington Robinson 4 Comments
10069 Cliff Klingenhagen Comments and analysis of Cliff Klingenhagen by Edwin Arlington Robinson 8 Comments
8930 Maya
7317 Ballad of Dead Friends Comments and analysis of Ballad of Dead Friends by Edwin Arlington Robinson 5 Comments
6712 Why He Was There Comments and analysis of Why He Was There by Edwin Arlington Robinson 3 Comments
6046 A Happy Man Comments and analysis of A Happy Man by Edwin Arlington Robinson 3 Comments
5739 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
5407 For a Dead Lady Comments and analysis of For a Dead Lady by Edwin Arlington Robinson 1 Comment
5403 The Tree In Pamela's Garden Comments and analysis of The Tree In Pamela's Garden by Edwin Arlington Robinson 22 Comments
5280 Dear Friends Comments and analysis of Dear Friends by Edwin Arlington Robinson 3 Comments
5179 Credo
4653 Three Quatrains
4562 Octaves
4539 Villanelle of Change
4536 An Old Story Comments and analysis of An Old Story by Edwin Arlington Robinson 6 Comments
4519 Archibald's Example Comments and analysis of Archibald's Example by Edwin Arlington Robinson 6 Comments
4517 Her Eyes Comments and analysis of Her Eyes by Edwin Arlington Robinson 33 Comments
4516 The Garden
4419 Thomas Hood
4341 Richard Cory Comments and analysis of Richard Cory by Edwin Arlington Robinson 1061 Comments
4297 The World Comments and analysis of The World by Edwin Arlington Robinson 2 Comments
4207 Cassandra Comments and analysis of Cassandra by Edwin Arlington Robinson 1 Comment
4205 Another Dark Lady Comments and analysis of Another Dark Lady by Edwin Arlington Robinson 2 Comments
4176 Sonnet Comments and analysis of Sonnet by Edwin Arlington Robinson 2 Comments
4146 Amaryllis Comments and analysis of Amaryllis by Edwin Arlington Robinson 1 Comment
4020 Calvary Comments and analysis of Calvary by Edwin Arlington Robinson 4 Comments
3973 The Flying Dutchman
3966 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
3864 Bon Voyage
3863 The Field of Glory
3776 Ben Jonson Entertains a Man from Stratford
3776 The Dark House Comments and analysis of The Dark House by Edwin Arlington Robinson 34 Comments
3766 Zola
3723 Captain Craig Comments and analysis of Captain Craig by Edwin Arlington Robinson 13 Comments
3629 Ballad of Broken Flutes Comments and analysis of Ballad of Broken Flutes by Edwin Arlington Robinson 1 Comment
3620 Lost Anchors
3417 The Children of the Night Comments and analysis of The Children of the Night by Edwin Arlington Robinson 2 Comments
3391 The Unforgiven
3239 Bewick Finzer Comments and analysis of Bewick Finzer by Edwin Arlington Robinson 1 Comment
3162 Peace on Earth
3124 For Some Poems by Matthew Arnold
3080 Walt Whitman Comments and analysis of Walt Whitman by Edwin Arlington Robinson 1 Comment
3019 The Clerks
2991 John Evereldown
2978 The Rat
2925 John Gorham Comments and analysis of John Gorham by Edwin Arlington Robinson 255 Comments
2919 Flammonde Comments and analysis of Flammonde by Edwin Arlington Robinson 2 Comments
2883 Exit
2815 London Bridge Comments and analysis of London Bridge by Edwin Arlington Robinson 8 Comments
2783 The Growth of Lorraine
2781 The Town Down by the River
2725 Lazarus Comments and analysis of Lazarus by Edwin Arlington Robinson 16 Comments
2712 Alma Mater
2658 Ballad by the Fire
2644 Veteran Sirens Comments and analysis of Veteran Sirens by Edwin Arlington Robinson 1 Comment
2590 Ben Trovato
2559 But for the Grace of God
2553 Variations of Greek Themes Comments and analysis of Variations of Greek Themes by Edwin Arlington Robinson 6 Comments
2532 Many Are Called
2526 The False Gods
2522 An Evangelist's Wife
2494 The Burning Book
2455 Ballad of a Ship
2450 Uncle Ananias
2415 Afterthoughts Comments and analysis of Afterthoughts by Edwin Arlington Robinson 2 Comments
2405 Souvenir
2397 Rembrandt to Rembrandt Comments and analysis of Rembrandt to Rembrandt by Edwin Arlington Robinson 16 Comments
2387 Old King Cole
2384 Merlin
2379 Cortège
2378 Siege Perilous
2372 Demos
2337 Late Summer
2316 Two Men Comments and analysis of Two Men by Edwin Arlington Robinson 1 Comment
2278 Twilight Song
2259 The Dead Village
2258 A Song at Shannon's
2256 The Book of Annandale
2254 The Sage
2246 The Pilot
2242 The Tavern Comments and analysis of The Tavern by Edwin Arlington Robinson 2 Comments
2230 Partnership Comments and analysis of Partnership by Edwin Arlington Robinson 16 Comments
2226 Doctor of Billiards
2222 Horace to Leuconoë
2220 The Master Comments and analysis of The Master by Edwin Arlington Robinson 1 Comment
2209 Leonora
2204 Avon's Harvest Comments and analysis of Avon's Harvest by Edwin Arlington Robinson 9 Comments
2159 The Woman and the Wife
2143 The Clinging Vine Comments and analysis of The Clinging Vine by Edwin Arlington Robinson 11 Comments
2127 As a World Would Have It Comments and analysis of As a World Would Have It by Edwin Arlington Robinson 6 Comments
2122 The House on the Hill Comments and analysis of The House on the Hill by Edwin Arlington Robinson 256 Comments
2122 John Brown
2105 The Pity of the Leaves
2092 The Torrent
2065 Lingard and the Stars
2061 The Altar
2048 For Ariva Comments and analysis of For Ariva by Edwin Arlington Robinson 5 Comments
2044 Fragment
2037 The Poor Relation
2030 The Klondike
2027 Erasmus
2012 Two Quatrains
2002 Charles Carville's Eyes
2001 The Whip
1997 Modernities
1994 Recalled
1992 The Wise Brothers
1980 The White Lights
1952 On the Way
1938 Miniver Cheevy Comments and analysis of Miniver Cheevy by Edwin Arlington Robinson 496 Comments
1936 Sainte-Nitouche Comments and analysis of Sainte-Nitouche by Edwin Arlington Robinson 5 Comments
1926 The Corridor Comments and analysis of The Corridor by Edwin Arlington Robinson 1 Comment
1924 The Wandering Jew
1908 Lancelot
1904 Verlaine
1894 Stafford's Cabin
1884 Shadrach O'Leary Comments and analysis of Shadrach O'Leary by Edwin Arlington Robinson 1 Comment
1883 The Old King's New Jester Comments and analysis of The Old King's New Jester by Edwin Arlington Robinson 1 Comment
1854 Llewellyn and the Tree
1849 The Voice of Age
1848 Pasa Thalassa Thalassa
1843 The Valley of the Shadow
1830 The Return of Morgan and Fingal
1827 Bokardo
1824 Fleming Helphenstine
1791 Inferential
1774 Two Sonnets
1770 The Sunken Crown
1753 The Revealer
1752 Atherton's Gambit
1746 Job the Rejected
1731 Two Octaves
1730 The Companion
1714 Vain Gratuities Comments and analysis of Vain Gratuities by Edwin Arlington Robinson 1 Comment
1708 Lisette and Eileen
1665 Rahel to Varnhagen
1659 Nimmo Comments and analysis of Nimmo by Edwin Arlington Robinson 2 Comments
1659 The New Tenants
1657 Two Gardens in Linndale
1642 Vickery's Mountain
1638 Monadnock through the Trees
1599 The Chorus of Old Men in Aegus
1543 Clavering
1459 Tasker Norcross
1457 The Three Taverns Comments and analysis of The Three Taverns by Edwin Arlington Robinson 1 Comment
1453 Leffingwell
1305 How Annandale Went Out Comments and analysis of How Annandale Went Out by Edwin Arlington Robinson 5 Comments
949 The Dark Hills Comments and analysis of The Dark Hills by Edwin Arlington Robinson 4 Comments
826 Isaac and Archibald Comments and analysis of Isaac and Archibald by Edwin Arlington Robinson 219 Comments
780 Firelight Comments and analysis of Firelight by Edwin Arlington Robinson 26 Comments
729 New England
728 Aaron Stark Comments and analysis of Aaron Stark by Edwin Arlington Robinson 7 Comments
582 Aunt Imogen Comments and analysis of Aunt Imogen by Edwin Arlington Robinson 40 Comments
516 Discovery
482 L'envoy
465 The Man Against the Sky Comments and analysis of The Man Against the Sky by Edwin Arlington Robinson 36 Comments
390 Karma Comments and analysis of Karma by Edwin Arlington Robinson 5 Comments
374 Neighbors
369 The Long Race
360 Supremacy
326 Theophilus Comments and analysis of Theophilus by Edwin Arlington Robinson 1 Comment
299 Tact Comments and analysis of Tact by Edwin Arlington Robinson 1 Comment
267 The Wilderness
161 An Island Comments and analysis of An Island by Edwin Arlington Robinson 2 Comments
127 Hillcrest
103 The Gift of God Comments and analysis of The Gift of God by Edwin Arlington Robinson 1 Comment
100 Old Trails
98 Boston
98 Calverly's
82 George Crabbe
75 Caput Mortuum Comments and analysis of Caput Mortuum by Edwin Arlington Robinson 1 Comment
70 Momus Comments and analysis of Momus by Edwin Arlington Robinson 1 Comment


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