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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
36734 Mr Flood's Party Comments and analysis of Mr Flood's Party by Edwin Arlington Robinson 33 Comments
20033 Luke Havergal Comments and analysis of Luke Havergal by Edwin Arlington Robinson 20 Comments
18776 The Mill Comments and analysis of The Mill by Edwin Arlington Robinson 20 Comments
14488 Haunted House Comments and analysis of Haunted House by Edwin Arlington Robinson 34 Comments
12020 Eros Turannos Comments and analysis of Eros Turannos by Edwin Arlington Robinson 218 Comments
11495 Reuben Bright Comments and analysis of Reuben Bright by Edwin Arlington Robinson 4 Comments
9609 Cliff Klingenhagen Comments and analysis of Cliff Klingenhagen by Edwin Arlington Robinson 8 Comments
8859 Maya
7170 Ballad of Dead Friends Comments and analysis of Ballad of Dead Friends by Edwin Arlington Robinson 5 Comments
6387 Why He Was There Comments and analysis of Why He Was There by Edwin Arlington Robinson 3 Comments
5920 A Happy Man Comments and analysis of A Happy Man by Edwin Arlington Robinson 3 Comments
5694 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
5330 The Tree In Pamela's Garden Comments and analysis of The Tree In Pamela's Garden by Edwin Arlington Robinson 22 Comments
5293 For a Dead Lady Comments and analysis of For a Dead Lady by Edwin Arlington Robinson 1 Comment
5109 Credo
5018 Dear Friends Comments and analysis of Dear Friends by Edwin Arlington Robinson 3 Comments
4590 Three Quatrains
4475 Octaves
4469 Villanelle of Change
4452 Archibald's Example Comments and analysis of Archibald's Example by Edwin Arlington Robinson 6 Comments
4440 The Garden
4433 Her Eyes Comments and analysis of Her Eyes by Edwin Arlington Robinson 33 Comments
4423 An Old Story Comments and analysis of An Old Story by Edwin Arlington Robinson 6 Comments
4314 Thomas Hood
4255 The World Comments and analysis of The World by Edwin Arlington Robinson 2 Comments
4120 Another Dark Lady Comments and analysis of Another Dark Lady by Edwin Arlington Robinson 2 Comments
4104 Sonnet Comments and analysis of Sonnet by Edwin Arlington Robinson 2 Comments
4094 Cassandra Comments and analysis of Cassandra by Edwin Arlington Robinson 1 Comment
4067 Amaryllis Comments and analysis of Amaryllis by Edwin Arlington Robinson 1 Comment
3944 Calvary Comments and analysis of Calvary by Edwin Arlington Robinson 4 Comments
3921 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
3899 The Flying Dutchman
3826 Bon Voyage
3795 The Field of Glory
3751 Richard Cory Comments and analysis of Richard Cory by Edwin Arlington Robinson 1057 Comments
3718 Ben Jonson Entertains a Man from Stratford
3699 The Dark House Comments and analysis of The Dark House by Edwin Arlington Robinson 33 Comments
3681 Zola
3647 Captain Craig Comments and analysis of Captain Craig by Edwin Arlington Robinson 12 Comments
3565 Lost Anchors
3539 Ballad of Broken Flutes Comments and analysis of Ballad of Broken Flutes by Edwin Arlington Robinson 1 Comment
3342 The Children of the Night Comments and analysis of The Children of the Night by Edwin Arlington Robinson 2 Comments
3340 The Unforgiven
3170 Bewick Finzer
3120 Peace on Earth
3074 For Some Poems by Matthew Arnold
3036 Walt Whitman Comments and analysis of Walt Whitman by Edwin Arlington Robinson 1 Comment
2960 The Clerks
2916 The Rat
2887 John Evereldown
2842 Exit
2820 Flammonde Comments and analysis of Flammonde by Edwin Arlington Robinson 2 Comments
2793 John Gorham Comments and analysis of John Gorham by Edwin Arlington Robinson 253 Comments
2743 London Bridge Comments and analysis of London Bridge by Edwin Arlington Robinson 8 Comments
2735 The Growth of Lorraine
2725 The Town Down by the River
2676 Lazarus Comments and analysis of Lazarus by Edwin Arlington Robinson 16 Comments
2636 Alma Mater
2595 Ballad by the Fire
2556 Veteran Sirens Comments and analysis of Veteran Sirens by Edwin Arlington Robinson 1 Comment
2493 But for the Grace of God
2486 Variations of Greek Themes Comments and analysis of Variations of Greek Themes by Edwin Arlington Robinson 6 Comments
2473 Ben Trovato
2456 Many Are Called
2453 The False Gods
2447 An Evangelist's Wife
2418 The Burning Book
2369 Uncle Ananias
2356 Souvenir
2351 Ballad of a Ship
2348 Afterthoughts Comments and analysis of Afterthoughts by Edwin Arlington Robinson 2 Comments
2341 Siege Perilous
2335 Rembrandt to Rembrandt Comments and analysis of Rembrandt to Rembrandt by Edwin Arlington Robinson 16 Comments
2325 Old King Cole
2323 Demos
2313 Merlin
2305 Cortège
2260 Two Men Comments and analysis of Two Men by Edwin Arlington Robinson 1 Comment
2251 Late Summer
2231 Twilight Song
2208 The Book of Annandale
2205 The Pilot
2201 A Song at Shannon's
2200 The Sage
2184 Doctor of Billiards
2171 The Master Comments and analysis of The Master by Edwin Arlington Robinson 1 Comment
2161 Leonora
2159 Partnership Comments and analysis of Partnership by Edwin Arlington Robinson 15 Comments
2156 Horace to Leuconoë
2152 Avon's Harvest Comments and analysis of Avon's Harvest by Edwin Arlington Robinson 9 Comments
2151 The Tavern Comments and analysis of The Tavern by Edwin Arlington Robinson 2 Comments
2126 The Dead Village
2104 The Woman and the Wife
2099 The Clinging Vine Comments and analysis of The Clinging Vine by Edwin Arlington Robinson 10 Comments
2083 John Brown
2080 As a World Would Have It Comments and analysis of As a World Would Have It by Edwin Arlington Robinson 6 Comments
2053 The Pity of the Leaves
2046 The Torrent
2011 Lingard and the Stars
2000 Fragment
1999 The Altar
1992 For Ariva Comments and analysis of For Ariva by Edwin Arlington Robinson 5 Comments
1992 The Poor Relation
1985 Erasmus
1968 The Klondike
1958 Two Quatrains
1956 Charles Carville's Eyes
1951 Modernities
1950 The Wise Brothers
1944 The Whip
1941 Recalled
1927 The White Lights
1909 On the Way
1874 Sainte-Nitouche Comments and analysis of Sainte-Nitouche by Edwin Arlington Robinson 5 Comments
1874 The Corridor Comments and analysis of The Corridor by Edwin Arlington Robinson 1 Comment
1873 The House on the Hill Comments and analysis of The House on the Hill by Edwin Arlington Robinson 250 Comments
1855 Lancelot
1840 Stafford's Cabin
1838 Verlaine
1834 Shadrach O'Leary Comments and analysis of Shadrach O'Leary by Edwin Arlington Robinson 1 Comment
1824 The Old King's New Jester Comments and analysis of The Old King's New Jester by Edwin Arlington Robinson 1 Comment
1814 Llewellyn and the Tree
1803 The Voice of Age
1798 Pasa Thalassa Thalassa
1798 The Valley of the Shadow
1767 The Return of Morgan and Fingal
1764 Fleming Helphenstine
1763 Bokardo
1761 The Wandering Jew
1733 Inferential
1730 The Sunken Crown
1725 Two Sonnets
1719 Atherton's Gambit
1712 The Revealer
1693 Job the Rejected
1682 The Companion
1675 Two Octaves
1673 Vain Gratuities Comments and analysis of Vain Gratuities by Edwin Arlington Robinson 1 Comment
1649 Lisette and Eileen
1635 Miniver Cheevy Comments and analysis of Miniver Cheevy by Edwin Arlington Robinson 494 Comments
1622 Rahel to Varnhagen
1620 Two Gardens in Linndale
1617 The New Tenants
1605 Vickery's Mountain
1590 Monadnock through the Trees
1565 Nimmo Comments and analysis of Nimmo by Edwin Arlington Robinson 1 Comment
1546 The Chorus of Old Men in Aegus
1502 Clavering
1420 Tasker Norcross
1412 The Three Taverns Comments and analysis of The Three Taverns by Edwin Arlington Robinson 1 Comment
1397 Leffingwell
980 How Annandale Went Out Comments and analysis of How Annandale Went Out by Edwin Arlington Robinson 5 Comments
810 The Dark Hills Comments and analysis of The Dark Hills by Edwin Arlington Robinson 4 Comments
759 Isaac and Archibald Comments and analysis of Isaac and Archibald by Edwin Arlington Robinson 219 Comments
673 Firelight Comments and analysis of Firelight by Edwin Arlington Robinson 25 Comments
637 Aaron Stark Comments and analysis of Aaron Stark by Edwin Arlington Robinson 7 Comments
622 New England
462 Aunt Imogen Comments and analysis of Aunt Imogen by Edwin Arlington Robinson 38 Comments
442 Discovery
407 The Man Against the Sky Comments and analysis of The Man Against the Sky by Edwin Arlington Robinson 35 Comments
402 L'envoy
313 Supremacy
310 The Long Race
282 Neighbors
267 Theophilus Comments and analysis of Theophilus by Edwin Arlington Robinson 1 Comment
252 Tact Comments and analysis of Tact by Edwin Arlington Robinson 1 Comment
220 The Wilderness
108 Karma Comments and analysis of Karma by Edwin Arlington Robinson 5 Comments
78 An Island Comments and analysis of An Island by Edwin Arlington Robinson 2 Comments
62 Hillcrest
62 Old Trails
44 Calverly's
41 Caput Mortuum Comments and analysis of Caput Mortuum by Edwin Arlington Robinson 1 Comment
38 Boston
37 The Gift of God Comments and analysis of The Gift of God by Edwin Arlington Robinson 1 Comment
33 Momus Comments and analysis of Momus by Edwin Arlington Robinson 1 Comment
30 George Crabbe


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