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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
37245 Mr Flood's Party Comments and analysis of Mr Flood's Party by Edwin Arlington Robinson 36 Comments
20329 Luke Havergal Comments and analysis of Luke Havergal by Edwin Arlington Robinson 21 Comments
19082 The Mill Comments and analysis of The Mill by Edwin Arlington Robinson 26 Comments
14765 Haunted House Comments and analysis of Haunted House by Edwin Arlington Robinson 37 Comments
11811 Reuben Bright Comments and analysis of Reuben Bright by Edwin Arlington Robinson 5 Comments
10331 Cliff Klingenhagen Comments and analysis of Cliff Klingenhagen by Edwin Arlington Robinson 8 Comments
8985 Maya
7387 Ballad of Dead Friends Comments and analysis of Ballad of Dead Friends by Edwin Arlington Robinson 5 Comments
6941 Why He Was There Comments and analysis of Why He Was There by Edwin Arlington Robinson 3 Comments
6126 A Happy Man Comments and analysis of A Happy Man by Edwin Arlington Robinson 3 Comments
5787 The Story Of The Ashes And The Flame Comments and analysis of The Story Of The Ashes And The Flame by Edwin Arlington Robinson 45 Comments
5518 For a Dead Lady Comments and analysis of For a Dead Lady by Edwin Arlington Robinson 1 Comment
5492 Dear Friends Comments and analysis of Dear Friends by Edwin Arlington Robinson 3 Comments
5485 The Tree In Pamela's Garden Comments and analysis of The Tree In Pamela's Garden by Edwin Arlington Robinson 23 Comments
5260 Credo
4844 Richard Cory Comments and analysis of Richard Cory by Edwin Arlington Robinson 1067 Comments
4710 Three Quatrains
4636 An Old Story Comments and analysis of An Old Story by Edwin Arlington Robinson 6 Comments
4630 Octaves
4597 Her Eyes Comments and analysis of Her Eyes by Edwin Arlington Robinson 35 Comments
4595 Villanelle of Change
4573 Archibald's Example Comments and analysis of Archibald's Example by Edwin Arlington Robinson 6 Comments
4573 The Garden
4494 Thomas Hood
4340 The World Comments and analysis of The World by Edwin Arlington Robinson 2 Comments
4286 Cassandra Comments and analysis of Cassandra by Edwin Arlington Robinson 1 Comment
4275 Another Dark Lady Comments and analysis of Another Dark Lady by Edwin Arlington Robinson 3 Comments
4244 Sonnet Comments and analysis of Sonnet by Edwin Arlington Robinson 2 Comments
4218 Amaryllis Comments and analysis of Amaryllis by Edwin Arlington Robinson 1 Comment
4091 Calvary Comments and analysis of Calvary by Edwin Arlington Robinson 4 Comments
4037 The Flying Dutchman
3927 The Field of Glory
3915 Bon Voyage
3859 The Dark House Comments and analysis of The Dark House by Edwin Arlington Robinson 35 Comments
3818 Zola
3813 Ben Jonson Entertains a Man from Stratford
3789 Captain Craig Comments and analysis of Captain Craig by Edwin Arlington Robinson 14 Comments
3697 Ballad of Broken Flutes Comments and analysis of Ballad of Broken Flutes by Edwin Arlington Robinson 1 Comment
3670 Lost Anchors
3471 The Children of the Night Comments and analysis of The Children of the Night by Edwin Arlington Robinson 2 Comments
3449 The Unforgiven
3304 Bewick Finzer Comments and analysis of Bewick Finzer by Edwin Arlington Robinson 1 Comment
3221 Peace on Earth
3166 For Some Poems by Matthew Arnold
3122 Walt Whitman Comments and analysis of Walt Whitman by Edwin Arlington Robinson 1 Comment
3069 The Clerks
3052 John Evereldown
3037 The Rat
3006 John Gorham Comments and analysis of John Gorham by Edwin Arlington Robinson 258 Comments
3001 Flammonde Comments and analysis of Flammonde by Edwin Arlington Robinson 2 Comments
2929 Exit
2866 London Bridge Comments and analysis of London Bridge by Edwin Arlington Robinson 8 Comments
2864 The Town Down by the River
2835 The Growth of Lorraine
2796 Alma Mater
2792 Lazarus Comments and analysis of Lazarus by Edwin Arlington Robinson 16 Comments
2717 Veteran Sirens Comments and analysis of Veteran Sirens by Edwin Arlington Robinson 1 Comment
2713 Ballad by the Fire
2652 Ben Trovato
2612 Variations of Greek Themes Comments and analysis of Variations of Greek Themes by Edwin Arlington Robinson 6 Comments
2606 But for the Grace of God
2596 Many Are Called
2590 An Evangelist's Wife
2577 The False Gods
2551 The Burning Book
2536 Uncle Ananias
2517 Ballad of a Ship
2504 Late Summer
2469 Rembrandt to Rembrandt Comments and analysis of Rembrandt to Rembrandt by Edwin Arlington Robinson 16 Comments
2466 Afterthoughts Comments and analysis of Afterthoughts by Edwin Arlington Robinson 2 Comments
2455 Two Men Comments and analysis of Two Men by Edwin Arlington Robinson 1 Comment
2450 Old King Cole
2445 Souvenir
2434 Merlin
2432 Cortège
2424 Siege Perilous
2316 A Song at Shannon's
2314 The House on the Hill Comments and analysis of The House on the Hill by Edwin Arlington Robinson 264 Comments
2314 Twilight Song
2309 The Tavern Comments and analysis of The Tavern by Edwin Arlington Robinson 2 Comments
2302 The Book of Annandale
2298 The Sage
2280 Doctor of Billiards
2277 Horace to Leuconoë
2259 The Master Comments and analysis of The Master by Edwin Arlington Robinson 1 Comment
2258 Avon's Harvest Comments and analysis of Avon's Harvest by Edwin Arlington Robinson 10 Comments
2255 Leonora
2204 The Woman and the Wife
2198 The Clinging Vine Comments and analysis of The Clinging Vine by Edwin Arlington Robinson 11 Comments
2186 John Brown
2172 As a World Would Have It Comments and analysis of As a World Would Have It by Edwin Arlington Robinson 7 Comments
2171 Miniver Cheevy Comments and analysis of Miniver Cheevy by Edwin Arlington Robinson 506 Comments
2153 The Pity of the Leaves
2121 Lingard and the Stars
2109 The Altar
2100 For Ariva Comments and analysis of For Ariva by Edwin Arlington Robinson 6 Comments
2088 Fragment
2083 The Poor Relation
2081 The Klondike
2069 Two Quatrains
2067 Erasmus
2058 The Whip
2049 Recalled
2046 Charles Carville's Eyes
2046 Modernities
2029 The White Lights
2026 The Wise Brothers
2002 The Wandering Jew
2000 On the Way
1984 Sainte-Nitouche Comments and analysis of Sainte-Nitouche by Edwin Arlington Robinson 5 Comments
1971 The Corridor Comments and analysis of The Corridor by Edwin Arlington Robinson 1 Comment
1970 Stafford's Cabin
1944 Verlaine
1941 Lancelot
1935 The Old King's New Jester Comments and analysis of The Old King's New Jester by Edwin Arlington Robinson 1 Comment
1922 Shadrach O'Leary Comments and analysis of Shadrach O'Leary by Edwin Arlington Robinson 1 Comment
1914 The Voice of Age
1902 Bokardo
1899 Llewellyn and the Tree
1894 Fleming Helphenstine
1888 Pasa Thalassa Thalassa
1887 The Return of Morgan and Fingal
1880 The Valley of the Shadow
1835 Inferential
1814 Atherton's Gambit
1810 The Sunken Crown
1805 Two Sonnets
1804 The Revealer
1787 Job the Rejected
1765 The Companion
1754 Vain Gratuities Comments and analysis of Vain Gratuities by Edwin Arlington Robinson 1 Comment
1740 Lisette and Eileen
1727 Nimmo Comments and analysis of Nimmo by Edwin Arlington Robinson 2 Comments
1705 Two Gardens in Linndale
1700 Rahel to Varnhagen
1696 The New Tenants
1682 Vickery's Mountain
1680 Monadnock through the Trees
1642 The Chorus of Old Men in Aegus
1610 Clavering
1511 Leffingwell
1496 How Annandale Went Out Comments and analysis of How Annandale Went Out by Edwin Arlington Robinson 7 Comments
1495 Tasker Norcross
1494 The Three Taverns Comments and analysis of The Three Taverns by Edwin Arlington Robinson 1 Comment
1099 The Dark Hills Comments and analysis of The Dark Hills by Edwin Arlington Robinson 4 Comments
914 Isaac and Archibald Comments and analysis of Isaac and Archibald by Edwin Arlington Robinson 222 Comments
884 Firelight Comments and analysis of Firelight by Edwin Arlington Robinson 29 Comments
814 Aaron Stark Comments and analysis of Aaron Stark by Edwin Arlington Robinson 7 Comments
801 New England
692 Aunt Imogen Comments and analysis of Aunt Imogen by Edwin Arlington Robinson 43 Comments
589 Discovery
570 L'envoy
541 The Man Against the Sky Comments and analysis of The Man Against the Sky by Edwin Arlington Robinson 37 Comments
517 Karma Comments and analysis of Karma by Edwin Arlington Robinson 5 Comments
440 Neighbors
421 Supremacy
411 The Long Race
392 Theophilus Comments and analysis of Theophilus by Edwin Arlington Robinson 3 Comments
332 Tact Comments and analysis of Tact by Edwin Arlington Robinson 1 Comment
318 The Wilderness
232 An Island Comments and analysis of An Island by Edwin Arlington Robinson 5 Comments
194 Hillcrest
190 The Gift of God Comments and analysis of The Gift of God by Edwin Arlington Robinson 1 Comment
158 Boston
143 Calverly's
136 Old Trails
127 George Crabbe
120 Momus Comments and analysis of Momus by Edwin Arlington Robinson 1 Comment
54 Eros Turannos Comments and analysis of Eros Turannos by Edwin Arlington Robinson 231 Comments
42 The Dead Village
31 The Pilot
29 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
29 Two Octaves
27 Caput Mortuum Comments and analysis of Caput Mortuum by Edwin Arlington Robinson 1 Comment
8 The Torrent
5 Demos
5 Partnership Comments and analysis of Partnership by Edwin Arlington Robinson 18 Comments


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