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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
37210 Mr Flood's Party Comments and analysis of Mr Flood's Party by Edwin Arlington Robinson 36 Comments
20291 Luke Havergal Comments and analysis of Luke Havergal by Edwin Arlington Robinson 21 Comments
19052 The Mill Comments and analysis of The Mill by Edwin Arlington Robinson 26 Comments
14700 Haunted House Comments and analysis of Haunted House by Edwin Arlington Robinson 37 Comments
11767 Reuben Bright Comments and analysis of Reuben Bright by Edwin Arlington Robinson 5 Comments
10282 Cliff Klingenhagen Comments and analysis of Cliff Klingenhagen by Edwin Arlington Robinson 8 Comments
8969 Maya
7358 Ballad of Dead Friends Comments and analysis of Ballad of Dead Friends by Edwin Arlington Robinson 5 Comments
6894 Why He Was There Comments and analysis of Why He Was There by Edwin Arlington Robinson 3 Comments
6107 A Happy Man Comments and analysis of A Happy Man by Edwin Arlington Robinson 3 Comments
5774 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
5493 For a Dead Lady Comments and analysis of For a Dead Lady by Edwin Arlington Robinson 1 Comment
5466 The Tree In Pamela's Garden Comments and analysis of The Tree In Pamela's Garden by Edwin Arlington Robinson 23 Comments
5431 Dear Friends Comments and analysis of Dear Friends by Edwin Arlington Robinson 3 Comments
5240 Credo
4748 Richard Cory Comments and analysis of Richard Cory by Edwin Arlington Robinson 1067 Comments
4702 Three Quatrains
4617 Octaves
4597 An Old Story Comments and analysis of An Old Story by Edwin Arlington Robinson 6 Comments
4582 Villanelle of Change
4580 Her Eyes Comments and analysis of Her Eyes by Edwin Arlington Robinson 35 Comments
4560 The Garden
4556 Archibald's Example Comments and analysis of Archibald's Example by Edwin Arlington Robinson 6 Comments
4480 Thomas Hood
4326 The World Comments and analysis of The World by Edwin Arlington Robinson 2 Comments
4264 Cassandra Comments and analysis of Cassandra by Edwin Arlington Robinson 1 Comment
4251 Another Dark Lady Comments and analysis of Another Dark Lady by Edwin Arlington Robinson 3 Comments
4223 Sonnet Comments and analysis of Sonnet by Edwin Arlington Robinson 2 Comments
4200 Amaryllis Comments and analysis of Amaryllis by Edwin Arlington Robinson 1 Comment
4067 Calvary Comments and analysis of Calvary by Edwin Arlington Robinson 4 Comments
4023 The Flying Dutchman
3908 The Field of Glory
3898 Bon Voyage
3836 The Dark House Comments and analysis of The Dark House by Edwin Arlington Robinson 35 Comments
3805 Zola
3799 Ben Jonson Entertains a Man from Stratford
3769 Captain Craig Comments and analysis of Captain Craig by Edwin Arlington Robinson 14 Comments
3682 Ballad of Broken Flutes Comments and analysis of Ballad of Broken Flutes by Edwin Arlington Robinson 1 Comment
3656 Lost Anchors
3456 The Children of the Night Comments and analysis of The Children of the Night by Edwin Arlington Robinson 2 Comments
3427 The Unforgiven
3285 Bewick Finzer Comments and analysis of Bewick Finzer by Edwin Arlington Robinson 1 Comment
3194 Peace on Earth
3156 For Some Poems by Matthew Arnold
3113 Walt Whitman Comments and analysis of Walt Whitman by Edwin Arlington Robinson 1 Comment
3058 The Clerks
3038 John Evereldown
3024 The Rat
2991 John Gorham Comments and analysis of John Gorham by Edwin Arlington Robinson 258 Comments
2971 Flammonde Comments and analysis of Flammonde by Edwin Arlington Robinson 2 Comments
2916 Exit
2853 London Bridge Comments and analysis of London Bridge by Edwin Arlington Robinson 8 Comments
2837 The Town Down by the River
2818 The Growth of Lorraine
2775 Alma Mater
2770 Lazarus Comments and analysis of Lazarus by Edwin Arlington Robinson 16 Comments
2698 Veteran Sirens Comments and analysis of Veteran Sirens by Edwin Arlington Robinson 1 Comment
2697 Ballad by the Fire
2636 Ben Trovato
2594 But for the Grace of God
2594 Variations of Greek Themes Comments and analysis of Variations of Greek Themes by Edwin Arlington Robinson 6 Comments
2575 Many Are Called
2573 An Evangelist's Wife
2560 The False Gods
2535 The Burning Book
2514 Uncle Ananias
2503 Ballad of a Ship
2479 Late Summer
2451 Afterthoughts Comments and analysis of Afterthoughts by Edwin Arlington Robinson 2 Comments
2449 Rembrandt to Rembrandt Comments and analysis of Rembrandt to Rembrandt by Edwin Arlington Robinson 16 Comments
2435 Old King Cole
2435 Souvenir
2422 Merlin
2421 Cortège
2413 Siege Perilous
2402 Demos
2399 Two Men Comments and analysis of Two Men by Edwin Arlington Robinson 1 Comment
2300 Twilight Song
2297 A Song at Shannon's
2290 The Tavern Comments and analysis of The Tavern by Edwin Arlington Robinson 2 Comments
2287 The Book of Annandale
2285 The Sage
2283 The House on the Hill Comments and analysis of The House on the Hill by Edwin Arlington Robinson 264 Comments
2270 Partnership Comments and analysis of Partnership by Edwin Arlington Robinson 18 Comments
2267 Doctor of Billiards
2264 Horace to Leuconoë
2248 The Master Comments and analysis of The Master by Edwin Arlington Robinson 1 Comment
2246 Avon's Harvest Comments and analysis of Avon's Harvest by Edwin Arlington Robinson 10 Comments
2242 Leonora
2191 The Woman and the Wife
2179 The Clinging Vine Comments and analysis of The Clinging Vine by Edwin Arlington Robinson 11 Comments
2165 John Brown
2163 As a World Would Have It Comments and analysis of As a World Would Have It by Edwin Arlington Robinson 7 Comments
2144 The Pity of the Leaves
2144 The Torrent
2112 Miniver Cheevy Comments and analysis of Miniver Cheevy by Edwin Arlington Robinson 506 Comments
2104 Lingard and the Stars
2097 The Altar
2086 For Ariva Comments and analysis of For Ariva by Edwin Arlington Robinson 6 Comments
2075 Fragment
2071 The Klondike
2062 The Poor Relation
2058 Two Quatrains
2056 Erasmus
2045 The Whip
2036 Modernities
2036 Recalled
2029 Charles Carville's Eyes
2014 The White Lights
2014 The Wise Brothers
1983 On the Way
1981 The Wandering Jew
1973 Sainte-Nitouche Comments and analysis of Sainte-Nitouche by Edwin Arlington Robinson 5 Comments
1960 The Corridor Comments and analysis of The Corridor by Edwin Arlington Robinson 1 Comment
1955 Stafford's Cabin
1934 Verlaine
1931 Lancelot
1923 The Old King's New Jester Comments and analysis of The Old King's New Jester by Edwin Arlington Robinson 1 Comment
1911 Shadrach O'Leary Comments and analysis of Shadrach O'Leary by Edwin Arlington Robinson 1 Comment
1897 The Voice of Age
1887 Llewellyn and the Tree
1884 Bokardo
1878 Fleming Helphenstine
1876 Pasa Thalassa Thalassa
1870 The Valley of the Shadow
1867 The Return of Morgan and Fingal
1823 Inferential
1800 Atherton's Gambit
1798 The Sunken Crown
1797 Two Sonnets
1788 The Revealer
1778 Job the Rejected
1756 The Companion
1744 Vain Gratuities Comments and analysis of Vain Gratuities by Edwin Arlington Robinson 1 Comment
1732 Lisette and Eileen
1713 Nimmo Comments and analysis of Nimmo by Edwin Arlington Robinson 2 Comments
1693 Rahel to Varnhagen
1688 The New Tenants
1685 Two Gardens in Linndale
1669 Vickery's Mountain
1667 Monadnock through the Trees
1633 The Chorus of Old Men in Aegus
1593 Clavering
1502 Leffingwell
1487 Tasker Norcross
1485 The Three Taverns Comments and analysis of The Three Taverns by Edwin Arlington Robinson 1 Comment
1455 How Annandale Went Out Comments and analysis of How Annandale Went Out by Edwin Arlington Robinson 7 Comments
1055 The Dark Hills Comments and analysis of The Dark Hills by Edwin Arlington Robinson 4 Comments
892 Isaac and Archibald Comments and analysis of Isaac and Archibald by Edwin Arlington Robinson 222 Comments
864 Firelight Comments and analysis of Firelight by Edwin Arlington Robinson 29 Comments
797 Aaron Stark Comments and analysis of Aaron Stark by Edwin Arlington Robinson 7 Comments
782 New England
667 Aunt Imogen Comments and analysis of Aunt Imogen by Edwin Arlington Robinson 43 Comments
572 Discovery
545 L'envoy
522 The Man Against the Sky Comments and analysis of The Man Against the Sky by Edwin Arlington Robinson 37 Comments
480 Karma Comments and analysis of Karma by Edwin Arlington Robinson 5 Comments
423 Neighbors
407 Supremacy
401 The Long Race
380 Theophilus Comments and analysis of Theophilus by Edwin Arlington Robinson 3 Comments
319 Tact Comments and analysis of Tact by Edwin Arlington Robinson 1 Comment
304 The Wilderness
218 An Island Comments and analysis of An Island by Edwin Arlington Robinson 5 Comments
174 Hillcrest
160 The Gift of God Comments and analysis of The Gift of God by Edwin Arlington Robinson 1 Comment
136 Boston
129 Calverly's
127 Old Trails
113 George Crabbe
110 Momus Comments and analysis of Momus by Edwin Arlington Robinson 1 Comment
33 Eros Turannos Comments and analysis of Eros Turannos by Edwin Arlington Robinson 231 Comments
28 The Dead Village
20 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
18 The Pilot
18 Two Octaves
17 Caput Mortuum Comments and analysis of Caput Mortuum by Edwin Arlington Robinson 1 Comment


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