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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
37602 Mr Flood's Party Comments and analysis of Mr Flood's Party by Edwin Arlington Robinson 48 Comments
20607 Luke Havergal Comments and analysis of Luke Havergal by Edwin Arlington Robinson 24 Comments
19404 The Mill Comments and analysis of The Mill by Edwin Arlington Robinson 33 Comments
15048 Haunted House Comments and analysis of Haunted House by Edwin Arlington Robinson 44 Comments
12091 Reuben Bright Comments and analysis of Reuben Bright by Edwin Arlington Robinson 8 Comments
10829 Cliff Klingenhagen Comments and analysis of Cliff Klingenhagen by Edwin Arlington Robinson 9 Comments
9086 Maya
7518 Ballad of Dead Friends Comments and analysis of Ballad of Dead Friends by Edwin Arlington Robinson 5 Comments
7377 Why He Was There Comments and analysis of Why He Was There by Edwin Arlington Robinson 8 Comments
6236 A Happy Man Comments and analysis of A Happy Man by Edwin Arlington Robinson 3 Comments
5917 The Story Of The Ashes And The Flame Comments and analysis of The Story Of The Ashes And The Flame by Edwin Arlington Robinson 53 Comments
5787 Dear Friends Comments and analysis of Dear Friends by Edwin Arlington Robinson 9 Comments
5782 For a Dead Lady Comments and analysis of For a Dead Lady by Edwin Arlington Robinson 1 Comment
5778 Richard Cory Comments and analysis of Richard Cory by Edwin Arlington Robinson 1096 Comments
5626 The Tree In Pamela's Garden Comments and analysis of The Tree In Pamela's Garden by Edwin Arlington Robinson 28 Comments
5392 Credo
4834 An Old Story Comments and analysis of An Old Story by Edwin Arlington Robinson 6 Comments
4808 Three Quatrains
4763 Octaves
4747 Her Eyes Comments and analysis of Her Eyes by Edwin Arlington Robinson 42 Comments
4694 Villanelle of Change
4689 The Garden
4678 Archibald's Example Comments and analysis of Archibald's Example by Edwin Arlington Robinson 10 Comments
4600 Thomas Hood
4415 The World Comments and analysis of The World by Edwin Arlington Robinson 2 Comments
4412 Cassandra Comments and analysis of Cassandra by Edwin Arlington Robinson 1 Comment
4390 Another Dark Lady Comments and analysis of Another Dark Lady by Edwin Arlington Robinson 4 Comments
4336 Amaryllis Comments and analysis of Amaryllis by Edwin Arlington Robinson 1 Comment
4335 Sonnet Comments and analysis of Sonnet by Edwin Arlington Robinson 2 Comments
4246 Calvary Comments and analysis of Calvary by Edwin Arlington Robinson 7 Comments
4150 The Flying Dutchman
4066 The Field of Glory
3998 Bon Voyage
3949 The Dark House Comments and analysis of The Dark House by Edwin Arlington Robinson 36 Comments
3942 Captain Craig Comments and analysis of Captain Craig by Edwin Arlington Robinson 17 Comments
3924 Zola
3883 Ben Jonson Entertains a Man from Stratford
3797 Ballad of Broken Flutes Comments and analysis of Ballad of Broken Flutes by Edwin Arlington Robinson 1 Comment
3769 Lost Anchors
3562 The Children of the Night Comments and analysis of The Children of the Night by Edwin Arlington Robinson 4 Comments
3555 The Unforgiven
3468 Bewick Finzer Comments and analysis of Bewick Finzer by Edwin Arlington Robinson 1 Comment
3346 Peace on Earth
3252 For Some Poems by Matthew Arnold
3206 Walt Whitman Comments and analysis of Walt Whitman by Edwin Arlington Robinson 1 Comment
3166 The Clerks
3155 John Gorham Comments and analysis of John Gorham by Edwin Arlington Robinson 264 Comments
3154 Flammonde Comments and analysis of Flammonde by Edwin Arlington Robinson 2 Comments
3136 John Evereldown
3125 The Rat
3084 Exit
3018 The Town Down by the River
2972 London Bridge Comments and analysis of London Bridge by Edwin Arlington Robinson 11 Comments
2922 The Growth of Lorraine
2916 Alma Mater
2910 Lazarus Comments and analysis of Lazarus by Edwin Arlington Robinson 20 Comments
2824 Veteran Sirens Comments and analysis of Veteran Sirens by Edwin Arlington Robinson 1 Comment
2778 Variations of Greek Themes Comments and analysis of Variations of Greek Themes by Edwin Arlington Robinson 10 Comments
2758 The False Gods
2740 Ben Trovato
2733 Two Men Comments and analysis of Two Men by Edwin Arlington Robinson 1 Comment
2696 Many Are Called
2692 But for the Grace of God
2690 An Evangelist's Wife
2674 Late Summer
2663 Uncle Ananias
2642 The Burning Book
2612 The House on the Hill Comments and analysis of The House on the Hill by Edwin Arlington Robinson 273 Comments
2611 Ballad of a Ship
2610 Rembrandt to Rembrandt Comments and analysis of Rembrandt to Rembrandt by Edwin Arlington Robinson 18 Comments
2560 Afterthoughts Comments and analysis of Afterthoughts by Edwin Arlington Robinson 6 Comments
2557 Old King Cole
2544 Merlin Comments and analysis of Merlin by Edwin Arlington Robinson 1 Comment
2535 Cortège
2520 Souvenir
2519 Siege Perilous
2482 The Master Comments and analysis of The Master by Edwin Arlington Robinson 1 Comment
2419 A Song at Shannon's
2415 The Tavern Comments and analysis of The Tavern by Edwin Arlington Robinson 2 Comments
2412 Leonora
2393 Twilight Song
2382 The Sage
2377 The Book of Annandale
2373 Doctor of Billiards
2359 Horace to Leuconoë
2343 Avon's Harvest Comments and analysis of Avon's Harvest by Edwin Arlington Robinson 11 Comments
2334 The Clinging Vine Comments and analysis of The Clinging Vine by Edwin Arlington Robinson 14 Comments
2313 The Klondike
2284 The Woman and the Wife
2281 John Brown
2247 As a World Would Have It Comments and analysis of As a World Would Have It by Edwin Arlington Robinson 7 Comments
2236 The Pity of the Leaves
2208 Lingard and the Stars
2193 The Wandering Jew
2185 For Ariva Comments and analysis of For Ariva by Edwin Arlington Robinson 7 Comments
2182 The Altar
2179 Fragment
2170 The Poor Relation
2151 Recalled
2147 Charles Carville's Eyes
2146 Erasmus
2142 Two Quatrains
2138 The Whip
2124 Modernities
2104 The White Lights
2099 The Wise Brothers
2089 On the Way
2085 Stafford's Cabin
2080 Sainte-Nitouche Comments and analysis of Sainte-Nitouche by Edwin Arlington Robinson 6 Comments
2049 The Corridor Comments and analysis of The Corridor by Edwin Arlington Robinson 1 Comment
2043 The Voice of Age
2031 Verlaine
2021 The Old King's New Jester Comments and analysis of The Old King's New Jester by Edwin Arlington Robinson 1 Comment
2010 Bokardo
2007 Lancelot
2004 Shadrach O'Leary Comments and analysis of Shadrach O'Leary by Edwin Arlington Robinson 1 Comment
2002 Llewellyn and the Tree
1975 Atherton's Gambit
1971 Fleming Helphenstine
1962 The Return of Morgan and Fingal
1961 Pasa Thalassa Thalassa
1939 The Valley of the Shadow
1915 Inferential
1892 The Sunken Crown
1879 Two Sonnets
1874 Job the Rejected
1873 The Revealer
1843 The Companion
1833 The New Tenants
1829 Vain Gratuities Comments and analysis of Vain Gratuities by Edwin Arlington Robinson 1 Comment
1816 Two Gardens in Linndale
1813 How Annandale Went Out Comments and analysis of How Annandale Went Out by Edwin Arlington Robinson 16 Comments
1809 Nimmo Comments and analysis of Nimmo by Edwin Arlington Robinson 2 Comments
1807 Lisette and Eileen
1783 Rahel to Varnhagen
1755 Monadnock through the Trees
1752 Vickery's Mountain
1713 The Chorus of Old Men in Aegus
1681 Clavering
1649 Leffingwell
1562 Tasker Norcross
1549 The Three Taverns Comments and analysis of The Three Taverns by Edwin Arlington Robinson 1 Comment
1333 The Dark Hills Comments and analysis of The Dark Hills by Edwin Arlington Robinson 4 Comments
1136 Firelight Comments and analysis of Firelight by Edwin Arlington Robinson 36 Comments
1040 Isaac and Archibald Comments and analysis of Isaac and Archibald by Edwin Arlington Robinson 222 Comments
964 Aaron Stark Comments and analysis of Aaron Stark by Edwin Arlington Robinson 7 Comments
939 New England
866 Karma Comments and analysis of Karma by Edwin Arlington Robinson 5 Comments
852 Aunt Imogen Comments and analysis of Aunt Imogen by Edwin Arlington Robinson 49 Comments
725 L'envoy
669 Discovery
549 Neighbors
515 Supremacy
487 The Long Race
470 Theophilus Comments and analysis of Theophilus by Edwin Arlington Robinson 3 Comments
415 Tact Comments and analysis of Tact by Edwin Arlington Robinson 1 Comment
410 The Wilderness
315 An Island Comments and analysis of An Island by Edwin Arlington Robinson 6 Comments
311 Eros Turannos Comments and analysis of Eros Turannos by Edwin Arlington Robinson 242 Comments
303 Hillcrest
301 The Gift of God Comments and analysis of The Gift of God by Edwin Arlington Robinson 1 Comment
293 George Crabbe
283 Boston
250 Old Trails
234 Calverly's
200 Momus Comments and analysis of Momus by Edwin Arlington Robinson 1 Comment
145 The Dead Village
141 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
129 The Pilot
120 Caput Mortuum Comments and analysis of Caput Mortuum by Edwin Arlington Robinson 1 Comment
118 Partnership Comments and analysis of Partnership by Edwin Arlington Robinson 22 Comments
105 The Man Against the Sky Comments and analysis of The Man Against the Sky by Edwin Arlington Robinson 38 Comments
100 The Torrent
95 Two Octaves
84 Demos
6 Miniver Cheevy Comments and analysis of Miniver Cheevy by Edwin Arlington Robinson 529 Comments
6 Ballad by the Fire


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