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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
36574 Mr Flood's Party Comments and analysis of Mr Flood's Party by Edwin Arlington Robinson 31 Comments
19921 Luke Havergal Comments and analysis of Luke Havergal by Edwin Arlington Robinson 19 Comments
18649 The Mill Comments and analysis of The Mill by Edwin Arlington Robinson 17 Comments
14430 Karma Comments and analysis of Karma by Edwin Arlington Robinson 3 Comments
14380 Haunted House Comments and analysis of Haunted House by Edwin Arlington Robinson 34 Comments
11935 Eros Turannos Comments and analysis of Eros Turannos by Edwin Arlington Robinson 216 Comments
11346 Reuben Bright Comments and analysis of Reuben Bright by Edwin Arlington Robinson 3 Comments
9351 Cliff Klingenhagen Comments and analysis of Cliff Klingenhagen by Edwin Arlington Robinson 8 Comments
8805 Maya
7060 Ballad of Dead Friends Comments and analysis of Ballad of Dead Friends by Edwin Arlington Robinson 3 Comments
6219 Why He Was There Comments and analysis of Why He Was There by Edwin Arlington Robinson 2 Comments
5831 A Happy Man Comments and analysis of A Happy Man by Edwin Arlington Robinson 3 Comments
5650 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
5264 The Tree In Pamela's Garden Comments and analysis of The Tree In Pamela's Garden by Edwin Arlington Robinson 21 Comments
5156 For a Dead Lady Comments and analysis of For a Dead Lady by Edwin Arlington Robinson 1 Comment
5042 Credo
4853 Dear Friends Comments and analysis of Dear Friends by Edwin Arlington Robinson 3 Comments
4553 Three Quatrains
4417 Octaves
4412 Archibald's Example Comments and analysis of Archibald's Example by Edwin Arlington Robinson 6 Comments
4410 Villanelle of Change
4405 The Garden
4359 Her Eyes Comments and analysis of Her Eyes by Edwin Arlington Robinson 32 Comments
4345 An Old Story Comments and analysis of An Old Story by Edwin Arlington Robinson 6 Comments
4238 Thomas Hood
4211 The World Comments and analysis of The World by Edwin Arlington Robinson 2 Comments
4056 Sonnet Comments and analysis of Sonnet by Edwin Arlington Robinson 2 Comments
4038 Another Dark Lady Comments and analysis of Another Dark Lady by Edwin Arlington Robinson 1 Comment
3997 Cassandra Comments and analysis of Cassandra by Edwin Arlington Robinson 1 Comment
3974 Amaryllis Comments and analysis of Amaryllis by Edwin Arlington Robinson 1 Comment
3888 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
3877 Calvary Comments and analysis of Calvary by Edwin Arlington Robinson 3 Comments
3837 The Flying Dutchman
3797 Bon Voyage
3755 The Field of Glory
3681 Ben Jonson Entertains a Man from Stratford
3636 The Dark House Comments and analysis of The Dark House by Edwin Arlington Robinson 32 Comments
3613 Zola
3588 Captain Craig Comments and analysis of Captain Craig by Edwin Arlington Robinson 11 Comments
3517 Lost Anchors
3449 Ballad of Broken Flutes Comments and analysis of Ballad of Broken Flutes by Edwin Arlington Robinson 1 Comment
3295 The Unforgiven
3280 The Children of the Night Comments and analysis of The Children of the Night by Edwin Arlington Robinson 2 Comments
3143 Richard Cory Comments and analysis of Richard Cory by Edwin Arlington Robinson 1044 Comments
3122 Bewick Finzer
3083 Peace on Earth
3043 For Some Poems by Matthew Arnold
2992 Walt Whitman Comments and analysis of Walt Whitman by Edwin Arlington Robinson 1 Comment
2967 Calverly's
2902 The Clerks
2881 The Rat
2831 John Evereldown
2799 Exit
2742 Flammonde Comments and analysis of Flammonde by Edwin Arlington Robinson 2 Comments
2732 John Gorham Comments and analysis of John Gorham by Edwin Arlington Robinson 252 Comments
2701 London Bridge Comments and analysis of London Bridge by Edwin Arlington Robinson 6 Comments
2686 The Growth of Lorraine
2664 The Town Down by the River
2614 Lazarus Comments and analysis of Lazarus by Edwin Arlington Robinson 16 Comments
2567 Alma Mater
2528 Ballad by the Fire
2509 Veteran Sirens Comments and analysis of Veteran Sirens by Edwin Arlington Robinson 1 Comment
2450 The Gift of God Comments and analysis of The Gift of God by Edwin Arlington Robinson 1 Comment
2435 But for the Grace of God
2433 Variations of Greek Themes Comments and analysis of Variations of Greek Themes by Edwin Arlington Robinson 6 Comments
2419 The False Gods
2418 Ben Trovato
2410 An Evangelist's Wife
2395 Many Are Called
2340 The Burning Book
2318 Souvenir
2317 Momus Comments and analysis of Momus by Edwin Arlington Robinson 1 Comment
2311 Siege Perilous
2301 Uncle Ananias
2298 Old King Cole
2293 Demos
2286 Rembrandt to Rembrandt Comments and analysis of Rembrandt to Rembrandt by Edwin Arlington Robinson 15 Comments
2283 Ballad of a Ship
2271 Afterthoughts Comments and analysis of Afterthoughts by Edwin Arlington Robinson 1 Comment
2257 Cortège
2251 Merlin
2219 Two Men Comments and analysis of Two Men by Edwin Arlington Robinson 1 Comment
2207 Hillcrest
2189 Twilight Song
2182 Late Summer
2181 The Book of Annandale
2172 The Pilot
2166 The Sage
2165 A Song at Shannon's
2151 Doctor of Billiards
2128 The Master Comments and analysis of The Master by Edwin Arlington Robinson 1 Comment
2126 George Crabbe
2120 Horace to Leuconoë
2109 Boston
2109 Leonora
2098 The Dead Village
2092 The Tavern Comments and analysis of The Tavern by Edwin Arlington Robinson 2 Comments
2087 Avon's Harvest Comments and analysis of Avon's Harvest by Edwin Arlington Robinson 9 Comments
2086 Partnership Comments and analysis of Partnership by Edwin Arlington Robinson 10 Comments
2069 The Woman and the Wife
2039 The Clinging Vine Comments and analysis of The Clinging Vine by Edwin Arlington Robinson 10 Comments
2038 John Brown
2035 As a World Would Have It Comments and analysis of As a World Would Have It by Edwin Arlington Robinson 6 Comments
2019 The Pity of the Leaves
2017 The Torrent
1974 Lingard and the Stars
1965 Fragment
1958 The Poor Relation
1947 Erasmus
1943 The Altar
1936 For Ariva Comments and analysis of For Ariva by Edwin Arlington Robinson 5 Comments
1919 Two Quatrains
1918 The Wise Brothers
1917 The Klondike
1911 The Whip
1908 Modernities
1905 Recalled
1903 Charles Carville's Eyes
1892 The White Lights
1878 On the Way
1831 The Corridor Comments and analysis of The Corridor by Edwin Arlington Robinson 1 Comment
1812 Lancelot
1805 Sainte-Nitouche Comments and analysis of Sainte-Nitouche by Edwin Arlington Robinson 4 Comments
1796 Stafford's Cabin
1795 Shadrach O'Leary Comments and analysis of Shadrach O'Leary by Edwin Arlington Robinson 1 Comment
1787 The Old King's New Jester Comments and analysis of The Old King's New Jester by Edwin Arlington Robinson 1 Comment
1781 Caput Mortuum Comments and analysis of Caput Mortuum by Edwin Arlington Robinson 1 Comment
1775 Verlaine
1771 Llewellyn and the Tree
1767 The Valley of the Shadow
1766 The Voice of Age
1762 Pasa Thalassa Thalassa
1732 The Wandering Jew
1721 Fleming Helphenstine
1721 The Return of Morgan and Fingal
1719 Bokardo
1697 The Sunken Crown
1694 Inferential
1693 Two Sonnets
1681 Atherton's Gambit
1676 The Revealer
1655 Job the Rejected
1639 Two Octaves
1625 The Companion
1624 Lisette and Eileen
1619 Vain Gratuities Comments and analysis of Vain Gratuities by Edwin Arlington Robinson 1 Comment
1615 The House on the Hill Comments and analysis of The House on the Hill by Edwin Arlington Robinson 247 Comments
1588 Rahel to Varnhagen
1585 Two Gardens in Linndale
1582 The New Tenants
1562 Vickery's Mountain
1552 Monadnock through the Trees
1527 Nimmo
1517 The Chorus of Old Men in Aegus
1469 Clavering
1400 Miniver Cheevy Comments and analysis of Miniver Cheevy by Edwin Arlington Robinson 491 Comments
1386 Tasker Norcross
1379 The Three Taverns Comments and analysis of The Three Taverns by Edwin Arlington Robinson 1 Comment
1281 Leffingwell
787 How Annandale Went Out Comments and analysis of How Annandale Went Out by Edwin Arlington Robinson 3 Comments
697 Isaac and Archibald Comments and analysis of Isaac and Archibald by Edwin Arlington Robinson 219 Comments
676 The Dark Hills Comments and analysis of The Dark Hills by Edwin Arlington Robinson 2 Comments
577 Firelight Comments and analysis of Firelight by Edwin Arlington Robinson 23 Comments
562 Aaron Stark Comments and analysis of Aaron Stark by Edwin Arlington Robinson 6 Comments
549 New England
397 Discovery
383 Aunt Imogen Comments and analysis of Aunt Imogen by Edwin Arlington Robinson 37 Comments
360 The Man Against the Sky Comments and analysis of The Man Against the Sky by Edwin Arlington Robinson 34 Comments
339 L'envoy
271 The Long Race
270 Supremacy
241 Neighbors
225 Tact Comments and analysis of Tact by Edwin Arlington Robinson 1 Comment
223 Theophilus Comments and analysis of Theophilus by Edwin Arlington Robinson 1 Comment
184 The Wilderness
29 An Island Comments and analysis of An Island by Edwin Arlington Robinson 1 Comment
23 Old Trails


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