Edwin Arlington Robinson

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Edwin Arlington Robinson
Edwin Arlington Robinson.jpg
BornDecember 22, 1869
Head Tide (Alna), Lincoln County, Maine
DiedApril 6, 1935(1935-04-06) (aged 65)
New York City[1]
OccupationPoet and playwright
PeriodLate 19th, early 20th Centuries
Literary movementAmerican Nativism

Edwin Arlington Robinson (December 22, 1869 – April 6, 1935) was an American poet. Robinson won three Pulitzer Prizes for his work, and was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature four times.[2]

Early life[edit]

Robinson was born in Head Tide, Lincoln County, Maine but his family moved to Gardiner, Maine in 1871. He described his childhood in Maine as "stark and unhappy".[3] His parents were Edward and Mary née Palmer. They had wanted a girl, and did not name him until he was six months old, when they visited a holiday resort—at which point other vacationers decided that he should have a name, and selected the name "Edwin" from a hat containing a random set of boy's names. The man who drew the name was from Arlington, Massachusetts, so "Arlington" was used for his middle name.[4] Throughout his life, he not only hated his given name, but also his family's habit of calling him "Win". As an adult, he always used the signature "E. A."[5]


Robinson's early struggles led many of his poems to have a dark pessimism and his stories to deal with "an American dream gone awry."[6] His eldest brother, Dean Robinson, was a doctor and had become addicted to laudanum while medicating himself for neuralgia.[7] The middle brother, Herman, a handsome and charismatic man, married the woman Edwin loved, Emma Löehen Shepherd.[8] Emma thought highly of Edwin and encouraged his poetry,[8] but he was deemed too young to be in realistic competition for her hand, which didn't keep him from being rattled deeply by witnessing what he considered her being bamboozled by Herman’s charm and choosing shallowness over depth.[7] The marriage was a great blow to Edwin's pride, and during the wedding ceremony, February 12, 1890, the despondent poet stayed home and wrote a poem of protest, "Cortège", the title of which refers to the train that took the newly married couple out of town to their new life in St. Louis, Missouri.[5] Herman Robinson suffered business failures, and also started working life as an alcoholic, and ended up estranged from his wife and children. Herman died impoverished in 1909 of tuberculosis at Boston City Hospital.[9] Robinson's poem "Richard Cory" was thought by Emma (Herman's wife) to refer to God and her husband.[10][11]

At the age of 21, Edwin entered Harvard University as a special student. He took classes in English, French, and Shakespeare, as well as one on Anglo-Saxon that he later dropped. He did not aim to get all A's; as he wrote his friend Harry Smith, "B, and in that vicinity, is a very comfortable and safe place to hang."

His real desire was to get published in one of the Harvard literary journals. Within the first fortnight of being there, The Harvard Advocate published Robinson's "Ballade of a Ship." He was even invited to meet with the editors, but when he returned he complained to his friend Mowry Saben, "I sat there among them, unable to say a word."

Edwin's father, Edward, died after Edwin's first year at Harvard. Edwin returned to Harvard for a second year, but it was to be his last one as a student there. Though short, his stay in Cambridge included some of his most cherished experiences, and there he made his most lasting friendships. He wrote his friend Harry Smith on June 21, 1893:

I suppose this is the last letter I shall ever write you from Harvard. The thought seems a little queer, but it cannot be otherwise. Sometimes I try to imagine the state my mind would be in had I never come here, but I cannot. I feel that I have got comparatively little from my two years, but still, more than I could get in Gardiner if I lived a century.

Robinson had returned to Gardiner by mid-1893. He had plans to start writing seriously. In October he wrote his friend Gledhill:

Writing has been my dream ever since I was old enough to lay a plan for an air castle. Now for the first time I seem to have something like a favorable opportunity and this winter I shall make a beginning.



Lilla Cabot Perry, Edwin Arlington Robinson, 1916, Colby College Special Collections, Waterville, Maine

With his father gone, Edwin became the man of the household. He tried farming and developed a close relationship with his brother's wife Emma Robinson, who after her husband Herman's death moved back to Gardiner with her children. She twice rejected marriage proposals from Edwin, after which he permanently left Gardiner. He moved to New York, where he lived as an impoverished poet while cultivating friendships with other writers, artists, and intellectuals. In 1896, he self-published his first book, The Torrent and the Night Before, paying 100 dollars for 500 copies.[citation needed] Robinson meant it as a surprise for his mother. Days before the copies arrived, his mother died of diphtheria.

His second volume, Children of The Night, had a somewhat wider circulation. Its readers included President Theodore Roosevelt's son Kermit, who had received a copy from his teacher, who happened to be a friend of Robinson. Kermit then recommended it to his father, who, impressed by the poems and aware of Robinson's straits, invited Robinson to join him for dinner at White House (though Robinson declined due to his lacking "suitable clothes"[12]) and in 1905 offered the writer a sinecure at the New York Customs Office. According to Edmund Morris, author of Theodore Rex, a tacit condition of his employment was that, in exchange for his desk and two thousand dollars a year, he should work "with a view to helping American letters", rather than the receipts of the United States Treasury. Robinson remained in the job until Roosevelt left office.[13]

Gradually his literary successes began to mount. He won the Pulitzer Prize three times in the 1920s,[14] and he was described as "more artful than Hardy and more coy than Frost and a brilliant sonneteer".[15] During the last twenty years of his life he became a regular summer resident at the MacDowell Colony in New Hampshire, where several women made him the object of their devoted attention.[16] Robinson and artist Elizabeth Sparhawk-Jones visited the MacDowell Colony at the same times over a cumulative total of ten years.[17] They had a romantic relationship in which she was in love with him,[18] devoted to him and understood him, and was relaxed in her approach with him. He called her Sparhawk and was courteous towards her.[19] They had a relationship that D. H. Tracy described as "courtly, quiet, and intense".[19] She described him as a charming, sensitive, and emotionally grounded man with high moral values.[19]

Robinson never married.[16] He died of cancer on April 6, 1935 in the New York Hospital (now New York Cornell Hospital) in New York City.[20] When he died, Sparhawk-Jones attended his vigil and then painted several works in his memory.[19]

His childhood home in Gardiner was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1971. Robinson's grandnephew David S. Nivison later became a noted expert on Chinese philosophy and Chinese history.

Selected works[edit]


  • The Torrent; and The Night Before (1896), including "Luke Havergal"
  • Children of The Night (1897), including "Kosmos" (1895)[21] and "Richard Cory"
  • Captain Craig and Other Poems (1902)
  • The Town Down the River (1910), including "Miniver Cheevy"
  • The Man Against the Sky (1916)
  • Merlin (1917)
  • The Three Taverns (1920)
  • Lancelot
  • Avon's Harvest (1921), including "Ben Trovato"
  • Collected Poems (1921)
  • Roman Bartholomew (1923)
  • The Man Who Died Twice (1924)
  • Dionysus in Doubt (1925), including "Haunted House" and "Karma"
  • Tristram (1927)
  • Fortunatus (1928)
  • Sonnets, 1889-1917 (1928)
  • Cavender's House (1929)
  • Modred (1929)
  • The Glory of the Nightingales (1930)
  • Matthias at the Door (1931)
  • Selected Poems (1931)
  • Talifer (1933)
  • Amaranth (1934)
  • King Jasper (1935)
  • Collected Poems (1937)
  • A Happy Man



  • Selected Letters (1940)
  • Untriangulated Stars: Letters to Harry de Forest Smith 1890-1905 (1947)
  • Edwin Arlington Robinson's Letters to Edith Brower (1968)


  • Uncollected Poems and Prose (1975)


  • Van Doren, Mark (2010). Edwin Arlington Robinson (Reprint ed.). Kessinger Publishing. ISBN 978-1-169-10983-4.


  1. ^ "University of Illinois". English.illinois.edu. 1935-04-06. Archived from the original on 2014-02-08. Retrieved 2014-03-02.
  2. ^ "Nomination Database". www.nobelprize.org. Archived from the original on 2016-10-26. Retrieved 2017-04-19.
  3. ^ "biography". Poets.org. 1935-04-06. Archived from the original on 2014-03-02. Retrieved 2014-03-02.
  4. ^ American Poets: From the Puritans to the Present, by Hyatt H. Waggoner (2003); excerpted at On "Miniver Cheevy" Archived 2009-04-26 at the Wayback Machine.
  5. ^ a b Smith, Danny D. "Biography of Edwin Arlington Robinson". A Virtual Tour of Robinson's Gardiner, Maine. Gardiner Public Library. Archived from the original on 2 October 2012. Retrieved 8 December 2012.
  6. ^ "I Hear America Singing". PBS. Archived from the original on 2013-10-07. Retrieved 2014-03-02.
  7. ^ a b Tracy, D.H. "Aspects of Robinson". Contemporary Poetry Review. Archived from the original on 5 February 2015. Retrieved 8 December 2012.
  8. ^ a b Peschel, Bill. "Edwin Arlington Robinson's Life and Career". Modern American Poetry. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Archived from the original on 2 November 2012. Retrieved 8 December 2012.
  9. ^ "Herman Edward Robinson (1869-1903) at Find a Grave". Findagrave.com. 2009-03-28. Archived from the original on 2018-04-25. Retrieved 2014-03-02.
  10. ^ "Richard Cory - Shepherd Family Residence". www.earobinson.com. Archived from the original on 18 February 2017. Retrieved 25 April 2018.
  11. ^ "Edwin Arlington Robinson". Archived from the original on 14 September 2017. Retrieved 25 April 2018.
  12. ^ Dickey, James (2004). Classes on Modern Poets and the Art of Poetry. Univ of South Carolina Press. p. 97. ISBN 1570035288.
  13. ^ Morris, Edmund (2001). Theodore Rex. New York: Random House. ISBN 9780394555096. OCLC 46401900.
  14. ^ "Search: arlington, edwin, robinson Archived 2015-09-24 at the Wayback Machine.," The Pulitzer Prizes, Pulitzer.org, Web, Apr. 22, 2011.
  15. ^ Schmidt, Michael, Lives of the Poets Weidenfeld & Nicolson 1998 ISBN 978-1781857014
  16. ^ a b East Tennessee State University Archived 2008-03-20 at the Wayback Machine.
  17. ^ Ruth Gurin Bowman (April 26, 1964). "Oral history interview with Elizabeth Sparhawk-Jones, 1964 Apr. 26". Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution. Archived from the original on April 2, 2015. Retrieved March 28, 2015.
  18. ^ Barbara Lehman Smith (June 2011). "Search for Elizabeth Sparhawk-Jones" (PDF). MD Arrive. pp. 34–36. Archived from the original (PDF) on February 8, 2015. Retrieved March 28, 2015.
  19. ^ a b c d D. H. Tracy (2008). "Review: Aspects of Robinson, Part 2". Contemporary Poetry Review. Archived from the original on April 2, 2015. Retrieved March 29, 2015.
  20. ^ "Edwin Arlington Robinson | A Brief Biography". Earobinson.com. 1935-04-06. Archived from the original on 2013-09-09. Retrieved 2014-03-02.
  21. ^ Gale, Robert L. (2012). An Edwin Arlington Robinson Encyclopedia. NC, USA: McFarland. pp. 89, 95. ISBN 978-0-7864-4909-5. Archived from the original on 2012-03-08.

External links[edit]