Edwin Arlington Robinson
(December 22, 1869 – April 6, 1935) was an American
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...
poet who won three Pulitzer Prize
The Pulitzer Prize is a U.S. award for achievements in newspaper and online journalism, literature and musical composition. It was established by American publisher Joseph Pulitzer and is administered by Columbia University in New York City...
s for his work.
Robinson was born in Head Tide, Lincoln County, Maine
Lincoln County is a county located in the U.S. state of Maine. As of 2010, the population was 34,457. Its county seat is Wiscasset. It was founded in 1760 and named after the English city Lincoln. At its founding, it accounted for three-fifths of the State's land, and stretched east to Nova...
, but his family moved to Gardiner, Maine
Gardiner is a city in Kennebec County, Maine, United States. The population was 6,198 at the 2000 census. Popular with tourists, Gardiner is noted for its culture and old architecture.-History:...
, in 1870. He described his childhood in Maine
Maine is a state in the New England region of the northeastern United States, bordered by the Atlantic Ocean to the east and south, New Hampshire to the west, and the Canadian provinces of Quebec to the northwest and New Brunswick to the northeast. Maine is both the northernmost and easternmost...
as "stark and unhappy": his parents, having wanted a girl, did not name him until he was six months old, when they visited a holiday resort; other vacationers decided that he should have a name, and selected a man from Arlington, Massachusetts
Arlington is a town in Middlesex County, Massachusetts, United States, six miles northwest of Boston. The population was 42,844 at the 2010 census.-History:...
to draw a name out of a hat.
Robinson's early difficulties led many of his poems to have a dark pessimism and his stories to deal with "an American dream gone awry". His brother Dean died of a drug overdose. His other brother, Herman, a handsome and charismatic man, married the woman Edwin himself loved, but Herman suffered business failures, became an alcoholic, and ended up estranged from his wife and children, dying impoverished in a charity hospital in 1901. Robinson's poem "Richard Cory
"Richard Cory" is a narrative poem written by Edwin Arlington Robinson. It was first published in 1897.The poem describes a person who is wealthy, well educated, mannerly, and admired by the people in his town. Despite all this, he takes his own life...
" is thought to refer to this brother.
In late 1891, at the age of 21, Edwin entered Harvard University
Harvard University is a private Ivy League university located in Cambridge, Massachusetts, United States, established in 1636 by the Massachusetts legislature. Harvard is the oldest institution of higher learning in the United States and the first corporation chartered in the country...
as a special student. He took classes in English, French, and Shakespeare, as well as one on Anglo-Saxon
Old English or Anglo-Saxon is an early form of the English language that was spoken and written by the Anglo-Saxons and their descendants in parts of what are now England and southeastern Scotland between at least the mid-5th century and the mid-12th century...
that he later dropped. His mission was not 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
The Harvard Advocate, the literary magazine of Harvard College, is the oldest continuously published college literary magazine in the United States. The magazine was founded by Charles S. Gage and William G. Peckham in 1866 and, except for a hiatus during the last years of World War II, has...
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". Robinson's literary career had false-started.
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
Cambridge is a city in Middlesex County, Massachusetts, United States, in the Greater Boston area. It was named in honor of the University of Cambridge in England, an important center of the Puritan theology embraced by the town's founders. Cambridge is home to two of the world's most prominent...
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.
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 led a precarious existence as an impoverished poet while cultivating friendships with other writers, artists, and would-be intellectuals. In 1896 he self-published his first book, The Torrent and the Night Before
, paying 100 dollars for 500 copies. Robinson meant it as a surprise for his mother. Days before the copies arrived, Mary Palmer Robinson died of diphtheria
Diphtheria is an upper respiratory tract illness caused by Corynebacterium diphtheriae, a facultative anaerobic, Gram-positive bacterium. It is characterized by sore throat, low fever, and an adherent membrane on the tonsils, pharynx, and/or nasal cavity...
His second volume, The Children of the Night
, had a somewhat wider circulation. Its readers included President Theodore Roosevelt
Theodore "Teddy" Roosevelt was the 26th President of the United States . He is noted for his exuberant personality, range of interests and achievements, and his leadership of the Progressive Movement, as well as his "cowboy" persona and robust masculinity...
's son Kermit
Kermit Roosevelt I MC was a son of U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt. He was an explorer on two continents with his father, a graduate of Harvard University, a soldier serving in two world wars, with both the British and U.S. Armies, a businessman, and a writer...
, who recommended it to his father. Impressed by the poems and aware of Robinson's straits, Roosevelt in 1905 secured the writer a job at the New York Customs Office. Robinson remained in the job until Roosevelt left office.
Gradually his literary successes began to mount. He won the Pulitzer Prize three times in the 1920s. During the last twenty years of his life he became a regular summer resident at the MacDowell Colony
The MacDowell Colony is an art colony in Peterborough, New Hampshire, U.S.A., founded in 1907 by Marian MacDowell, pianist and wife of composer Edward MacDowell. She established the institution and its endowment chiefly with donated funds...
in New Hampshire
New Hampshire is a state in the New England region of the northeastern United States of America. The state was named after the southern English county of Hampshire. It is bordered by Massachusetts to the south, Vermont to the west, Maine and the Atlantic Ocean to the east, and the Canadian...
, where several women made him the object of their devoted attention, but he maintained a solitary life and never married. Robinson died of cancer on April 6, 1935 in the New York Hospital (now New York Cornell Hospital) in New York City.
Edwin Arlington Robinson won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry
The Pulitzer Prize in Poetry has been presented since 1922 for a distinguished volume of original verse by an American author. However, special citations for poetry were presented in 1918 and 1919.-Winners:...
three times: in 1922 for his first Collected Poems,
in 1925 for The Man Who Died Twice
, and in 1928 for Tristram
- The Torrent and the Night Before (1896)
- Luke Havergal (1897)
- The Children of the Night (1897)
- Richard Cory
"Richard Cory" is a song written by Paul Simon in early 1965, and recorded by Simon and Garfunkel for their second studio album, Sounds of Silence. The song was based on Edwin Arlington Robinson's 1897 poem of the same title.- Plot :...
- Captain Craig and Other Poems (1902)
- The Town Down the River (1910)
- Miniver Cheevy
"Miniver Cheevy" is a narrative poem written by Edwin Arlington Robinson and first published in The Town down the River in 1910. The poem, written in iambic tetrameter quatrains, relates the story of a hopeless romantic who spends his days thinking about what might have been if only he had only...
- The Man Against the Sky (1916)
Merlin is a dramatic narrative poem by Edwin Arlington Robinson, written in 1917.-Description:The poem is entirely modern in its spirit and treatment, with lines like these that mark its date:...
- Ben Trovato (1920)
- The Three Taverns (1920)
- Avon's Harvest (1921)
- Collected Poems (1921)
- Haunted House (1921)
- Roman Bartholomew (1923)
- The Man Who Died Twice (1924)
- Dionysus in Doubt (1925)
- 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)
- Selected Letters (1940)
- Untriangulated Stars: Letters to Harry de Forest Smith 1890-1905 (1947)
- Edwin Arlington Robinson's Letters to Edith Brower (1968)