Edwin Arlington Robinson Biography


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

The son of Mary Elizabeth Palmer and Edward Robinson, Edwin Arlington Robinson was born on December 22, 1869, in Head Tide, Maine. Although he grew up in the small-town environment of Gardiner, Maine, fortunate childhood friends led to the cultivation of his taste for poetry and the classics. Robinson fell in love with Emma Shepherd in 1887 but encouraged her to marry his brother in 1890 in part because he felt that his devotion to writing would be unfair to her.

While Robinson attended Harvard University between 1891 and 1893, his father’s death in 1892 and a worldwide economic depression in 1893 took a heavy toll on his family’s timber business. Financial hardship forced Robinson to return home, where both his morphine-addicted brother and his mortally ill mother needed care. In 1896, the year his mother died, Robinson self-published The Torrent and the Night Before, which he revised the following year and self-published as The Children of the Night. Fleeing his lingering feelings for Emma and evidence of her unhappy marriage, Robinson moved in 1897 to New York City, where he steadily sank into poverty.

After President Theodore Roosevelt’s favorable review of The Children of the Night, Scribner’s re-released the book in 1905. This volume introduced readers to Tilbury Town, Robinson’s fictional small community of lonely dreamers and enigmatic eccentrics battered by life. The book included poems that later would be frequently anthologized: “Luke Havergal,” “Reuben Bright,” “Cliff Klingenhagen,” and especially “Richard Cory.” Such popularity was slow to arrive, however, because critics generally ignored or dismissed The Children of the Night and also his next book, Captain Craig (1902). Robinson languished in poverty until Roosevelt assigned him to a customs house, where, until 1909, his unofficial job was to write poetry.

The Town Down the River (1910), Robinson’s next book, was dedicated to Roosevelt and earned some positive critical attention. His reputation also received a boost from The Man Against the Sky (1916), which was particularly praised by the influential poet Amy Lowell. After four more books, Robinson’s Collected Poems (1921) was published and won a Pulitzer Prize. His The Man Who Died Twice (1924) won another Pulitzer, and Tristram (1927) took a third Pulitzer, after which Robinson was financially comfortable until the end of his life. He died of stomach cancer on April 6, 1935, in New York City.


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Edwin Arlington Robinson does not conclude his poems with explanations for the situations depicted in them. The reader must carefully look for clues in the wording of the poetry in order to piece together each story’s puzzle. Still, there are many missing pieces, and this poet-managed insufficiency of detail always prevents the reader from putting together the whole story. So many missing pieces likewise tend to prevent the reader from making easy moral judgments about Richard Cory, Miniver Cheevy, Flammonde, Eben Flood, or even Demos.


(Poets and Poetry in America)

By the standards of the biographer’s world, the life of Edwin Arlington Robinson provides little that is exciting. Born on December 22, 1869, in Head Tide, Maine, the third son of Edward and Mary Palmer Robinson, he led a life characterized by a very low profile, even after he was acknowledged by a number of critics and scholars in the 1920’s as America’s most distinguished poet. He shunned the public attention that was his for the asking, preferring instead to write in relative seclusion and to associate with only a very few close friends. Occasionally, he consented to an interview, but he never gave lectures or public readings of his poetry, or engaged in any activity in which he would have been the center of attention.

Ten months after his birth, the Robinson family moved to Gardiner, Maine, where his father, who had made his fortune in the timber business, became a civic figure and was elected to the state legislature. Although his father saw little need for his sons to receive college educations, he consented to sending Dean, his first born, to Bowdoin to begin the study of medicine. After Robinson took an extra year of high school and did odd jobs around Gardiner for a period, expressing all the while his disinclination for the world of business (the route taken by Herman, the second born), he was finally permitted to enroll in Harvard in 1891 as a “special student,” where he remained for two years. Robinson treasured these years, and...

(The entire section is 556 words.)


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Edwin Arlington Robinson has been called the last American writer in the nineteenth century tradition of rationalism and psychological understanding, a figure more akin in spirit to the novelists Henry James and Edith Wharton than to any other American poet of his time. Dedicated to the craft of verse and unwilling to disperse his energies in other fields, he became that rarity in literature, a professional poet who was both critically admired (especially after the publication of The Man Against the Sky in 1916) and financially successful (after the sales of Tristram in 1927).

As a boy Robinson showed no distinctive talents. Born in Head Tide, Maine, on December 22, 1869, he went to Harvard University for two years without intending to take a degree and then returned to Gardiner, Maine, the Tilbury Town of his early poems, where his father’s declining business was located. An apparent failure in life like his own characters Miniver Cheevy and Mr. Flood, Robinson nevertheless wrote steadily and in 1896 privately published his first book, The Torrent and the Night Before. A year later he published The Children of the Night, containing his “Luke Havergal,” later widely anthologized, and “The Clerks,” two poems marking the appearance of his lucid and intellectually serious brief dramas of personality.

When his third book, Captain Craig, was published in 1902, Robinson was working in New York as a train checker on the subway. During this period Theodore Roosevelt became interested in him and not only offered him a custom house position in 1905 but also wrote a critical commendation of the poet’s work for The Outlook. Four years later, under the Taft administration, Robinson resigned from the post Roosevelt had found for him.

The remaining events of Robinson’s life were undistinguished except by the fulfillment of his talent in frequent publications of his books. Regularly, after 1911, he divided his time...

(The entire section is 818 words.)