Discussion Topics

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Edwin Arlington Robinson’s “Richard Cory,” if the townspeople had guessed Cory’s need for their companionship, would they have been able to rescue him from his loneliness?

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Would Miniver Cheevy have behaved differently if he had actually been born in an earlier time period?

In “Mr. Flood’s Party,” why is Eben Flood said to wear an “armor of scarred hopes outworn”?

Just how good was Flammonde at winning people over to voluntarily finance his stay in Tilbury Town?

What is suggested about human nature when Dionysus’s accuses Demos of wearing a mask to cover up his true motives?

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Early in his literary career, well before he gained prominence as a poet, Edwin Arlington Robinson wrote a number of short stories that he planned to incorporate in a volume titled Scattered Lives. The stories do not survive, nor does the novel he tried his hand at writing some years later, but the twenty-six pieces of extant prose were collected by Richard Cary in Uncollected Poems and Prose of Edwin Arlington Robinson (1975). Of interest primarily for what they reveal of the life of this most private man, these undistinguished prose pieces include essays, autobiographical sketches, introductions to books, and like matter.

It was in drama, particularly in the years 1906 to 1913, that Robinson hoped to make an impression as some of his New York friends had in their attempts to revitalize the theater. Robinson did not relinquish the hope that he could achieve moderate success with his plays until 1917, when he finally recognized that his very considerable skills as a poet were not compatible with those required for the theater. His two published plays—Van Zorn (pb. 1914) and The Porcupine (pb. 1915)—were ineffective. The former was produced, however, in February, 1917, by an amateur group that used the facilities of a Brooklyn YMCA. It had a run of seven days.

Robinson was a prolific letter writer. Some of his letters have been collected in three major editions: Selected Letters of Edwin Arlington Robinson (1940), compiled by Ridgely Torrence with the assistance of several of the poet’s friends; Untriangulated Stars: Letters of Edwin Arlington Robinson to Harry de Forest Smith, 1890-1905 (1947), edited by Denham Sutcliffe; and Edwin Arlington Robinson’s Letters to Edith Brower (1968), edited by Richard Cary. The letters that interest the student of Robinson the most are those to Harry de Forest Smith, a close friend from Gardiner, Maine, to whom the poet, during a very difficult time in his life, expressed in an uncharacteristically open fashion his thoughts and feelings on a number of subjects, including his literary likes and dislikes, his own struggles as a writer, his years at Harvard, and his cultural growth.


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For some twenty years before he gained acknowledgment as a poet of major proportions, Edwin Arlington Robinson had been publishing some excellent poems, particularly in the form of lyrics with a dramatic base. Indeed, his special genius has always been ascribed to the shorter poem, even though he has thirteen book-length narrative poems to his credit, eleven of which were published individually as books between 1917 and 1935 and two of which—The Man Who Died Twice and Tristram—were awarded Pulitzer Prizes in 1925 and 1928, respectively. In 1922, the first edition of his Collected Poems had earned Robinson his first Pulitzer Prize.

In the 1920’s, when T. S. Eliot and Robert Frost were acknowledged literary masters, Robinson was hailed by some discerning critics as America’s foremost poet. In addition to the three Pulitzer Prizes, he received honorary degrees from Yale University in 1922 and Bowdoin College in 1925, and he was awarded the Levinson Prize in 1923. In 1929, the American Academy of Arts and Letters...

(The entire section contains 1370 words.)

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Critical Essays