Robert P. Tristram Coffin Criticism - Essay

William Rose Benét (essay date 1933)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of Ballads of Square-Toed Americans, in Saturday Review of Literature, Vol. X, No. 10, September 23, 1933, p. 135.

[In the following excerpt, Benét reviews Ballads of Square-Toed Americans and praises the pictorialism and gusto he finds. ]

This week I have three books on my table for particular comment. All of them are American. Of the three, one is by Robert P. Tristram Coffin, who has now won a place for himself among the best American poets of his time. This is his fifth book of poems—and his prose work includes two books of essays and three biographies. His present volume, Ballads of Square-Toed Americans, is endemic and chiefly narrative. The Saturday Review of Literature first presented one of the longer narratives, "The Schooling of Richard Orr," to Mr. Coffin's public. I am glad to remember that this journal gave so much space to that poem, because, as I reread it, the imaginative reliving on the author's part of an Indian raid strikes me again, in its forthright vividness, as a remarkable feat. And there are other poems in this book no less noteworthy for originality of treatment. "The Truce of the Mohawks," though not one of the poems designed to carry out Mr. Coffin's more patriotic notion of his book, is an account of an early clambake that appeals to me greatly by virtue of its deft pictorial quality:


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William Rose Benét (essay date 1935)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of Strange Holiness, in Saturday Review of Literature, Vol. XI, No. 40, April 20, 1935, p. 639.

[In the following excerpt, Benét reviews Coffin's Strange Holiness, praising the poems for the quality of their workmanship and subject matter but regretting that, in them, the poet has not surpassed his previous work.]

Robert P. Tristram Coffin is a fecund poet. His latest book, Strange Holiness, is in contrast to his latest one before that, Ballads of Square-Toed Americans, in that this is subjective as that was objective. I am only afraid that Mr. Coffin may have a fatal facility. He shapes and turns his poems well, and he usually has something not only interesting to write about but also seen and felt. Also, his phrase is often extremely good. Moreover, the devotional element in these poems has nothing mawkish about it. One feels that the poet pleasured himself in writing all of them. And yet one also feels that he might have conserved the energy expended in writing a good many of them and poured it all into one poem that would have greatly surpassed them all. Where a man has proved his powers, as Mr. Coffin has already done, I think it is allowable to expect him to surpass himself. This book does not surpass others by the same writer. Were it a first book it would not make nearly the impression upon the reader that certain other books of his have made. That he is a good workman is beyond question. But he is also, at rare intervals, a good deal more than that. In this particular volume those intervals are rare indeed.

Times Literary Supplement (essay date 1935)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of Strange Holiness, in Times Literary Supplement, No. 1750, August 15, 1935, p. 516.

[In the following excerpt, a reviewer commends the theme of Strange Holiness.]

For Mr. Coffin whatever lives is holy and in the longest poem in this collection, entitled "First Flight," he records how he felt "something solemn, something like holiness" in the airplane in which he first took his seat. But while he does full justice in this poem to the cosmic reaches of the air, it is typical of him to turn away soon from these and let his vision pass lovingly over the land unrolled beneath the plane with its small towns and woods and fields and houses that "did not hurry." Far from forgetting his old fidelities in the intoxication of speed and space,

From his high station Tristram saw that things
Which meant most to a man were very old,
A tree before a door, earth turned in furrows,
A pathway by a brook, a flower-bed,
The sounds of bees and cowbells, clean, new grass,
An acre he had planted, sunlit panes . . .
Doves above a dovecot, a deep sense
That his two hands had had their fingers in
Something vast and holy as the growth
Of seeds to plants, of boughs across a window,
The patterns of the sunshine and the rain.

This in fact is the theme of almost all his lyrics which run and rhyme easily, like a limpid stream in which the experiences of a farmer who has a keen relish and deep devotion for his work are reflected. Whether he is describing the day's labour of Potato Diggers, a Bull in his stall, milking or the hayfield, or "The Barn" in winter or summer, he communicates the sensations of simple elementary things with a fragrant intimacy. His style is at times rather too easily explicit, but his verse is suffused with the grateful tenderness of the devotee who not only lives close to Nature but works with her in watchful harmony.

C. A. Millspaugh (essay date 1938)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of Saltwater Farm, in Poetry, Vol. LI, No. V, February, 1938, pp. 267-70.

[In the following excerpt, Millspaugh reviews Saltwater Farm and finds nothing to recommend it]

That rare person, the serious reader of poetry, may legitimately expect of experienced writers at least a minimum of care in craft, a fairly well-developed point of view from which to inspect society and the men who compose it, a character sufficiently mature to be free of such vulgarities as smugness, self-complacency, and sentimentality, and an imagination disciplined by tradition, compelled by the predicaments of contemporary life, projected by good will and wonder...

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Marshall Schacht (essay date 1938)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of Maine Ballads, in Poetry, Vol. LIII, No. II, November, 1938, pp. 92-96.

[In the following excerpt, Schacht reviews Maine Ballads and deplores the poems, which he sees as smug and narrow.]

In an introduction to his eighth book of poems Mr. Coffin says, in part: "Folk living and folk speaking still go on, in spite of all our modern improvements—the stories are there for the ballads, and the words to them, for anybody who has eyes to see the shape of them and ears to hear the right rhythms and the fall of the words." He ends: "These verses—the more ambitious of them—are not to be judged by the usual poetic standards. Some of them,...

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Colin E. MacKay (essay date 1965)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: 'The Novels of Robert P. Tristram Coffin," in Colby Library Quarterly, Vol. VII, No. 4, December 1965, pp. 151-61.

[In the following essay, MacKay examines the theme of permanence running through each of Coffin's three novels and judges it is most effectively expressed in his first.]

Robert P. Tristram Coffin was a poet who turned frequently to prose; indeed, there was almost no area of prose he did not attempt—biographies, an autobiography,collected lectures, essays, history, criticism, short stories, and novels. This report shall confine itself to the lastmentioned, for (poetry naturally excluded) the novels offered Coffin his greatest challenge.


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F. Celand Witham (essay date 1965)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "The Essays of Robert Peter Tristram Coffin," in Colby Library Quarterly, Vol. VII, No. 4, December, 1965, pp. 161-69.

[In the following essay, Witham argues that Coffin's skill as an essayist derives from his visionary aptitude as a poet and from his joviality as a person.]

A thrush singing in the woods. . . . It was the first bird I had ever really heard sing. It was the last marvel in a long chain of marvels. The first violets, like pieces of the sky, the first anemones, like drops of snow left over into April. I had had my first trip out past all houses, out of sight of all windows and doors. I was too tired to take in anything...

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William C. Wees (essay date 1965)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Puritanism Versus the Old Green Gods: New England in the Poetry of Robert P. Tristram Coffin," in Colby Library Quarterly, Vol. VII, No. 4, December, 1965, pp. 136-50.

[In the following essay, Wees argues that in its celebration of the male connection to a primal, natural power both destructive and sexual, Coffin 's poetry reveals the poet's revolt against New England Puritanism.]

New England—Maine, in fact—dominates the poetry of Robert P. Tristram Coffin. Like Emily Dickinson, Coffin tried to "see New Englandly." For a poet to so limit his subject matter and point of view, to be so provincial, does not necessarily limit the richness of his work: witness...

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Mark W. Anderson (essay date 1989)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Images of Nineteenth Century Maine Farming in the Prose and Poetry of R.P.T. Coffin and C.A. Stephens," in Agricultural History, Vol. 3, No. 2, Spring, 1989, pp. 120-29.

[In the following essay, Anderson explores Coffin's writings and those of another Maine author, C.A. Stephens, with regard to their "utility to historians. "]

Long before historians turned to matters of daily life as objects of inquiry, poets and novelists dealt with the essentials of the human condition. Authors often have searched for universal elements in the lives of our ancestors. The better poets and novelists offered their readers images that captured the essence of common people's...

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