Edwin Arlington Robinson Essay, Research Paper
Edwin Arlington Robinson
Edwin Arlington Robinson was a poet who has long been popular among lay readers the non-literary public but the tremendous scope of his work and the power of his mastery over words marks him as one of the greater poets of his time. In spite of its consistent tone his works showed a great versatility. (Heiney pg. 244) Robinson was a poet of true vision and unimpeachable honesty. (Louis pg. 5) He was a man who loved words. Shy and almost wholly inarticulate he wrote with great labor and absorption. (Louis pg. 20) Robinson was a late romantic, a Victorian, a transcendentalist whose lust after the abstract was nearly destructive. (Louis pg. 15) Robinson was a nineteenth-century product and a scion of New England stock. (Louis pg. 13)
Edwin Arlington Robinson was born in the tiny village of Head Tide, Maine in 1869, at the very dawn of the Gilded Age. (Louis pg. 8) His family was old and respected; he was descended on his mother s side from a colonial governor of Massachusetts and from a sister of the poetess Ann Bradstreet. (Heiney pg. 248) Robinson was the youngest of three children. His Mother, Mary Elizabeth Palmer, was a woman of some literary taste, though perhaps one may feel free to be skeptical of the quality of such taste. (Coxe pg. 8) Robinson s father, Edward Robinson, was a man of a not insensitive nature and in different circumstances might have shown his oldest and youngest boys more sympathy. (Coxe pg. 8) Herman, the oldest child, was destined to manage the family fortune while Dean, the middle child, was to become a doctor. This left opportunity to Edwin to pursue his dreams. (Ellsworth pg. 34)
Edward, shortly after Edwin was born, moved the family to another small town Gardiner (which would become Tilbury Town of his poems). He was anticipating a boom in business; he was concentrated in the lumber trade and had ventured into speculation in western property. (Coxe pg. 8) Gardiner of 1870-1900 was a typical American boomtown with its trade in lumber, ice, and shipping as well as certain manufacturers. (Coxe pg. 8) Gardiner was also the home of Laura E. Richard s, daughter of Julia Ward Howe who wrote The Battle Hymn of the Republic, became, over time, a close friend of Robinson. (Coxe pg. 9) Robinson would, later in life, be forced to break the ties that he has in Gardiner and move to New York so that he may further pursue his writing career. (Coxe pg. 14)
Edwin Arlington Robinson desired to attend Harvard University; however, his family s fortune had begun to decline so they could only afford to pay for two years. Luckily for Robinson they were able to afford those two years because Harvard is where Robinson received his start in writing. It was during his college days where Robinson became an admirer of Horace and Virgil. Rejecting the romanticism of William Vaughn Moody and his group, at that time dominant on the Harvard campus, he turned to a vernacular style that he apparently derived from personal sources, although he was familiar with Wadsworth. He was practically unaffected by the contemporary and the French Symbolists as well as to Thomas Hardy s verse; this is the only one in his work which may be termed in any sense naturalistic . (Heiney pg. 247) He would publish works in the student newspaper and make many friends who would be beneficial later in life. (Heiney pg. 248) Harvard was also great for Robinson in another way; following a period of isolation after his graduation from high school, Harvard came as both deliverer and savior. (Coxe pg. 12) Robinson knew poverty so well that he was often without proper food and clothing and lived on charity from his friends. (Coxe pg. 14) Robinson tried over a period of time to write dramas and fiction that should make some money- to no avail- and one suspects that in this case failure derived from a shortcoming he himself pointed out. (Coxe pg. 19) In 1905, however, Robinson received a break. Then President Theodore Roosevelt, who had heard of Robinson s work through his son Kermit, found a place in the New York Customs House for the poet. Robinson was required to do very little work so that he could devote most of his time to writing. This job finally allowed Robinson to experience financial independence. (Coxe pg. 14)
In 1896 Robinson s first poem, The torrent the Night Before, was published at his own expense because he could not find a publisher which he could afford. (Coffin pg. 45) Robinson s first success came in 1902 with Captain Craig . After that he wrote many more poems some of which are: The Town Down the River , Van Zovn , Merlin , Lancelot , The Porcupine , The Three Taverns , Avon s Harvest , Roman Bartholow , The Man Who Died Twice , and Dionysius in Doubt this is when his popularity peaked with Tristram in 1927. After Tristram he wrote for eight more years, releasing one poem during each year. (Fussell pg. 45)
From the beginning Robinson s poems were noted for their mastery of conventional forms. (Barnard pg. 13) The majority of Robinson s poems are reflections of his own life. Critics argue that Robinson s philosophy of immediate pessimism plus ultimate optimism is a result of his New England heritage, with its firmly imbedded Calvinistic doctrine modified by the later mysticism of the Emersonian transcendentalists. Whatever its sources, the concept is one which may be found in almost all of Robinson s poems which touch on the ultimate questions. (Heiney pg. 247) The best poems have a dense, deceptive surface, or written in seemingly careful, orderly ways and proceeding quietly, badly almost, while the narrator assumes the point of view of the reader and imperceptibly helps to access and understand, finally leaving him the realization that the ending is inevitably and wholly human. (Coxe pg. 24)
Robinson was forced to overcome many things in order to become successful. He had to overcome the loss of both of his parents, his father in 1892 and his mother a few years later. His mother died of black diphtheria and because no mortician would handle the body, due to the possibility of infection, the three sons were forced to dig the grave and bury her themselves. His father was proved to be very odd in his death. While on his deathbed he experimented with levitation. (Hagedorn pg. 153) Everything paid off for Robinson in 1927, however, when he was the recipient of one of the highest awards that a writer can receive, the Pulitzer Prize.
Coxe, Louis. E. A. Robinson. Minnesota: Lund Press, 1962.
Barnard, Ellsworth. Edwin Arlington Robinson: A Critical Study. New Haven: Yale
University Press, 1936.
Fussell, Edwin S. Edwin Arlington Robinson: The Literacy Background of a
Traditional Poet. Berkley: University of California Press, 1954.
Hagedorn, Hermann. Edwin Arlington Robinson. New York: Macmillan, 1938.
Coffin, R.P.T. New Poetry of New England: Frost and Robinson. Baltimore: John
Hopkins Press, 1938.
Heiney, Donald. Recent American Literature to 1930. New York: Barron s
Educational Series, 1973.