Edwin Arlington Robinson Essay, Research Paper
Robert Stevick said of Robinson s poetry that it deserves the attention it does not contrive to attract (Joyner 1). This statement concerning Robinson s poetry explains the very nature of that which the poet desired and dreaded. He desired to sell his poetry and for it to attract readers, but he desired even more so, that those reader s understand what they were reading. His frustrations in life were placed in his poetry. Indeed, his poetry is described as being fairly autobiographical. His existence and questioning of meaning in life became a key factor in his style. His pessimistic style was the result of his own sad life that he experienced. One of the best ways to gain understanding of a person s poetry is to learn about the person s life. Robinson was born in Maine in 1969. He was not named, however, until six months later by having a name taken from a hat. The lady who suggested the idea was from Arlington, Massachusetts. Therefore, his name became Edwin Arlington. It is reported that he questioned his own existence as early as the age of six. He attended two years at Harvard during which his father died. His Mother then died of black diphtheria. Three years after his brother Dean died after failing as a doctor. Six years later he received a letter from President Theodore Roosevelt complimenting his poetry. He later appointed Robinson to the office of the Collector of Customs, where he stayed employed for four years. Since his leaving of Harvard up to this point, he had kept jobs that provided little financial stability. Indeed, he did not experience financial security until his first Pulitzer Prize. During his time under Roosevelt s office, his brother Herman committed suicide after loosing everything in the 1890 s crash. He left behind A wife and three girls for Edwin to care for. In 1911, he began spending the summers at the MacDowell Colony where several other people of the arts came for peace. Some critics seem to think that Robinson was homosexual and used this Colony as a place to meet with homosexual friends freely(Dey 5). However, no such notion was ever presented by Robinson and is hard to support. In 1922, Robinson won the first of three Pulitzer Prizes. These kept him financially secure until his death in 1935 from cancer(Barnard 7). It is important to note that Robinson seemed to always feel insecure and out of date. He lived in unhappy circumstances for most of his life and watched other people s unfortunate lives as well. He desired to share the pain that he had seen and experienced through the form of his poetry. He especially desired for his reader s to understand what he wrote. Robinson was considered a people poet in that he wrote primarily about individuals and their relationships (Joyner 1). Due to his unfortunate circumstances, he wrote about the unsuccessfulness and hopelessness that he watched happening around him. He exhibits mixtures of irony, sympathy, and compassion for his characters. His characters are mostly failures or are unfortunate in some great form. Because of this, he is called a romantic existentialist (Joyner 1). Many of his poems are autobiographical, more so than their seeming objectivity indicates. He gathered inspiration for his tales from the tortured lives of both his families and acquaintances. Robinson set most of his fictional stories and tales in Tilbury Town. Apparently this town was an example of the American Dream gone wrong and a place where creative genius is destroyed by neglect and misunderstanding (Duke 1). IN most of his tales, he presents a person who deals with being misunderstood. As a result, they experience a lack of human connection with their community members, and eventually turn towards an alternative source to connect with. This community encompassed the subtle manifestations of his own psyche through the thinly veiled incarnations of his relatives and townsfolk. There are several examples of the people who inspired his writing. Richard Cory, probably his most popular poem, was meant to represent his brother Herman. Much like the character of Richard, Herman was outwardly successful and then one day puts a bullet through his head (Duke 2). Miniver Cheevy is in many ways autobiographical of Robinson as well as describes the drunkenness of his brother. Robinson often said that he was born at the wrong time. He is even noted for not conforming to the growing popular use of free verse. Instead he used that of traditional verse and experimented in French forms and noted as being one of America s greatest practitioners of the sonnet and the dramatic monologue (Joyner 1). He was also like Miniver in his desire to be understood and to live in a time where that was possible. Amusingly enough, while Robinson considered himself to be able to live in the past, critics consider him to be the first of the modernist movement in poetry (Joyner 2). The character of Luke Havergal s mourning of a dead love and his epiphany at the end that concludes that death is the true way to the uniting of souls is explained several ways. The first is that it is an agonizing hymn of Robinson s passion for his sister-in-law, Emma Shepherd. The second interprets it as describing his brother s love for her. Under the idea that Robinson was a homosexual, it suggests that Emma Shepherd is the woman a homosexual might have married had he been, in fact, straight (Dey 5). Of course, there are several interpretations of Robinson s poetry. These three, formerly mentioned, are perhaps the most popular poems and the most studied as well.
In writing all of his works, the one thing that Robinson always desired and longed for, was understanding. He desired for those who read his works to feel his feeling and to think his thoughts. When once asked if their was an easy way of further understanding his poetry, he replied; I don t know that their is any, except just to read it, one word after another (Barnard 24). He would usually get highly frustrated with those who could not understand his meanings asking the question; Why don t they read me? (Barnard 25) This left both the reader and the author confused in that they couldn t understand his poetry and him by their inability to find his meaning. In a letter to a friend he wrote, I have encountered so much rotten imbecility in the way of failure to get my meaning that I am beginning to wonder myself if it may not be vague. But I won t have anything worse than obscure, which I meant it to be-to a certain extent (Barnard 25). One thing Robinson did enjoy was writing. He claimed to have, at the age of seventeen, experienced an epiphany where he became violently excited over the structure of English blank verse (Duke 2) He seemed to look at his vocation as fate. He was born with just one thing to live for, and that thing, a relative impossibility, is to born with certain disadvantages, as he explained in a letter to a friend (Barnard 10). This is probably a key to the despair that seeps through in Robinson s poetry; living being judged as having an aimless and worthless life. Later in life he wrote to a friend saying, It is good to know that you have a light, for without on a fellow is either comfortably blind or wretchedly astray. I have always had one to keep me going, though I fear that you and several others have thought at times that it was burning pretty low. Maybe it was, but it never went out (Barnard 11). It is intriguing to see in several of his writings, that Robinson shows how humans will connect with other things then their fellow human beings when they feel they do not belong. Perhaps this is why he longed for people ot understand his poetry so much. His connection was with his own words and thoughts being poured out onto paper. He desired for someone to understand why he simply must write. One time to an interviewer he simply stated that No one who writes poetry can tell why he wrote it. Many times the poet is the only one who can ever know the fullness of the meaning in the works h/she may write. Robinson s didn t so much struggle with man s failure to find meaning in existence as he did desire to understand existence itself. He desired to understand his own existence and others around him. In yet another quote, Robinson stated concerning his vocation and desire to understand existence, If I could have done anything else on God s green earth, I never would have written poetry. There was nothing else I could do, and I had to justify my existence (Barnard 9). His writing was, for him, a way of connecting with the meaning of his existence.
Barnard, Ellsworth. Edwin Arlington Robinson. Macmillian. New York. 1952Dey, Richard. Robinson. www.southbank-university.ac.uk. 1998Duke, John. Edwin Arlington Robinson. www.pbs.orgJoyner, Nancy. Edwin Arlington Robinson. www.georgetown.edu/robinson.html.