Authors: Edwin Arlington Robinson

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

American poet

Author Works

Poetry:

The Torrent and the Night Before, 1896

The Children of the Night, 1897

Captain Craig, 1902, 1915

The Town Down the River, 1910

The Man Against the Sky, 1916

Merlin, 1917

Lancelot, 1920

The Three Taverns, 1920

Avon’s Harvest, 1921

Collected Poems, 1921, 1927, 1929, 1937

Roman Bartholow, 1923

The Man Who Died Twice, 1924

Dionysus in Doubt, 1925

Tristram, 1927

Collected Poems, 1927

Sonnets, 1889-1927, 1928

Cavender’s House, 1929

The Glory of the Nightingales, 1930

Matthias at the Door, 1931

Nicodemus, 1932

Talifer, 1933

Amaranth, 1934

King Jasper, 1935

Drama:

Van Zorn, pb. 1914

The Porcupine, pb. 1915

Nonfiction:

Selected Letters of Edwin Arlington Robinson, 1940

Untriangulated Stars: Letters of Edwin Arlington Robinson to Harry de Forest Smith, 1890-1905, 1947

Edwin Arlington Robinson’s Letters to Edith Brower, 1968

Miscellaneous:

Uncollected Poems and Prose of Edwin Arlington Robinson, 1975

Biography

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).{$I[AN]9810000410}{$I[A]Robinson, Edwin Arlington}{$I[geo]UNITED STATES;Robinson, Edwin Arlington}{$I[tim]1869;Robinson, Edwin Arlington}

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 between New York in the winter and the MacDowell Colony in New Hampshire during the summer, supported in part by a legacy and a trust fund established by his friends. Gradually honors came to him: a fiftieth birthday celebration by The New York Times Book Review in 1911, three Pulitzer Prizes for the 1921 edition of Collected Poems, The Man Who Died Twice, and Tristram, various poetry prizes, honorary degrees from colleges and universities, the Gold Medal of the National Institute of Arts and Letters in 1929, and the posthumous award of the Medal of the International Mark Twain Society following his death in New York City on April 6, 1935.

Robinson was a poet of major ambition who seemed to combine New England moral integrity and dryness of manner with something of Robert Browning’s psychological curiosity and Thomas Hardy’s involvement with fate. The fact that his work should suggest a Puritan sensibility dissolved in the mainstream of English narrative verse, combined with a mastery of formal techniques, has resulted in divided critical opinion. At the same time, his tendency toward prolixity in blank verse and a sort of romantic realism relying on cleverness made him accessible to a public not usually eager for poetry. Such later long works as Matthias at the Door, Talifer, and Amaranth were written with a novelist’s awareness of his readers.

Robinson is most compelling in his short and medium-length poems. “For a Dead Lady,” from The Town Down the River; “Eros Turannos,” a perfect match of wit in form with stark understanding of life, from The Man Against the Sky; “The Wandering Jew,” from The Three Taverns, and “The Sheaves,” one of his finest sonnets, from Dionysus in Doubt, are all among the clearest examples of his literary cultivation and mastery of purpose. In these he demonstrates his ability to make symbolic thought and the play of ideas poetic with little sensuous imagery. Other poems in The Man Who Died Twice and Nicodemus, his last impressive volume, also develop his concern with failure and defeat, especially the plight of the potential artist, to the point of unflinching awareness.

The Arthurian trilogy (comprising Merlin, a study of romantic love; Lancelot, a study of the modern doubter, and Tristram, a detailed story of defeated passion based largely on Sir Thomas Malory) is his most famous group of poems. But it is doubtful if Robinson’s attempt at a major achievement here did more than diffuse his narrative power for the sake of full expression. In his work he was always shifting between the long poem in blank verse and the shorter self-contained stanza forms. Since his attitude toward humankind and destiny was not passionate but skeptical and intellectually firm, it is the laconic expression of his mind in verse form that is most convincing. The long works of his later years, concluding in 1935 with King Jasper, a modern allegory of industrial civilization, did not add much to a reputation already firmly grounded in the philosophical qualities which made his poetry a moral criticism of society and the age.

BibliographyBarnard, Ellsworth. Edwin Arlington Robinson: A Critical Study. New York: Macmillan, 1952. This study is a labor of love. It is thorough and meticulous, provides a perceptive and helpful analysis of Robinson’s poetic style, and is especially valuable on the long poems. Includes chapters on the development of Robinson’s thought.Bloom, Harold, ed. Edwin Arlington Robinson. New York: Chelsea House, 1988. A collection of nine critical essays discussing the American poet, arranged in chronological order of their original publication.Boswell, Jeanetta. Edwin Arlington Robinson and the Critics: A Bibliography of Secondary Sources with Selective Annotations. Metuchen, N.J.: Scarecrow Press, 1988. This bibliography updates Nancy Joyner’s E. A. Robinson: A Reference Guide (1978) and lists only materials published before 1983. Includes ample annotations, a useful subject index, and a short introduction on Robinson’s scholarship.Burton, David Henry. Edwin Arlington Robinson: Stages in a New England Poet’s Search. Lewiston, N.Y.: Edwin Mellen Press, 1987. A narrative of Robinson’s life by an established historian and biographer. Includes an index and bibliography.Fussell, Edwin Sill. Edwin Arlington Robinson: The Literary Background of a Traditional Poet. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1954. This study examines closely the influences under which Robinson produced his lyric and narrative poetry. Helpful on the sonnets and in its analysis of Robinson’s diction. Shows Robinson to be a traditional poet, “content with the old-fashioned way to be new.”Hagedorn, Hermann. Edwin Arlington Robinson: A Biography. New York: Macmillan, 1938. A good early account of the poet’s life. Written by a close friend out of vivid recollections, it is extremely readable, tender, and affectionate. Especially useful on the poet’s boyhood, on his friendship with Robert Frost, and on Tristram. Includes several anecdotes.Hofpauir, Richard. The Contemplative Poetry of Edwin Arlington Robinson, Robert Frost, and Yvor Winters. Lewiston, N.Y.: Edwin Mellen Press, 2002. A study of three major New England poets.Kaplan, Estelle. Philosophy in the Poetry of Edwin Arlington Robinson. New York: Columbia University Press, 1940. This extended analysis of Robinson’s thought is a must for any serious student of the poet. Includes a bibliography and an index.Smith, Chard Powers. Where the Light Falls: A Portrait of Edwin Arlington Robinson. New York: Macmillan, 1965. The best of a number of personal reminiscences. Provides an affectionate and vivid picture of the poet’s character and personality. Notes and bibliographical references fill 17 of the 420 pages.Winters, Yvor. Edwin Arlington Robinson. Norfolk, Conn.: New Directions, 1946. One of Robinson’s best critics and the most persistent of the poet’s admirers, Winters sorts out the essential in Robinson. Helpful on the shorter poems; Winters does not like the long poems. This volume is a stimulating work of biography and criticism. Contains four pages of bibliography.
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