Edwin Arlington Robinson

Edwin Arlington Robinson
Born December 22, 1869
Head Tide (Alna), Lincoln County, Maine
Died April 6, 1935(1935-04-06) (aged 65)
New York City[1]
Occupation Poet and playwright
Nationality American
Period Late 19th, early 20th Centuries
Genre Poetry
Literary movement American Nativism
Spouse none

Edwin Arlington Robinson (December 22, 1869 – April 6, 1935) was an American poet who won three Pulitzer Prizes for his work.

Early life

Robinson was born in Head Tide, Lincoln County, Maine but his family moved to Gardiner, Maine in 1871. He described his childhood in Maine as "stark and unhappy".[2] His parents (who had wanted a girl) did not name him until he was six months old, when they visited a holiday resort — at which point other vacationers decided that he should have a name, and selected a man from Arlington, Massachusetts to draw a name out of a hat.[3] Throughout his life, he not only hated his given name, but also his family’s habit of calling him “Win.” As an adult, he always used the signature “E. A.”[4]


Robinson's early struggles led many of his poems to have a dark pessimism and his stories to deal with "an American dream gone awry."[5] His eldest brother, Dean Robinson, was a doctor and had become addicted to laudanum while medicating himself for neuralgia.[6] The middle brother, Herman, a handsome and charismatic man, married the woman Edwin loved, Emma Löehen Shepherd.[7] Emma thought highly of Edwin and encouraged his poetry,[7] but he was deemed too young to be in realistic competition for her hand, which didn't keep him from being rattled deeply by witnessing what he considered her being bamboozled by Herman’s charm and choosing shallowness over depth.[6] The marriage was a great blow to Edwin's pride, and during the wedding ceremony, February 12, 1890, the despondent poet stayed home and wrote a poem of protest, “Cortège”, the title of which refers to the train that took the newly married couple out of town to their new life in St. Louis, Missouri.[4] Herman Robinson suffered business failures, became an alcoholic, and ended up estranged from his wife and children. Herman died impoverished in 1909 of tuberculosis at Boston City Hospital[8] Robinson's poem "Richard Cory" was thought by Emma (Herman's wife) to refer to God and her husband.[9][10]

At the age of 21, Edwin entered Harvard University as a special student. He took classes in English, French, and Shakespeare, as well as one on Anglo-Saxon that he later dropped. He did not aim to get all A's; as he wrote his friend Harry Smith, "B, and in that vicinity, is a very comfortable and safe place to hang."

His real desire was to get published in one of the Harvard literary journals. Within the first fortnight of being there, The Harvard Advocate published Robinson's "Ballade of a Ship." He was even invited to meet with the editors, but when he returned he complained to his friend Mowry Saben, "I sat there among them, unable to say a word." Robinson's literary career had false-started.

Edwin's father, Edward, died after Edwin's first year at Harvard. Edwin returned to Harvard for a second year, but it was to be his last one as a student there. Though short, his stay in Cambridge included some of his most cherished experiences, and there he made his most lasting friendships. He wrote his friend Harry Smith on June 21, 1893:

I suppose this is the last letter I shall ever write you from Harvard. The thought seems a little queer, but it cannot be otherwise. Sometimes I try to imagine the state my mind would be in had I never come here, but I cannot. I feel that I have got comparatively little from my two years, but still, more than I could get in Gardiner if I lived a century.

Robinson had returned to Gardiner by mid-1893. He had plans to start writing seriously. In October he wrote his friend Gledhill:

Writing has been my dream ever since I was old enough to lay a plan for an air castle. Now for the first time I seem to have something like a favorable opportunity and this winter I shall make a beginning.


Lilla Cabot Perry, Edwin Arlington Robinson, 1916, Colby College Special Collections, Waterville, Maine

With his father gone, Edwin became the man of the household. He tried farming and developed a close relationship with his brother's wife Emma Robinson, who after her husband Herman's death moved back to Gardiner with her children. She twice rejected marriage proposals from Edwin, after which he permanently left Gardiner. He moved to New York, where he led a precarious existence as an impoverished poet while cultivating friendships with other writers, artists, and would-be intellectuals. In 1896 he self-published his first book, The Torrent and the Night Before, paying 100 dollars for 500 copies. Robinson meant it as a surprise for his mother. Days before the copies arrived, Mary Palmer Robinson died of diphtheria.

His second volume, Children of the Night, had a somewhat wider circulation. Its readers included President Theodore Roosevelt's son Kermit, who recommended it to his father. Impressed by the poems and aware of Robinson's straits, Roosevelt in 1905 secured the writer a job at the New York Customs Office. According to Edmund Morris, author of Theodore Rex, a tacit condition of his employment was that, in exchange for his desk and two thousand dollars a year, he should work "with a view to helping American letters," rather than the receipts of the United States Treasury. Robinson remained in the job until Roosevelt left office.

Gradually his literary successes began to mount. He won the Pulitzer Prize three times in the 1920s.[11] and posterity has him described as ' more artful than Hardy and more coy than Frost and a brilliant sonneteer .[12] During the last twenty years of his life he became a regular summer resident at the MacDowell Colony in New Hampshire, where several women made him the object of their devoted attention.[13] Robinson and artist Elizabeth Sparhawk-Jones visited the MacDowell Colony at the same times over a cumulative total of ten years.[14] They had a romantic relationship in which she was in love with him,[15] devoted to him and understood him, and was relaxed in her approach with him. He called her Sparhawk and was courteous towards her.[16] They had a relationship that D. H. Tracy described as "courtly, quiet, and intense."[16] She described him as a charming, sensitive, and emotionally grounded man with high moral values. [16]

Robinson never married.[13] He died of cancer on April 6, 1935 in the New York Hospital (now New York Cornell Hospital) in New York City.[17] When he died, Sparhawk-Jones attended his vigil and then painted several paintings in his memory.[16]

His childhood home in Gardiner was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1971. Robinson's grandnephew David S. Nivison later became a noted expert on Chinese philosophy and Chinese history.

Selected works

Wikisource has original works written by or about:
Edwin Arlington Robinson







  1. "University of Illinois". English.illinois.edu. 1935-04-06. Retrieved 2014-03-02.
  2. "biography". Poets.org. 1935-04-06. Retrieved 2014-03-02.
  3. American Poets: From the Puritans to the Present, by Hyatt H. Waggoner (2003); excerpted at On "Miniver Cheevy"
  4. 1 2 Smith, Danny D. "Biography of Edwin Arlington Robinson". A Virtual Tour of Robinson's Gardiner, Maine. Gardiner Public Library. Retrieved 8 December 2012.
  5. "I Hear America Singing". PBS. Retrieved 2014-03-02.
  6. 1 2 Tracy, D.H. "Aspects of Robinson". Contemporary Poetry Review. Retrieved 8 December 2012.
  7. 1 2 Peschel, Bill. "Edwin Arlington Robinson's Life and Career". Modern American Poetry. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Retrieved 8 December 2012.
  8. "Herman Edward Robinson (1869-1903) at Find a Grave". Findagrave.com. 2009-03-28. Retrieved 2014-03-02.
  9. http://www.earobinson.com/pages/sites/site24.html
  10. earobinson.com
  11. "Search: arlington, edwin, robinson," The Pulitzer Prizes, Pulitzer.org, Web, Apr. 22, 2011.
  12. Schmidt , Michael, Lives of the Poets Weidenfeld & Nicolson 1998 ISBN 978-1781857014
  13. 1 2 East Tennessee State University
  14. Ruth Gurin Bowman (April 26, 1964). "Oral history interview with Elizabeth Sparhawk-Jones, 1964 Apr. 26". Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution. Retrieved March 28, 2015.
  15. Barbara Lehman Smith (June 2011). "Search for Elizabeth Sparhawk-Jones" (PDF). MD Arrive. pp. 34–36. Retrieved March 28, 2015.
  16. 1 2 3 4 D. H. Tracy (2008). "Review: Aspects of Robinson, Part 2". Contemporary Poetry Review. Retrieved March 29, 2015.
  17. "Edwin Arlington Robinson | A Brief Biography". Earobinson.com. 1935-04-06. Retrieved 2014-03-02.
  18. Gale, Robert L. (2012). An Edwin Arlington Robinson Encyclopedia. NC, USA: McFarland. pp. 89, 95. ISBN 978-0-7864-4909-5.
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