Edwin Arlington Robinson

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Edwin Arlington RobinsonEdwin Arlington Robinson's (1869-1935) poetry is often viewed as a transition between the Romantic and Modern eras — it is both a pessimistic portrayal of the tragedies of life and an optimistic view of mankind's courage and spirit. The tragic element of his poetry may be the result of the personal misfortunes he experienced. Robinson was born to a wealthy family, but as the youngest son he was often ignored. His parents died when he was young. Robinson had one romantic interest, but when he did not marry her — he felt he had to choose either poetry or a family — she married one of his brothers, and their marriage was quite unhappy. All of Robinson's brothers died of alcoholism or drug overdoses. Robinson too, developed into an impoverished alcoholic.

Robinson attended Harvard from 1891 to 1893, and then moved to New York City, where he chose to devote his life to writing instead of seeking a better-paying job. Help arrived in 1905 when President Theodore Roosevelt became interested in Robinson's poetry. Roosevelt gave Robinson a job in the New York Customs House, where his minimal duties would give him ample time to write. Roosevelt also made sure that Scribner published Robinson's poetry, giving him national recognition for the first time. After Roosevelt's presidential term was up, Robinson returned to his hometown of Gardiner, Maine, where he stayed, again in poverty, until 1916, when an anonymous benefactor began sending him a monthly stipend. This allowed Robinson to spend his winters in New York City, and his summers in the MacDowell Colony (a haven for artists founded by the widow of the composer Edward MacDowell), until his death in 1935. In an age of experimentation, Robinson preferred fixed forms for his poetry, although he did explore the modern themes of the effects of industrialization on humanity.

Special Collections has a comprehensive collection of Robinson's works: approximately 450 volumes, many signed, including his published poetry and letters, 20 manuscripts in Robinson's hand, portraits of him, books that were once a part of Robinson's personal library, and many books and periodicals that contained the first appearances of his poetry. There are also many books and poems by other authors that are dedicated to Robinson, as well as books and early critical works about him. The collection was a gift to the college made in 1953 by the Reverend Bruce Swift (Oberlin College 1911). Rev. Swift also contributed a photograph album containing pictures mostly from Gardiner, Maine, where Robinson grew up, and of the MacDowell Colony in Peterborough, New Hampshire. Rev. Swift also kept a scrapbook containing articles about Robinson, as well as some of Swift's own correspondence relating to E.A. Robinson. Additional Robinsoniana is occasionally added to this collection if it is a primary resource or enhances access to other Robinsoniana for purpose of research. Recent biographies and critical works are not added. Robinson's papers are in collections at Colby College Library in Waterville, Maine, the Houghton Library at Harvard University, the New York Public Library, and the Library of Congress.

Find Edwin Robinson material in Special Collections

Last updated:
August 27, 2015