American writer Edwin Arlington Robinson, born December 22nd 1869, seemed to have an unfortunate start to his life. It is said that his parents were so disappointed at not having a girl they couldn’t even think of a name for him when he was born, and instead his name was drawn out of a hat by tourists at a holiday resort. The tragedies which blighted his early life, including a brother dying from an overdose and another brother, Herman, stealing and marrying the woman who Edwin wanted, were reflected in his poetry. Robinson wrote classical rhyme but was obviously haunted by his past. Herman, who died in an impoverished state, apparently inspired Edwin to write his poem, Richard Cory. It is evident from this poem that Edwin was envious of Herman’s good looks and advantages and starts out in flattery but ends on a bitter note. The poem begins:
In 1891 Robinson began a short tenure at Harvard where he studied Shakespeare and languages. He was not a very ambitious student, being content with B grades. His true ambition lay in writing and getting published and he achieved the beginnings of this when his work Ballade of a Ship was published in a Harvard magazine. However he sabotaged this early chance when he met the editors and was unable to give a good account of himself.
After his father Edward died, Robinson returned to the family home in Gardiner, Maine, still yearning to begin a serious writing career. He wrote to his friend:
Back in the family home Robinson made an attempt at running the farm and twice proposed marriage to his brother’s widow but she turned him down. He gave up on a life of domesticity and moved to New York where he lived a not very successful life as a working poet. His first book was published here to limited success but when his second, Children of the Night, appeared in print, he was offered a job at the New York Customs Office where he could at least make enough money to support his writing. This second volume had impressed the son of Theodore Roosevelt, no less, who praised Robinson’s work in a magazine article.
Robinson became a prolific producer of poetry and achieved considerable success. Between 1922 and 1925 he was awarded the Pulitzer Prize three times, the third one being for his Arthurian themed trilogy of Merlin, Lancelot and Tristram.
In the final decades of his life he summered at the MacDowell Colony in New Hampshire, a place of support for writers, poets, composers and artists. Ironically he attracted the attentions of several female admirers here but he rebuffed all of them.
He never married, preferring to live a solitary life. He died of cancer at the age of 66 on April 6th 1935 in New York Hospital.