Edwin Arlington Robinson was born in Head Tide, a village in Maine and grew up in Gardiner, Maine after his father, a successful businessman, had been offered a bank directorship there. After attending Gardiner High School he went on to Harvard at the age of 21. His father died after his first year there and Edwin left a year later and returned home to concentrate on writing. When his mother died in 1896 Edwin became the head of the household.
He had earlier suffered a bitter blow when his brother Herman married his childhood sweetheart Emma and he refused to attend the wedding, writing the poem Cortege in protest. He later wrote the poem Richard Cory about his brother. Herman’s marriage did not last and after he died impoverished, Emma and her children moved back into the Robinson family home in Gardiner. After Herman’s death Edwin proposed twice to Emma but was rejected each time.
Following this further disappointment Edwin moved to New York where he lived impoverished among writers and artists, working at one stage as an inspector on the New York subway. His financial circumstances were substantially improved when the US President, Theodore Roosevelt, awarded him a $2000 per annum sinecure in the New York Customs Office, which he held between 1905 and 1909. In gratitude he dedicated the poem The Town Down the River to Roosevelt. Edwin lived in New York for the remainder of his life, but spent his summers at a colony of artists and painters in New Hampshire. He had a romantic liaison with the painter Elizabeth Sparhawk Jones but never married, and died there in 1935 of cancer.
Robinson was a prolific poet who published 28 books of poetry during his lifetime, the first, The Torrent the Night Before, in 1896, but it was his publication of The Man against the Sky in 1916 which brought him major critical acclaim. He was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry three times during the 1920s, the first in 1922 for Collected Poems, the second for The Man Who Died Twice in 1925 and the final one for Tristam, a narrative poem, in 1928. Many of Robinson’s poems have a dark pessimism with themes of personal failure, artistic endeavour, and the inevitability of change. Some of his best known are Mr Flood’s Party, Luke Havergall, Many Are Called, The Mill, and The Sheaves.