Edwin Arlington Robinson: A Reappraisal

Edwin Arlington Robinson: A Reappraisal

Edwin Arlington Robinson: A Reappraisal

Edwin Arlington Robinson: A Reappraisal

Excerpt

During the so-called Renascence or New Era of American Poetry in the 1920's, the names of Edwin Arlington Robinson and Robert Frost were continually linked. They were considered the chief interpreters of the spirit of New England and, to a large extent, the rest of the country. Although Robinson has not been forgotten--current anthologies continue to give him considerable representation--he has been underrated and largely overshadowed because of Frost's ever-growing popular appeal. Even when he was most talked about, Robinson did little talking; he was not a performer in any sense; he shunned the public platform. Since his death his poetry has been neglected as something somehow old-fashioned and outmoded, too passé for permanence. It is time for a reappraisal and, perhaps, rediscovery.

Let us start with the facts of his life. There was little drama in them. There were no spectacular events, no love affairs, no marriages. Robinson had only one career, the sedentary, quiet, but hazardous career of a writer. Third son of a man past fifty, he was born December 22, 1869, in the little Maine village of Head Tide. Less than a year later, the family moved to Gardiner, a river town of a few thousand, where the future poet was to live until he was twenty-seven and which was to give a title to one of his most characteristic volumes, The Town Down the River . His father, at one time a ship's carpenter, was a storekeeper who made far more money selling timber and investing in property than he did across the counter. Worth $80,000, he was planning to retire when Edwin was born. The boy grew up with two older brothers, Dean and Herman, but, since they were four and twelve years older, Edwin found playmates of his own age across the street. He was particularly drawn to the Jordan children, whose father was a yarn-spinning sea captain; together they made up games. At ten his favorite sport was collecting large words, and his favorite game with the Jordans was finding out who could come up with the longest and queerest names, names from the Bible or ancient myths. The origins and their significance didn't matter as long as the names made an impressive sound. Years later he remembered the game, and wrote a short poem which he entitled "Two Men" :

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