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"Robinson has been the subject of more speculation…than almost any other poet of our time" (Franchere 7). Numerous events in his life are reflected through his poetry. Edwin Arlington Robinson was born on December 22, 1869 in his father's home in Head Tide, Maine beside the Sheepscot River. His family moved to the town of Gardiner, Maine, which was only a few miles away, when he was six months old. Gardiner is Tilbury Town used in his poems. He is the son of Edward and Mary Palmer Robinson. Dean and Herman were his older brothers, Dean being twelve years older, and Herman four years older. Researchers assume that he found no companionship with his brothers. However, one of his companions was an old shabby rocking chair. In that chair young Robinson would rock, read, and reflect upon the misfortune of his birth.
Dean, gifted and intelligent, was at twenty-two on his way to what all believed would be a highly successful career in medicine. Herman, handsome, outgoing, and always popular, unavoidably kept his younger brother in the shadow. The father's attention, at any rate, appears to have been devoted chiefly to Dean and Herman; it was almost as if Win (Edwin) had been an unplanned and unexpected child and, therefore, usually ignored (Franchere, 15).
It was during his high school career that he met Emma Shepherd. She was a beautiful girl from Farmingdale that attended a dancing school. Robinson fell in love with her, but it is unknown as to how much she loved him. Nevertheless, she sent him flowers on his high school graduation day. Everything changed in the summer of 1889. Robinson's suave and svelte brother, Herman, had returned from St. Louis. He became fond of Emma and sought her affection. They married in February of 1890. Robinson refused to attend the wedding because he could not bring himself to witness it. His other brother, Dean, loved Emma as well and attempted suicide on the night of the marriage.
Robinson's life was full of emotional tribulations. In 1892, Robinson's father, Edward, died after a gradual deterioration. By 1893 America was in a major depression. Edward Robinson had accumulated a considerable fortune that was critically reduced. 1896 was when Robinson's mother died of "black diphtheria." There were no morticians available, which caused the three sons to have to dig her grave and bury her.
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Many critics reveal him as a dark mind dwelling on darker subjects. When Robinson was only six years of age he was quoting from Campbell's "Lochiel's Warning" and he read Edgar Allan Poe's "The Raven" to his mother while sitting on the kitchen floor. That is possibly what sparked his interest in poetry. Also when he was young he read medical books that belonged to his brother Dean. In those books he saw portraits of the human figure in various stages of deterioration. Diseases such as leprosy, elephantiasis, and falling of the womb rotted the figures.
Pondering…life and death as he witnessed the solemn processions moving slowly into a neighboring cemetery, made of this dark-eyed, sensitive man-child a frightened hypochondriac. A thousand times he may have pictured himself half-eaten through and chilled and already ripe for the graveyard beyond his father's home. He asked himself how soon he would follow to the grave his close friend, Harry Morrell, who was a victim of diphtheria at eleven years of age (Franchere, 15).
It was when Robinson was in his late twenties that his first book was published in New York City. Henry Richards, Jr. was a teacher and one of his students was Kermit, a son of Theodore Roosevelt. Kermit Conferred with his teacher about books he should read and Henry Richards, Jr. gave him a copy of The Children of the Night. Kermit was impressed with the poetry therefore he sent it to his father in the White House. President Theodore Roosevelt was equally impressed and wanted to meet Robinson personally. When he met Robinson he discovered that Robinson was "barely scraping by on a laborer's salary" (Anderson 651) and arranged a job for him at the New York Customs House.
In Robinson's poems he often describes people he knows, but gives them a different name. For example, "Richard Cory" is a poem about his next older brother, Herman. Also, "Miniver Cheevy" is a self-portrait created by Robinson and presents the contradictions of his life.
The words used in "Richard Cory" delineate Herman. "He was a gentleman…clean favored…imperially slim…quietly arrayed…glittered when he walked…richer than a king…and schooled in every grace" (Collected Poems 82). The "people on the pavement" (82) praised the external perspectives of Richard Cory and ultimately wished they were him, because it seemed as though he had everything. Obviously Richard Cory did not have everything because he went home one night and "put a bullet through his head" (82). Robinson does not mention why, but leaves that for the reader's imagination. Herman, Robinson's brother, was an alcoholic. He had become an alcoholic due to stress in his life and eventually drunk himself to death. His death is similar to that of Richard Cory's because they both had so much in life, but never realized it, and always wanted more.
"Miniver Cheevy" is a poem about Robinson. The first and last stanzas especially portray him. Robinson was in fact a "child of scorn" (Collected Poems 347) and "wept that he was ever born" (347) as before mentioned. In the last stanza it states that Miniver Cheevy was "born too late" (348). Robinson felt that his birth was unplanned, which caused him to be ignored by his family. In this particular poem Robinson contrasts the past with the present, and ideality with reality.
"Richard Cory." Collected Poems. New York: Macmillan Publishing Co., Inc., 1937. 82
"Miniver Cheevy." Collected Poems. New York: Macmillan Publishing Co., Inc., 1937. 347-348
Anderson, Robert et al. Elements of Literature; Literature of the United States. Austin: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, Inc., 1989. 651
Franchere, Hoyt. C. Edwin Arlington Robinson. Boston: Twayne Publishers, Inc., 1968. 13-86