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Edwin Arlington Robinson: Overview


The collection contains approximately 9 linear feet of unpublished material, including over 1,200 unpublished letters by Robinson, as well as manuscripts, photographs, and ephemera. The collection contains over 100 linear feet of published works; first and subsequent editions of Robinson's works; related criticism; and many books from his personal library. These are described in the Colby Libraries catalog. Published materials also include first appearances, reviews, and clippings.The collection also contains photographs, writings and printed items created by family members, peers, other individuals, and organizations; as well as Robinson's personal items and academic regalia; and artwork, including Lilla Cabot Perry's 1916 portrait of Robinson. 


 A related collection is the Wallace Ludwig Anderson Archive of the Letters of Edwin Arlington Robinson.

The Robinson Memorial Room in Special Collections is named for Maine's most noted poet, who won the Pulitzer prize for Literature three times in the 1920s. The Room contains all of Robinson's published works, in various editions, as well as books from his personal library.


Edwin Arlington Robinson was born in Head Tide, Maine on December 22, 1869. Not long after his birth, his family moved from this tiny community to Gardiner, Maine so that he and his two older brothers could receive a better education. Win, as Robinson was often called, developed a deep interest in poetry, but his parents, unaware of his enthusiasm, encouraged him not to prepare for college. But his love for poetry never diminished. “It must have been about the year 1889 when I realized finally...that I was doomed, or elected, or sentenced for life, to the writing of poetry.”

The seven years that followed were years of hardship and discouragement, and only minimal accomplishment. Robinson moved to Boston for two years so he could receive medical treatment, and he was able to attend Harvard University as a Special Student. He published a few poems in The Harvard Advocate and in other periodicals. But between 1889 and 1896, Win lost his father to a stroke, his mother to diptheria, the family fortune to a recession, his brother Dean to suicide, and his beloved to his brother Herman. On top of all this, he had a collection of rejection slips “that must have been one of the largest and most comprehensive in literary history.” His first book, The Torrent and The Night Before, which he published out of his own pocket, appeared in 1896, only weeks after his mother’s death.

He gave most of the copies to editors and authors, hoping for reviews and recognition. In the February 1897 edition of Bookman, reviewer Harry Thurston Peck wrote that Robinson’s “humour is of a grim sort, and the world is not beautiful to him, but a prison-house.” Robinson responded ingeniously. “I am sorry that I have painted myself in such lugubrious colors. The world is not a prison house, but a sort of spiritual kindergarten, where millions of bewildered infants are trying to spell God with the wrong blocks.”

After publishing The Children of the Night in 1897 and Captain Craig in 1902, Robinson did not produce any new material for eight years. For the first two years, he held many jobs for very short periods, and he frequently visited bars. But in 1904, President Theodore Roosevelt read The Children of the Night and publicly voiced his approval. With Roosevelt's encouragement The Children of the Night was republished by Charles Scribner’s Sons in 1905. Roosevelt also gave Robinson a position in the New York Customs House, which he held until 1909. Despite this support, Robinson was still unable to write during this period.

With the 1910 publication of The Town Down the River, Robinson began to acquire a reputation as a poet. But it was not until he published The Man Against the Sky in 1916 that his poetry was truly loved by the critics. In 1922, a volume called Collected Poems was released, and Robinson was awarded the first of the three Pulitzer Prizes he would receive in his life.

In 1923, Robinson began writing almost exclusively long book-length poems. In 1924, he received his second Pulitzer Prize for The Man Who Died Twice. But his greatest triumph was Tristram, published in 1927, which sold 57,000 copies in the first year and also won a Pulitzer Prize. He wrote seven more books before he died, but critics compared them unfavorably to Tristram.

In January of 1935, Robinson was diagnosed with terminal cancer. While waiting for death, he finished King Jasper, and died hours after he completed the book, on April 6, 1935.


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