February 22, 2018
E. A. Robinson's First PulitzerOn this day in 1921 Edwin Arlington Robinson's Collected Poems was published, bringing the first of his three Pulitzers. Robinson is often regarded as the first major American poet of the 20th century, one respected for having struggled in poverty for decades in order to master his simple rhythms and plain diction. Many of his most anthologized poems portray the longings and escapes of those who live in "Tilbury Town," the fictitious and too-Puritan New England village he based upon his own upbringing in Gardiner, Maine. Robinson grew up wealthy, and the family's slide into bankruptcy at the turn of the century had a "Richard Cory" impact on his two older brothers: Dean, the brilliant and seemingly successful doctor, became addicted to morphine and eventually killed himself; Herman, the town's most prosperous businessman, became an alcoholic. Robinson had his own battle with alcohol, perhaps fought as in "Mr. Flood's Party":
Over the hill between the town below
And the forsaken upland hermitage
That held as much as he should ever know
On earth again of home, paused warily.
The road was his with not a native near;
And Eben, having leisure, said aloud,
For no man else in Tilbury Town to hear:
"Well, Mr. Flood, we have the harvest moon
Again, and we may not have many more;
The bird is on the wing, the poet says,
And you and I have said it here before.
Drink to the bird." He raised up to the light
The jug that he had gone so far to fill,
And answered huskily: "Well, Mr. Flood,
Since you propose it, I believe I will". . . .
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