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Edwin Arlington Robinson: A Poet's Life First Edition Edition

4 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0231138420
ISBN-10: 0231138423
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Editorial Reviews


A thoroughgoing biography that will likely become a touchstone for anyone interested in the poet's work and life. Recommended.

(Pam Kingsbury Library Journal)

A richly documented book that eclipses earlier biographies.

(Bruce Allen Down East: The Magazine of Maine)

[A] sterling biography.

(David Yezzi Wall Street Journal)

[A] readable and well-researched book.

(Rebecca Porte Minneapolis Star Tribune)

Unquestionably, Robinson's life and poetry are worthy of celebration. A Poet's Life offers the reader a chance to participate in that celebration.

(John Shulson Virginia Gazette)

Mr. Donaldson's close readings of the poems are masterful and edifying.

(Ernest Hilbert The New York Sun)

[Donaldson's] thorough documentation and responsiveness to Robinson's poetry displaces previous accounts of this fascinating, enigmatic character.

(William H. Pritchard Times Literary Supplement)

A smoothly readable, profoundly well-documented biography.

(X. J. Kennedy The New Criterion)

Scott Donaldson has been able to give us a superb accounting of the life of a major 20th century poet.

(Hannah Merker Maine Sunday Telegram)

Donaldson's words, like his subjects, are always heartfelt.


If [Robinson's] reputation is ever to revive, and it should, the credit ought to go to Scott Donaldson and his biography.

(Charles Simic New York Review of Books)


Robinson's theme was unhappiness itself, but his skill was as happy as it was playful.... His life was a revel in the felicities of language.

(Robert Frost)|

No poet ever understood loneliness or separateness better than Robinson or knew the self-consuming furnace that the brain can become in isolation.

(James Dickey)|

Edwin Arlington Robinson: A Poet's Life brings forth new material hitherto unavailable to biographers. The result is a remarkably rounded portrait of a man who kept his public persona deliberately flat.

(Barry Goldensohn, Skidmore College)|

For too long Edwin Arlington Robinson has been consigned to the ranks of peripheral poets. Scott Donaldson—a gifted biographer—has brought this remarkable man and his poetry vividly to life. This is a welcome book and one that should go a long way toward reestablishing Robinson as a significant voice in American literature.

(Jay Parini, author of Robert Frost: A Life)|

I'm very glad that Scott Donaldson has given us the first Edwin Arlington Robinson biography in forty years; it will send some readers back to enjoy again his humanity and formal ease, and get some others to meet him for the first time.

(Richard Wilbur, former Poet Laureate of the United States)|

The best of Edwin Arlington Robinson's poetry rings with a lyrical and emotional purity and singularity that should assure his place as one of the treasured poets of his generation. His reputation has suffered neglect in recent decades, but a new, clear, meticulous, and perceptive biography incorporating much previously unavailable material is certainly to be welcomed, and Scott Donaldson's Edwin Arlington Robinson: A Poet's Life should help to revive appreciation for this solitary figure and the unique resonance of his work.

(W. S. Merwin, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for poetry)

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 568 pages
  • Publisher: Columbia University Press; First Edition edition (January 9, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0231138423
  • ISBN-13: 978-0231138420
  • Product Dimensions: 1.5 x 6.5 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,634,866 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Kevin Killian HALL OF FAME on February 19, 2007
Format: Hardcover
I've been reading three big jumbo biographies of literary figures all at the same time, this one and the new lives of William Empson and Kingsley Amis (the Amis one comes out in April), and this book, A POET'S LIFE, is the one I figured ahead of time I'd like the least. I went into it scoffing, but came out, if not a convert to Arlington Robinson, a convert to Scott Donaldson, who took a chance with this enigmatic figure and at least squeezed the scrotum of the sphinx hard enough to make him give up a few of his secrets.

Robinson's youth was joyful, his family close, but a series of interrelated family tragedies scarred his adolescence and delivered him into manhood an emotional wreck on many levels. Donaldson provides a table of these tragedies, that's the only possible way to keep them straight, but it's the cumulative effect that matters: when Mary died, the mother of the three boys, her diphtheria kept away every townsperson. "No one would come near Mary Robinson's body or set foot inside the house where she had died." The boys had to prepare her for burial themselves. Even the preacher kept a handkerchief over his face, and avoided facing the grave as he spoke. "It was snowing. There were no other mourners in attendance. During the funeral, one kind neighbor took the risk of hanging a bag of doughnuts on the front doorknob of the Robinson house." Shortly afterwards, Edwin lost his two beloved brothers to addictions, and he himself became a poet--as Donaldson theorizes, an addiction like any other. Gardiner, Maine, was on the verge of a drastic reduction in status, as a city, as a trading center, as a place on the map. Its mills and factories shortly to close.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By B. L. Smith on March 8, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Who'd guess a biography of a shy poet from Maine would be such a page-turner? But the story of Robinson kept me riveted. A mother who didn't bother to name him right away since she wanted a girl, a father who considered him a loser, one brother addicted to morphine, another (the father's favorite) who's a raging alcoholic and incidentally stole the first girl Robinson loved. As a poet, he initially suffered financially and commercially for his beliefs as he was the first to write about common people, the gritty and the ordinary, something I never knew. His best-known poem, "Richard Cory," is no longer my only favorite since I've read Dear Friends, House on the Hill and Sheaves. The book's author, Scott Donaldson, apparently had the fortune of using previously unavailable sources, and he really makes Robinson come to life as person and a poet.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Winifred H. Sullivan on July 31, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Review of Donaldson, Scott, Edwin Arlington Robinson: A Poet's Life

This book is important partly because it is the first biography in 40 years of the early twentieth-century's most renowned American poet. Thoroughly researched by an experienced biographer, Prof. Scott Donaldson (e.g., Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Cheever), it provides a comprehensive account of EAR's life, as well as brief discussions of many of his best poems, composed between the 1890s and his death in 1935. Donaldson has the advantage of Robinson letters not available to earlier writers; other resources include critical works into this century and his own literary background. The book may provoke further discussion on the topic of love and may present more personal detail than many readers want or need, yet it also allows for a deeper sense of both the man and the poet. It can fill gaps and/or be a refresher for scholars and teachers. Students might peruse the volume for understanding and perhaps the inspiration to read Robinson further. The extensive bibliography is valuable. I recommend this biography and suggest it as a catalyst (along with Donald Hall's and other recent critical works) for restoring E. A. Robinson to his place as one of America's greatest men of letters.

Winifred H. Sullivan, Ph.D.

195 words
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By From the Coast of Maine on July 22, 2008
Format: Hardcover
This is a fabulous biography of a now all to unfamiliar American Poet. Other than Richard Corey, name one Robinson poem!? I bought this on a whim, and couldn't put it down. Robinson's life, starting in Gardiner, Maine (where he is now seen as a hero, despite his start there being seen as a pathetic failure and embarrassment) and culminating in New York, offers a compelling story of an artist who sacrificed almost everything to remain true to his art. Donaldson does a wonderful job of bringing Robinson to life, and one cannot read this book without coming away with a new found respect for the artist and his poetry. Beware though, you will end up buying many of his poetry books too!
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