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Edwin Arlington Robinson Portrait

Although much of Robinson's work was done before American modernism's heyday, in several respects his poetry heralds elements of what was to come. Best known for his portraits of individuals, portraits often comparable to those done by Edgar Lee Masters, he is actually more versatile, writing dramatic monologues and blank verse narratives of considerable length. If his use of the vernacular and the absence of sentimentality in some of his portraits helps usher in modernism, so does a quality of indirection and irresolution in other poems. Born in Head Tide, Maine, and raised in nearby Gardiner, the model for his fictional "Tilbury Town," Robinson enrolled at Harvard but had to leave after two years when the family's income fell upon his father's death. For several years, Robinson was thoroughly impoverished as he struggled to become a poet. He moved to New York in 1899 and early on he worked there inspecting subways under construction and then in the Customs House, a job obtained in 1904 with assistance from President Theodore Roosevelt, who admired his work. By the 1920s, he would become one of the country's most widely read poets. His characters were often failed but learned figures, and he urged on his readers a certain stoicism in the face of difficulty.