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Rev. O. Bruce Swift Collection of Edwin Arlington Robinson

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Scope and Content

Special Collections has a comprehensive collection of Robinson's works: approximately 450 volumes, many signed, including his published poetry and letters, 20 manuscripts in Robinson's hand, portraits, books that were once a part of Robinson's personal library, and many books and periodicals that contained the first appearances of his poetry. There are also many books and poems by other authors that are dedicated to Robinson, as well as selected books and early critical works about him.

History of the Collection | About the Donor | Inventory | Historical Context | Additional Resources

History of the Collection

The collection was a gift to the college made in 1953 by the Reverend O. Bruce Swift, Oberlin College class of 1911. Rev. Swift also contributed a photograph album containing pictures mostly from Gardiner, Maine, where Robinson grew up, and of the MacDowell Colony in Peterborough, New Hampshire. Rev. Swift kept a scrapbook containing articles about Robinson, as well as some of Swift's own correspondence relating to E.A. Robinson.

About the Donor

Reverend Orville Bruce Swift, Oberlin graduated in 1911 and went on to serve as a Unitarian Universalist minister in Niagara Falls, NY and later Buffalo, NY.  He was a native of Wisconsin, and died in 1970 in Beloit, WI.


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Historical Context

Edwin Arlington Robinson's (1869-1935) poetry is often viewed as a transition between the Romantic and Modern eras — it is both a pessimistic portrayal of the tragedies of life and an optimistic view of mankind's courage and spirit. The tragic element of his poetry draws on the personal misfortunes he experienced. Robinson was born to a wealthy family, but he had an unhappy childhood and family life. Robinson had one romantic interest, but she married one of his brothers, and their marriage was quite unhappy. All of Robinson's brothers died of alcoholism or drug overdoses, and Robinson also struggled with alcohol addiction.

Robinson attended Harvard from 1891 to 1893, and then moved to New York City, where he chose to devote his life to writing instead of seeking a better-paying job. Help arrived in 1905 when President Theodore Roosevelt became interested in Robinson's poetry. Roosevelt gave Robinson a job in the New York Customs House, where his minimal duties would give him ample time to write. Roosevelt also made sure that Scribner published Robinson's poetry, giving him national recognition for the first time. After Roosevelt's presidential term was up, Robinson returned to his hometown of Gardiner, Maine, where he stayed, again in poverty, until 1916, when an anonymous benefactor began sending him a monthly stipend. This allowed Robinson to spend his winters in New York City, and his summers in the MacDowell Colony (a haven for artists founded by the widow of the composer Edward MacDowell), until his death in 1935. In an age of experimentation, Robinson preferred fixed forms for his poetry, although he did explore the modern themes of the effects of industrialization on humanity.

Additional Resources

Robinson's papers are in collections at Colby College Library in Waterville, Maine, the Houghton Library at Harvard University, the New York Public Library, and the Library of Congress.


Last updated:
July 6, 2016