Analysis of Edward Arlington Robinson’s “Dear Friends”

Edwin Arlington Robinson.jpg

Dear Friends

Dear friends, reproach me not for what I do,
Nor counsel me, nor pity me; nor say
That I am wearing half my life away
For bubble-work that only fools pursue.
And if my bubbles be too small for you,
Blow bigger then your own: the games we play
To fill the frittered minutes of a day,
Good glasses are to read the spirit through.

And whoso reads may get him some shrewd skill;
And some unprofitable scorn resign,
To praise the very thing that he deplores;
So, friends (dear friends), remember, if you will,
The shame I win for singing is all mine,
The gold I miss for dreaming is all yours.

Edward Arlington Robinson (1869-1935) spent his childhood in a small town in Maine. His father was a prosperous merchant; his mother had been a schoolteacher. The parents were primarily interested in their two older sons and tended to ignore Edwin, though they recognized his exceptional intelligence.

Robinson studied at Harvard from 1891 to 1893 and afterward returned to Maine to stay for three years. Miserable and lonely, he moved to New York in 1895. His first volume of poems had been published while he was at home in Maine; in 1897 a second volume appeared. But he prospered neither as a poet nor as a businessman and ended by working as a checker of loads of shale during the building of the New York subway. Luckily, the president of the United States Theodore Roosevelt, found Robinson’s poetry impressive and helped him get a clerkship in the New York Customs House, where he worked until 1910.

Suddenly, with the poetic revival that preceded World War I, Robinson began to play a major role as a poet. He became widely read and exerted a strong influence on other poets, notably Robert Frost. He was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for poetry three times in the 1920s, a record exceeded only by Frost, who received the prize four times in all.

The core of Robinson’s philosophy is the belief that man’s highest duty is to develop his best attributes as fully as possible. Success is measured by the intensity and integrity of his struggle; failure consists only of a lack of effort. Robinson was most interested in people who had either failed spiritually or who seemed failures to the world but had really succeeded in gaining spiritual wisdom.

For many this poem describes the kind of work I do.


Note – I owe my summary of Robinson’s life to the brief biography at”American Poems.” The entry on Robinson can be found in full here.

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