April 6, 1807: Advocates of the District of Maine’s separation from Massachusetts suffer their worst referendum defeat – 9,404 to 3,370.

Of the district’s 150 towns, most voters in 100 of them oppose separation. The momentum for Maine statehood is at a low ebb, but that will change during and after the War of 1812.

April 6, 1935: Edwin Arlington Robinson, who won the Pulitzer Prize of Poetry three times, dies of cancer in New York City.

Robinson was born in 1869 in Alna’s Head Tide village and spent most of his childhood in Gardiner.

Edward Arlington Robinson, 1916 oil on canvas portrait by Lila Cabot Perry. Image courtesy of Colby College Special Collections & Archives, Waterville

His biographer, Scott Donaldson, notes that Robinson grew up in the heyday of the so-called “Fireside Poets” such as Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, James Russell Lowell and William Cullen Bryant, but he shunned that writing tradition.

“He was the first of our poets to write about ordinary people and events,” Donaldson writes. “No one before his time would have thought it possible to write sonnets about an honest butcher consumed by grief, about a miser with ‘eyes like little dollars in the dark,’ about ancient clerks in a dry goods store measuring out their days like bolts of cloth.”

As a young man in Gardiner, he self-published his first volume of poetry, “The Torrent and the Night Before,” in 1896. Casting a pall over the whole enterprise, his mother died a few days before the printed copies arrived, so she never got to see it.

Robinson became friends with and was inspired by prolific local author Laura Richards, who was nearly 20 years his senior – and who also won a Pulitzer. He admired many other hardworking people in the small, blue-collar city on the Kennebec River; the “Tilbury Town” of his poems is based on Gardiner. He could not bring himself to live the way they did, however, so when he was about 30, he set off for Boston and New York.

A reticent man who spent a lot of time by himself, he courted women but never married. Though his poetry gained recognition, he lived in poverty as a young man. President Theodore Roosevelt, at the urging of his son Kermit, provided Robinson a civil service job at the New York Customs House so he could earn money but still have enough time to write poetry. However, Robinson suffered in destitution again after the job ended.

When he collected three Pulitzers in the 1920s, success finally lifted him out of his hardscrabble existence. He retained some of his reclusiveness, however. In 1933 he wrote to Richards that he had turned down several honorary degrees and expected “to turn down several more.”

Donaldson summarizes Robinson’s drive this way: “In the lifelong dedication to poetry, he was only fully alive when he was writing.”

Robinson’s childhood home on Lincoln Avenue in Gardiner is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Joseph Owen is a retired copy desk chief of the Morning Sentinel and Kennebec Journal and board member of the Kennebec Historical Society. He can be contacted at: [email protected]


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