Robert Peter Tristram Coffin
Biography of Robert Peter Tristram Coffin
Robert Peter Tristram Coffin (March 18, 1892 – January 20, 1955) was a writer, poet and professor at Wells College (1921–1934) and Bowdoin College (1934–1955). He won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1936.
A native of Brunswick, Maine, and member of one of New England's oldest families, Robert P. T. Coffin graduated from Bowdoin in 1915, and went on to earn graduate degrees from Princeton University (1916) and Oxford University (1920), where he was a Rhodes Scholar. He is best known as the author of more than three dozen works of literature, poetry and history, including the book Strange Holiness, which won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1936.
His early poetry was derivative of classical forms (e.g., sonnets) and in verbiage and subject archaic. His mature poetry is marked by clarity of subject and symbolism, scanning and usually rhyming lines, and New England locales, persons (particularly farmers, fishermen, young boys, and old ladies), themes, and sometimes vocabulary and accent-based rhymes. He also wrote romantic prose.
There is a public school in Coffin's hometown of Brunswick, Maine, named after him. Coffin Elementary School opened in 1955, in his honor. He dedicated his book "Captain Abby and Captain John" to fellow Bowdoin College alumnus L. Brooks Leavitt, "a fellow son of Maine." Coffin subsequently wrote his poem "Brooks Leavitt" as a eulogy to his old friend, which was read at Leavitt's funeral in Wilton, Maine. "Captain Abby and Captain John" is one of his most well-known works, and centers around the characters Abby and John Pennell, two 19th-century ship captains. A shipbuilding district in Brunswick, Maine, known as Pennellville, provided the inspiration for the book, as well as Coffin's shared lineage with the Pennell family.
Robert P.T Coffin was also a lifelong visual artist who illustrated many of his books in black and white drawings of great detail. The multifarious works describe the natural world of his beloved Maine, its flora and fauna set amidst whimsical architecture and personalized by stylized inhabitants involved in various activities apropos of the essays the art accompanies.
Coffin died of a heart attack in Brunswick, Maine, on January 20, 1955. He was 62 years old.
Robert Peter Tristram Coffin Poems
The Secret Heart
Across the years he could recall His father one way best of all. In the stillest hour of night The boy awakened to a light.
The Foot of Tucksport
Colonel Jonathan Jethro Tuck Was a gold-lace man, He had lived in clover all His ruddy threescore span.
The Way To Know A Father
No man knows his father till he sees His father in the son upon his knees; The best way for a man to understand His father is to hold him by the hand.
Once or twice this side of death Things can make one hold his breath. From my boyhood I remember
The Way To Know A Father
No man knows his father till he sees
His father in the son upon his knees;
The best way for a man to understand
His father is to hold him by the hand.
When he is small enough, a father s face
Is full of starriness and looks like space
Above the trees upon an August night,
And his dark future is unfathomed light.