Monday, April 7, 2008

Good Salary. Little Work. Soft Snap!

For the last month or so, I've been plodding through Edmund Morris's Theodore Rex, an exacting account of Theodore Roosevelt's presidency. The reason I'm writing this post (besides to name-drop my reading habits, of course) is Morris's description of the relationship between the twenty-sixth president and Maine poet Edwin Arlington Robinson.

Edward Arlington Robinson (or as the cognescenti prefer, E.A. Robinson) was, according to Morris, a "reclusive and poverty-stricken northeastern balladeer" when President Roosevelt's oldest son, Kermit, read his collection of poems, Children of the Night. Kermit was so "transfixed by [the poems'] chilling beauty" that he urged the his father to read Robinson's work. Subsequently, the elder Roosevelt enjoyed Robinson's poetry so much that, after learning the Robinson was heavily drinking and working long days in the New York subway system, he offered the poet a job in the New York Customs House. The understanding being "that, in exchange for his desk and two thousand dollars a year, [Robinson] should work 'with a view to helping American letters,' rather than the receipts of the United States Treasury."

In fact, according to E.A. Robinson, President Roosevelt sold the Customs House job to the poet with the six-word description of the job that serves as the title to this post.

- John C.L. Morgan

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