Robert Peter Tristram Coffin

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Robert Peter Tristram Coffin

Also Known As: "The poet"
Birthdate: (62)
Death: January 20, 1955 (62) (Heart Attack)
Place of Burial: Harpswell, ME, United States
Immediate Family:

Son of James William Coffin and Mary Alice Coffin
Husband of Ruth Coffin
Father of Margret "Peggy" Halvosa (Coffin); 2 Coffin; Robert PT Coffin Jr and Richard N Coffin

Occupation: writer, poet and professor
Managed by: Private User
Last Updated:

About Robert Peter Tristram Coffin

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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. Which was presented to him by his good friend, and fellow poet, Robert Frost.

CORRECTION On page 16 of our Summer 2007 issue, we incorrectly listed the family members of Robert P.T. Coffin ’15, H’30: His sons were the late Robert P.T. Coffin Jr. ’45 Richard N. Coffin ’51. Peter Coffin ’78 (Robert P.T. Coffin III) is his grandson. We regret the error.

             January 20, 1955  
             This is my country, bitter as the sea   
              Pungent with the fir and bayberry.   
              An island meadow, stonewalled, high, and lost,   
              With August cranberries touched red by frost.    
             A juniper upon a windy ledge,   
             Splendor of granite on the world's bright edge.  
             A lighthouse like a diamond, cut and sharp,   
            And all the trees like strings upon a harp.
             I, made of clay inflamed with sun,  
             Something solid still have done.   
             I have kept the ancient law,   
             I have written what I saw.  
             [next to Ruth Phillip Coffin]

Robert Peter Tristram Coffin A Biography

   Robert P. T. Coffin was born at 26 College Street on March 18, l892, in Brunswick, Maine, the son of Alice Coombs Coffin and James William Coffin. He grew up on his father's salt water farm on Great Island in Harpswell. He attended the little red schoolhouse in Princes Point, entered the 7th grade in Brunswick and was graduated from Brunswick High School in 1911.
   Coffin was graduated from Bowdoin College in June, l915 with the highest rank in the class--Summa Cum Laude. He was elected to the Phi Beta Kappa in his junior year at Bowdoin. He taught classes in Latin and Greek to the class below his, and won several prizes for excellence in writing. Upon Graduation, he was awarded the Henry W. Longfellow scholarship and spent one year at Princeton University, after which he was awarded the Rhodes Scholarship. He studied for three years at Trinity College in Oxford, England, earning the Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Literature degrees.
   In 1924, he published his first volume of poems, followed by 39 others. In 1936, when he was 44 years old, he won the Golden Rose of the New England Poetry Society and the Pulitzer Prize for his book Strange Holiness.
   R. P. T. Coffin lectured at the University of Indiana many years and at the University of Cincinnati. He was a member of the English Department at Wells College in Aurora, New York, following which he returned to the English Department at Bowdoin.
   Coffin Day was held at Bowdoin College on July 9, l948. This included an exhibition of drawings by Professor Coffin, readings of his poems, and a reception by President and Mrs. Sills at Bowdoin Union, where there was an exhibition of Coffin's Maine Murals.
   R.P.T. Coffin died in 1955 and is buried alongside his wife Ruth and daughter Peggy in Cranberryhorn cemetery in Harpswell, Maine.


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 school in Brunswick, Maine named after him. Coffin School opened in 1955, in his honor. Coffin dedicated his book "Captain Abby and Captain John" to his fellow Bowdoin College classmate 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 ship captains. A shipbuilding district of Brunswick known as Pennellville provided the inspiration for this book.

Coffin died of a heart attack in Brunswick, Maine on January 20, 1955. He was 62 years old.

Partial bibliography


Robert P. Tristram Coffin "I am a New Englander by birth, by bringing up, by spirit," says Robert Peter Tristram Coffin, and his poetry proves it. For more than thirty years this descendant of Nantucket whalers has been expressing the New England tradition in poems, many of which have appeared first in the Post. Since 1922 he has been professor of English at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine, and he has read and lectured about poetry in every part of America. VERMONT PRAISE The young new preacher had an edge Like a well-whet knife; His eyes were full of stars as he Spoke of eternal life. He liked this little town in white, The steady, sober people; He loved this church that might be his, With mountains by its steeple. He gave his listeners all he had, Voice and brain and heart; His sermon warmed him so he felt The teardrops burn and smart. He finished, and the hush was deep In the little place. A gray-haired deacon rose with calm Vermont upon his face. He came forward, put his hard Hand on the preacher's arm. "Young man," said he, "you didn't do That text you took no harm." The young man's face was like the sun, The church was his, he knew; He knew rapture when he heard it-- He was a Vermonter too. From The Saturday Evening Post Treasury, Simon & Schuster, New York, 1954



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