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Kate Vannah House,
39 Lincoln Avenue

This Greek Revival home, with Italianate trim, was constructed in 1845 and was home to Miss Letitia Kate Vannah (1855–1933) as she was growing up. She began to play the organ at the age of nine and, after formal studies, returned to Gardiner for an active musical life. She was a prolific composer and wrote over two hundred pieces, including the official hymn for the Twentieth International Eucharist Congress, held in 1926. Laura Richards intimated that Kate Vannah was on the periphery of Gardiner’s literary circle when she reported Vannah’s comment: “He says it takes him six weeks to write a sonnet. It takes me ten minutes. One of us is crazy.” (Louis Coxe, The Life of Poetry, 50) Kate Vannah was a link in another web of associations. She introduced William Henry Thorne to Caroline Swan. It was through this connection that Robinson had his poetry published by Thorne in The Globe.

Kate Vannah (1855-1933) was a talented musical composer and poet. Her career as a pianist started in Gardiner at age nine and took her to Boston and New York. She published two books of poetry, Verses (1883) and From Heart to Heart (1879), and composed two hundred pieces, including music for Dr. Heath’s “Flag Song” and the hymn for the International Eucharist Congress in 1926.

Kate Vannah may have been one of the few residents of Gardiner who comprehended the gravity of Robinson’s Annus Horribilus in 1897. She wrote to her friend Frances Johnson, wife of Professor Henry Johnson of Bowdoin College: “Win Robinson marched bravely in the other evening about 7:45 and by 10:40 his shyness had thawed consibble and he got on with us very well. He longs to be away from Gardiner and I can understand how he is at war with his surroundings … I pity Win. It was pathetic to hear him say he would be willing to live on $4.00 a week (if he could) in N.Y. He knows nothing of N.Y. and hasn’t a friend there. Poor boy. A broken life.”

But Kate Vannah had spoken too soon. He was not broken. It was to such naysayers of Gardiner that Robinson addressed this poem.


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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.


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EDWIN ARLINGTON ROBINSON
A Virtual Tour of Robinson's Gardiner, Maine

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