r peter tristram coffin

Robert P. T. Coffin

[kaw-fin, kof-in]

Robert Peter Tristram Coffin (March 18, 1892January 20, 1955) was a writer, poet and professor at Wells College (1921-1934) and Bowdoin College (1934-1955).

A native of Brunswick, Maine, and descendant of one of the original purchasers of Nantucket Island, Mass., 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 honor of him. 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 more well-known works and centers around the characters Abby and John Pennell, two ship captains. A section of Brunswick known as the Pennellville Historic District, or "Pennellville" provided the inspiration for the work. Pennellville was home to the Pennell Brothers shipbuilding company, where the Pennell family built wooden ships for the 18th and 19th Century cargo and passenger trade.

Partial Bibliography


Book of Crowns and Cottages (Yale University Press, New Haven, 1925)

Laud, Storm Center of Stuart England (1930)

The Dukes of Buckingham, Playboys of the Stuart World (1931)

Portrait of an American (The MacMillan Company, New York, 1931)

Lost Paradise (Autobiography) (The MacMillan Co. New York, 1934)

The Kennebec: Cradle of Americans (Farrar & Rinehart, 1937) (First volume in the Rivers of America Series)

Maine Ballads (The MacMillan Co., New York 1938)

Primer for America (1943)

Mainstays of Maine (The MacMillan Co., New York, 1944)

Maine Doings (Bobbs-Merrill, New York, 1950)


Strange Holiness (1935)

Red Sky in the Morning ((The MacMillan Co., New York, 1935)

John Dawn (1936)

Saltwater Farm. J. J. Lankes (illustration). (The McMillan Co., New York, 1937.)

Thomas-Thomas-Ancil-Thomas (1941)

Book of Uncles (The MacMillan Co., New York, 1942)

Poems for a Son with Wings (1945)

People Behave Like Ballads (1946)

One Horse Farm (The MacMillan Company, New York, 1949)

On the Green Carpet (1951)



  • NNDB; American Book Exchange; List of books written in Kennebec: Cradle of Americans (1937)

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