From the Archives... "Robert Peter Tristram Coffin"

Several weeks ago, in his sermon I Told Myself, Rev. Allen spoke about the poet Charles Wright who won the Pulitzer Prize for his work.  This reminded me that First Parish has its own Pulitzer Prize-winning poet—Robert Peter Tristram Coffin.  Some of you may know his poem, The Church on the Hill, which honors the history of our meetinghouse.  And of course, you know Coffin School which was named for him.

Coffin was born in 1892 and died in 1955.  He was educated in a one-room schoolhouse at Prince’s Point.  A true native son, he graduated from Brunswick High School in 1911 and from Bowdoin College (Phi Beta Kappa) four years later.  He won a Henry Wadsworth Longfellow Scholarship to Princeton and went on to become a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford.

He taught at Wells College in Aurora, New York, returning to his alma mater in 1934.  His book of poems, Strange Holiness, won the Pulitzer in 1936. 

First Parish was his spiritual home.  Several of his poems were inspired by our sanctuary (Little Boys in Church, Empty Pew, and New Service in an Old Church, among others).  As a young person he belonged to the snowshoe club, the Sunday School baseball team, and his “star of war service” hung here.  Later his four children were baptized here.

On January 16, 1936, he addressed the First Parish Fellowship Supper.  We are privileged to have a copy of his remarks.  In the closing paragraphs he says that “this house which has been a more continuous home to me over a stretch of years than any other I have occupied, has meant a great deal in my life.”  He recollects the “almost forty years of tenancy of pew No 6, left main aisle, broken only by three whole years of enforced absence from Brunswick.  I have found in this church a golden thing.  An insulation from the business and trivia of life, a rest, an isolation, a sudden and complete calm at regular intervals that has done me much good.”

May all of us find our own “golden thing” in this place.

Elizabeth Newman, Historian/Archivist

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