The last time I was in New Hampshire, I visited Frost Place in Franconia. I regret not also seeing Derry Farm, where Robert Frost found his literary voice, developed his poetic style, and garnered a lifetime of inspiration from his surroundings and the interesting people he met.
I might say the core of all my writing was probably the five free years I had there on the farm down the road a mile or two from Derry Village toward Lawrence. The only thing we had was time and seclusion. I couldn’t have figured on it in advance. I hadn’t that kind of foresight. But it turned out right as a doctor’s prescription.
(From: Selected Letters of Robert Frost, Lawrence Thompson, ed. New York: Holt, 1964)
I love Natalie S. Bober’s new picture book, Papa is a Poet: A Story About Robert Frost (Henry Holt, 2013), which describes Frost’s crucial years at Derry Farm as told through the eyes of his oldest daughter Lesley.
We come to know Frost as a loving husband and father, an impoverished poultry farmer, and a word lover who not only instilled a love of reading and writing in his children, but who also taught them how to look carefully at the natural world, to make comparisons, and “to bring on what he called ‘metaphor’”.
Young readers will enjoy reading about the Frost family all-day Sunday picnics, how they wandered through fields and woodlands learning the names of flowers and birds, how they watched the sunset and studied the stars at night, how the children were encouraged to tell stories and record what they saw and felt on paper.
When listening to the speech of his farmer neighbors, Frost “heard the words that had the ring of pure poetry,” inspiring him to “make music out of words.”
While Frost’s passion for writing, his family and their rural lifestyle are clearly celebrated in Lesley’s narrative, she also mentions how her father struggled to make a living as a poet, how he felt like he was a “disappointing failure” to family and friends. She explains why, despite a life “filled to the brim” even when the “cupboard was often bare,” they eventually left the farm and moved to England.
Her Papa had courageously made the difficult, “reckless choice” to pursue the life of a poet. Despite years of poverty and rejection, he’d chosen the road less traveled by.