friday feast: chatting with natalie s. bober about papa is a poet: a story about robert frost

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.

Derry Farm

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.

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friday feast: good times at the frost place

“Come over the hills and far with me and be my love in the rain.”

So here’s the view from the upstairs bedroom window at The Frost Place in Franconia. When I first read “The Road Not Taken” as a student eons ago, I hadn’t the faintest inkling where the poet might have lived when he wrote it — indeed, I knew nothing about New Hampshire, period.

As fate would have it, this Hawai’i girl met her husband, a New Hampshire native, in London, England, and since then, we’ve visited many poets’ and writers’ homes on both sides of the pond. It’s always a wonderful moment when you finally get to see where a writer you’ve long admired actually lived. All at once he becomes a real person, and if you listen carefully you can hear whisperings from the past, as you gaze at the view that may very well have inspired a poem or two.

“I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.”

Frost lived here full time between 1915-1920, then summered here until 1938. Unlike his ten-year sojourn at Derry Farm (a period of unsuccessful farming and meager publication), by the time Frost inhabited this modest farmhouse his literary reputation was well established. He had just returned from England where his first two books (A Boy’s Will, North to Boston) had finally earned him the professional esteem he so earnestly sought and deserved.

The orange daylilies were in full bloom on that Friday in July when we happened upon the rusty mailbox on Ridge Road.

I sat on the porch rejuvenated by the clean fresh air, the silence broken only by occasional birdsong and the buzzing of determined bees. No wonder Frost loved it here!

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friday feast: happy birthday, robert frost!

“A poet never takes notes. You never take notes in a love affair.”

“A poem begins in delight and ends in wisdom.”  ~ Robert Lee Frost


Frost in 1910 and 1962 (photo by TedSher).

To celebrate Robert Frost’s 136th birthday today, I’m sharing an early poem I only just discovered recently. Since my knowledge of Frost is somewhat limited to the well known poems usually found in anthologies, it’s always a treat to read something “new.”

“A Line-storm Song” first appeared in New England Magazine (1907) when Frost was 33, and was later included in his first collection of poetry, A Boy’s Will (1913). This is a different Frost from the one I first encountered pondering “The Road Not Taken,” and I like him. It’s lovely to meet this poet as a young man, passionate and romantic. I was reminded of Marlowe’s, “Come live with me and be my love.” I’m all for an entreaty to brave the elements and ride out life’s storms in the name of love.

A LINE-STORM SONG

The line-storm clouds fly tattered and swift.
The road is forlorn all day,
Where a myriad snowy quartz-stones lift,
And the hoofprints vanish away.
The roadside flowers, too wet for the bee,
Expend their bloom in vain.
Come over the hills and far with me,
And be my love in the rain.

The birds have less to say for themselves
In the wood-world’s torn despair
Than now these numberless years the elves,
Although they are no less there:
All song of the woods is crushed like some
Wild, easily shattered rose.
Come, be my love in the wet woods, come,
Where the boughs rain when it blows.

There is the gale to urge behind
And bruit our singing down,
And the shallow waters aflutter with wind
From which to gather your gown.
What matter if we go clear to the west,
And come not through dry-shod?
For wilding brooch, shall wet your breast
The rain-fresh goldenrod.

Oh, never this whelming east wind swells
But it seems like the sea’s return
To the ancient lands where it left the shells
Before the age of the fern;
And it seems like the time when, after doubt,
Our love came back amain.
Oh, come forth into the storm and rout
And be my love in the rain.
——————————————————————

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friday feast: after apple-picking by robert frost

 

It would be sacrilege to celebrate Apple Month without including Robert Frost. He loved his apple orchards and his ruminations upon the fruit resulted in many poems. Besides, he was a New Englander, like my husband, and once, years ago, I got to visit the farmhouse in Franconia, New Hampshire, where Frost lived full-time from 1915-1920, and where he spent 19 summers. I remember pausing in the narrow country lane, trying hard to hear his voice in the wind. I gently touched the battered mailbox, wondering what good and bad news he had found there regarding his poems.

Today The Frost Place is a museum open to visitors mostly on weekends and afternoons from Memorial Day to the first week of October. There are educational programs and an annual conference with writing workshops. Each year, an emerging young poet is given a cash stipend and the opportunity to live and work in the house during July and August. How cool is that?

But back to the apples. In 1920 Frost moved from Franconia to Shaftsbury, Vermont, seeking “a better place to farm and especially to grow apples.”  There he planted McIntosh, Northern Spy, Golden Delicious, Red Delicious and Red Astrachan, hoping to fulfill his dream of a “thousand apple trees of some unforbidden variety.”  Today there is only one tree still living from this orchard, but The Frost Museum is currently trying to restart the orchard via grafting. The Robert Frost Apple Project seeks to “create a display orchard of 20 trees composed of the historic varieties of apples as mentioned in Frost’s letter.” People from all over the country will be able to purchase a cutting to plant a Frost tree of their own. What a beautiful idea! Read more about it here.

So, sip your coffee or tea, and enjoy once again, probably the most famous apple poem ever written by an American poet.

 

AFTER APPLE-PICKING
by Robert Frost (1915)

My long two-pointed ladder’s sticking through a tree
Toward heaven still,
And there’s a barrel that I didn’t fill
Beside it, and there may be two or three
Apples I didn’t pick upon some bough.
But I am done with apple-picking now.
Essence of winter sleep is on the night,
The scent of apples: I am drowsing off.
I cannot rub the strangeness from my sight
I got from looking through a pane of glass
I skimmed this morning from the drinking trough
And held against the world of hoary grass.
It melted, and I let it fall and break.
But I was well
Upon my way to sleep before it fell,
And I could tell
What form my dreaming was about to take.

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