Harvard University Press released the first major edition of Robert Frost’s written correspondence, “The Letters of Robert Frost, Volume 1: 1186-1920,” earlier this year. The set, drawing from over 3,000 letters written by Frost, will come in four volumes and be released in two-year installments.
Robert Lee Frost (March 26, 1874 – January 29, 1963) was an American poet whose poetry received much critical acclaim during his lifetime. Frost won four Pulitzer Prizes for his poetry and the Congressional Gold Medal in 1960. At 86, Frost read “The Gift Outright” at the inauguration of President John F. Kennedy on January 20, 1961. Despite attending only two months of college, the poet received 40 honorary degrees and taught writing as a college professor.
But perhaps it is even more telling how widely revered his poetry remains today. His poems grace many high school and college curriculum and many Americans would recognize the lines “Two roads diverged in a yellow wood… and I, I took the one less traveled by” (“The Road Not Taken“).
According to Harvard University Press, “Volume One traverses the years of Frost’s earliest poems to the acclaimed collections North of Boston and Mountain Interval that cemented his reputation as one of the leading lights of his era.”
The publication has already elicited letters from readers. “We’re going to have to think about a fifth volume,” said Donald Sheehy, an Edinboro University professor who is one of three editors of “Letters” told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
Some of the interest in “Letters” comes from a controversy over the details of Robert Frost’s personhood. Biographersand contemporaries have painted Frost as an unpleasant man, or worse. Joyce Carol Oates, in a short story published in Harper’s Magazine last November, wrote her Frost character as arrogant, racist and rude. An extensive collection of the poet’s personal letters may give better insight into his life.
James Maynard, associate curator of The Poetry Collection at UB, told The Spectrum that “A published volume of letters can do much in terms of documenting a given poet’s community and intellectual milieu. In other words, an explicit, historical sense of whom he or she was writing for and with, which again goes back to amplifying or extending the poetry itself.”
English professor Robert Daly, who will give the inaugural Victor E. Reichert Robert Frost lecture at the University of Buffalo later this spring, noted, “[The collection is] splendidly done and gives us a better view of how complex and learned Frost was.”
Although some of Frost’s letters have appeared in other collections, Harvard University Press intends for its collection to surpass others in scope and detail. The letters will appear in chronological order, complete with exhaustive notes and appendices. The first volume is over 800 pages and currently runs $45.00.
photo credit: University of Buffalo’s Robert Frost collection