The Notebooks of Robert Frost

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Overview

Robert Frost is one of the most widely read, well loved, and misunderstood of modern writers. In his day, he was also an inveterate note-taker, penning thousands of intense aphoristic thoughts, observations, and meditations in small pocket pads and school theme books throughout his life. These notebooks, transcribed and presented here in their entirety for the first time, offer unprecedented insight into Frost's complex and often highly contradictory thinking about poetics, politics, education, psychology, science, and religion--his attitude toward Marxism, the New Deal, World War--as well as Yeats, Pound, Santayana, and William James. Covering a period from the late 1890s to early 1960s, the notebooks reveal the full range of the mind of one of America's greatest poets. Their depth and complexity convey the restless and probing quality of his thought, and show how the unruliness of chaotic modernity was always just beneath his appearance of supreme poetic control.

Edited by preeminent Frost scholar Robert Faggen and annotated to help readers with the poet's more elusive references, the notebooks are also thoroughly cross-referenced, marking thematic connections within these and Frost's other writings, including his poetry, letters, and other prose. This is a major new addition to the canon of Robert Frost's writings.
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Editorial Reviews

Financial Times

While those such as Eliot and Stevens shivered with distaste at the idea of writing poetry that was intelligible to the masses, Frost was determined to evolve a style that would appeal both to an average poetry consumer and, through its secret equivocations, to the more discerning reader. Ideally, it would educate the former, and transform them into the latter...In 1915, Frost returned to the US as something of a celebrity, and shrewdly set about cultivating, on the one hand, a popular audience and, on the other, the esteem of influential critics. The Notebooks of Robert Frost offer an intriguing insight into Frost's mind. They are not, it should be said, at all systematic. The first entries in Notebook 4, for instance, were made in 1909, and the last in the 1950s. Some contain drafts of work in progress, others fragments of lectures and notes for classes. Their scrupulous, perhaps over-scrupulous, editor Robert Faggen, has chosen to reprint the contents of all 49 notebooks in their entirety...While only the most devoted of Frost scholars will find their attention held by every page, this is a great book to open at random...Frost once described poetry as a 'momentary stay against confusion.' There's plenty of confusion in these notebooks, but they also offer a series of vivid glimpses into how and why he fashioned each 'momentary stay.'
— Mark Ford

New Republic

The Notebooks of Robert Frost [is] seven hundred pages of wisdom and prophecy, raving and rant, expertly edited and annotated by Robert Faggen...The biggest surprise in The Notebooks of Robert Frost, sixty years of private jottings in preparation for poems and prose, is the spectacular profusion of epigrams, aphorisms, and what Frost called 'dark sayings.'
— Christopher Benfey

Daily Telegraph

The American poet Robert Frost was not keen on having his rough drafts inspected by posterity. Few survive for his poems. Here for the first time, however, are 47 pocket flip-pads, diaries and school exercise books that record his life as a poetic thinker...Frost's notebooks illuminate the oblique concerns of his [poetry].
— Jeremy Noel-Tod

Newsweek

Since Frost used his notebooks to think through his poems, his essays and his teaching, they reveal only his working mind—and that's revelation aplenty... By now, nobody buys Frost's old image as a rustic autodidact or a versifying Andy Rooney. He read as widely and deeply as any American poet—the notebooks allude to the likes of Dryden, Marx, Nietzsche, Freud, Einstein, Santayana and Maria Montessori—and funny as he was, he could still outbleak T. S. Eliot. He was also American poetry's biggest ham (at least until Allen Ginsberg), and his poems were performances: not just in his well-known public readings but on the page. These deliberately preserved notebooks, too, might have kept one eye on an audience. But unlike the much-revised poems, they sometimes show this least innocent of men taking himself by surprise.
— David Gates

New York Times Book Review

Frost was as innovative as many poets more often considered 'experimental'...He's a technician of prodigious agility, yet he generally limited himself to iambics, and favored rhymes like 'reason' and 'season' or 'star' and 'far'...Unlike almost every poet of comparable ability, Frost can claim a general reading audience, especially among readers who want poems that 'make sense'—yet his aesthetic is evasive, arguably manipulative, and has at its core a freezing indifference that would make the neighborhood barbecue awfully uncomfortable...Any Frost reader will benefit from Faggen's thoughtful introduction and be intrigued by the way in which concepts from these largely aphoristic journals animate the poems and vice versa...More than four decades after his death, this most American of American poets still fits uncomfortably into our country's favorite aesthetic categories.
— David Orr

Irish Times

Eliot, Pound and Santayana are among the myriad names that surface in the welter of observations, meditations, epigrams, and poetic drafts in The Notebooks of Robert Frost, 48 in total, dating from the 1890s to the early 1960s. What also surfaces is the immense erudition of Frost, who was better versed in the classics than Pound, and hugely read in the Bible and English poetry as well...Truth be told, it's hard to think of another American poet who knows as much about what little we can safely apprehend as Robert Frost.
— Anthony Glavin

New York Sun

[Lionel] Trilling insisted on calling Frost, to his face, 'a terrifying poet.' Really, he had less in common with Longfellow than with Sophocles, 'who made plain...the terrible things of human life.' Trilling's remarks came in for what seems now like a surprising amount of criticism...If Trilling had been able to read The Notebooks of Robert Frost—now published for the first time, 44 years after the poet's death—he would have smiled to see how completely they vindicate his view of Frost. This strange volume transcribes, with excruciating accuracy, every page of the 48 notebooks that Frost left behind: every list, every stray jotting, every crossingout...If the Notebooks contain ore instead of ingots, for that very reason they seem to give us a glimpse of a more subterranean Frost. And the more private the poet, the more genuinely terrifying he becomes...Much of the Notebooks is occupied with formulating Frost's ideas on politics and prosody—ideas that are integral to his whole achievement, but already familiar from his published work. But then, without warning, Frost will suddenly jot down a phrase that seems to open onto an abyss, showing how truly 'terrifying' his wasteful, inhuman universe can be. Frost is known as a master of metaphor, and many of his poems take the form of extended metaphors. Yet when he writes, 'I doubt if any thing is more related to another thing than it is to any third thing except as we make it,' he shows how the power of metaphor can turn on the poet, plunging him into a world of sheer perspectivism where there is no essence, only likeness. If we can make anything resemble anything else, then we are doomed to perish from the very excess of significations. This is the terror that has always loomed behind the willful optimism of the Emersonian tradition, and which Frost, very much like Nietzsche, was able to exhume from the corpse of Emerson's gentility. Perhaps not even Nietzsche ever captured that terror in an image as striking and bottomless as Frost's: 'We get truth like a man trying to drink at a hydrant.' At such moments, Frost's Notebooks, like his best poems, remind us that there has never been a more genuinely mystical American writer.
— Adam Kirsch

Washington Times

These notebooks constitute [Frost's] intellectual autobiography, a wonderful setting forth of the rich and vivid life of his mind going on over many decades.
— Robert Ganz

The Atlantic
This volume offers the voyeuristic thrill of peering into a master craftsman's workshop to glimpse the discarded drafts, private musings, and scattered fragments that can in time become art.
Christian Science Monitor

More than 40 years after his death, Robert Frost remains America's quintessential poet and perhaps its least understood...What can be found is intellect in action, as Frost explores literature, history, philosophy, and religion. The voice is similar to that in his verse—clear, authoritative, sometimes sharp or funny—but the currents flowing through these pages predate those in the poetry, meaning that the water is colder and deeper, not a warm, easy dip. Editor Robert Faggen, the preeminent Frost scholar, does help readers take the plunge. His introduction to the notebooks, more than 40 in all, is insightful and pitch-perfect...The Frost in this tome is complex and challenging.
— Elizabeth Lund

Los Angeles Times Book Review

[Frost] was a set of inconsistencies: a Romantic bent on critiquing Romanticism; a pragmatist and quasi-Social Darwinist who wasn't quite convinced of his own views. As Faggen points out in an insightful introduction, Frost returns again and again to the feeling that life 'can consist of the inconsistent.' Like Thomas Hardy before him, he was skeptical of the tidy categories and labels society tended to supply. He describes the public as 'hasty judges.' He spoke of wishing to be viewed as 'the exception I like to think I am in everything.'...Patient readers will discover plenty of the pith of which Frost was capable. Cumulatively, the fragments are almost poignant; they underscore the privacy of the human mind and remind us of the labor that goes into the apparent transparency of Frost's poetry. And while we don't learn much about his actual mode of composition—there are few drafts here—the notebooks do supply a great deal of what Faggen calls 'insight into the...ideas that became poems.'...Faggen calls Frost's notebooks a 'laboratory' and so they seem. What they capture is a figure bent on examining above all how to say things he considers true...If his lodestars are pragmatism and reticence, his notebooks reveal how hard-won these qualities were—how Frost struggled to combat his vanity and the scorn he sometimes felt for others.
— Meghan O'Rourke

London Review of Books
Robert Frost was a habitual note-taker, scribbling down aphorisms, reflections and drafts of poems in a series of pocket notebooks. This invaluable volume reprints those notebooks in their entirety for the first time, covering the full span of Frost's creative life from the 1890s to the 1960s, in what the editor calls a 'modified facsimile' (set in clear moldern type, but reproducing Frost's deletions and reworkings). The result offers unprecedented insight into the workings of a superlative poetic intelligence, and reveals, beneath the calm, assured surface of Frost's verse, a searching mind troubled and dazzled by the chaos of modern life.
Charleston Post and Courier

The notebooks are a sampling ground for ideas, each of them momentarily pausing the confusion but also yielding easily to other, often contradictory notions. It's exciting to see Frost testing ideas of what a poem is or could be...America's homespun poet was a not-so-closeted intellectual, a subversive and in his own words what every poet is: 'the most abhorrent little workman.' Robert Faggen's massive volume lets us have a look at some of the workman's tools and scraps.
— Catherine Holmes

Boston Globe

The collection of meditations, aphorisms, and other writings offers fresh insights into Frost's craft.
— Jan Gardner

Times Literary Supplement

The notebooks...offer their share of brilliant surprises...Editing Frost's notebooks in all their vastness—complete with excisions, repetitions, contradictions and utterly enigmatic interjections—must have been a labor of love. Anyone who dips into them has reason to be grateful to their editor...Page after page offers its delights.
— Tim Kendall

National Post

[The Notebooks] make marvellous reading: 809 pages of opinion, wisdom, prophecy and disconnected scribblings, a life's intellectual debris. For the reader, this is a long, leisurely tour through Frost's mind, a chance to see at close range one of the oddest of all the odd ducks who wrote the last century's poetry.
— Robert Fulford

Virginia Quarterly Review

Perhaps the most delightful aspect of Robert Frost's notebooks is their inscrutability. Transcribed and published for the first time, Frost's jottings posed a wide variety of challenges to editor Robert Faggen...Faggen handles these issues admirably...More directly accessible, perhaps, the poet's characteristic aphorisms are everywhere to be found, some with strikeouts and additions, artifacts of the care with which he deepened his paradoxical sayings.
— Ania Wieckowski

historywire.com

Belknap/Harvard University Press has given scholarship a significant gift in compiling and annotating these notebooks, which contain surprises for the reader in unexpected places.
— Steve Goddard

New Criterion

The editor supplies an elegant and perceptive introduction, as well as illuminating notes...a magnificent achievement. The publication of the Notebooks...is a literary event of the first magnitude.
— Eric Ormsby

Yale Review

In reading Frost’s notebooks...Faggen provides much assistance, with thorough cross-references, indispensable notes (106 pages of them), and a useful index. Frost did not date the notebooks, and he wrote in some of them, erratically, over decades. They suggest no clear chronology, and Faggen, wisely, does not try to impose any other order.
— Marit Macarthur

Poetry

Over the long project of reading this lifetime of notes (nearly a lifetime itself) you see how long a poet can stay fascinated by an image or thought, how he gets hooked and can't get unhooked—whether he ever can make anything from the image or not; how he works his ideas over decades, how he favors them, how he develops a limp for them.
— Kay Ryan

Choice

Throughout his life as a writer, Frost kept notebooks in which he recorded thoughts about life, literature, philosophy, religion, politics, and science. Faggen reprints, in chronological order, the actual text of those 48 notebooks, including guesses at illegible words and all of Frost's cross-outs, and provides extensive editorial notes that clarify historical and obscure references...This treasure trove of the workings of Frost's mind requires patient and systematic exploration. Although some passages may appear as literary doodling, other items show the poet thinking and rethinking important ideas and beliefs.
— P. J. Ferlazzo

Threepenny Review

To read it is to peer into the dense plasma of Frost's consciousness, the blip-and-arc traces in his cloud chamber...Faggen provides a welter of end-notes, for the dedicated; and, for the dedicated, these notebooks will offer a rich, microscopic view of the particles that over sixty years went into the making of Frost's poetry.
— Louis B. Jones

Guy Rotella
The notebooks bring Frost alive as a person and poet, showing him in the process of thinking through, rethinking, and formulating many of his most important beliefs, ideas, observations, and epigrams. They will generate considerable scholarship both confirming and reevaluating central issues of Frost's life, thinking, and writing. The notebooks are interesting in themselves. They show a remarkable intelligence at work and provide access to the (typically concealed) processes underlying Frost's performances, as well as a catalog of his most important concerns. Also important are Frost's more general observations on human nature and behavior and on social and governmental organization (these often struck me as remarkably prescient of contemporary scientific and philosophical views.) Faggen's book will be crucial to Frost scholars and students. It will moderate, modify, and intensify existing truisms and debates about Frost's person, opinions, and processes, and it will open new areas for consideration.
Timothy Materer
This work deserves a place with other editions of major writers such as Emerson, Thoreau, and Twain. One measure of the importance of this edition is that it demonstrates that Frost belongs in the company of America's greatest writers, whose significance grows with our access to their complete works. It was a pleasure to read these notebooks.
Billy Collins
What modern poet's mental privacy would we rather invade than that of the sly, vexingly evasive Robert Frost? Robert Faggen serves as a reliable guide, conducting us backstage where we are allowed to observe Frost's off-duty pen as it drifts from aphorism to speculation, from opinion and verbal doodling to—yes—the poetry itself.
Financial Times - Mark Ford
While those such as Eliot and Stevens shivered with distaste at the idea of writing poetry that was intelligible to the masses, Frost was determined to evolve a style that would appeal both to an average poetry consumer and, through its secret equivocations, to the more discerning reader. Ideally, it would educate the former, and transform them into the latter...In 1915, Frost returned to the US as something of a celebrity, and shrewdly set about cultivating, on the one hand, a popular audience and, on the other, the esteem of influential critics. The Notebooks of Robert Frost offer an intriguing insight into Frost's mind. They are not, it should be said, at all systematic. The first entries in Notebook 4, for instance, were made in 1909, and the last in the 1950s. Some contain drafts of work in progress, others fragments of lectures and notes for classes. Their scrupulous, perhaps over-scrupulous, editor Robert Faggen, has chosen to reprint the contents of all 49 notebooks in their entirety...While only the most devoted of Frost scholars will find their attention held by every page, this is a great book to open at random...Frost once described poetry as a 'momentary stay against confusion.' There's plenty of confusion in these notebooks, but they also offer a series of vivid glimpses into how and why he fashioned each 'momentary stay.'
New Republic - Christopher Benfey
The Notebooks of Robert Frost [is] seven hundred pages of wisdom and prophecy, raving and rant, expertly edited and annotated by Robert Faggen...The biggest surprise in The Notebooks of Robert Frost, sixty years of private jottings in preparation for poems and prose, is the spectacular profusion of epigrams, aphorisms, and what Frost called 'dark sayings.'
Daily Telegraph - Jeremy Noel-Tod
The American poet Robert Frost was not keen on having his rough drafts inspected by posterity. Few survive for his poems. Here for the first time, however, are 47 pocket flip-pads, diaries and school exercise books that record his life as a poetic thinker...Frost's notebooks illuminate the oblique concerns of his [poetry].
Newsweek - David Gates
Since Frost used his notebooks to think through his poems, his essays and his teaching, they reveal only his working mind--and that's revelation aplenty... By now, nobody buys Frost's old image as a rustic autodidact or a versifying Andy Rooney. He read as widely and deeply as any American poet--the notebooks allude to the likes of Dryden, Marx, Nietzsche, Freud, Einstein, Santayana and Maria Montessori--and funny as he was, he could still outbleak T. S. Eliot. He was also American poetry's biggest ham (at least until Allen Ginsberg), and his poems were performances: not just in his well-known public readings but on the page. These deliberately preserved notebooks, too, might have kept one eye on an audience. But unlike the much-revised poems, they sometimes show this least innocent of men taking himself by surprise.
New York Times Book Review - David Orr
Frost was as innovative as many poets more often considered 'experimental'...He's a technician of prodigious agility, yet he generally limited himself to iambics, and favored rhymes like 'reason' and 'season' or 'star' and 'far'...Unlike almost every poet of comparable ability, Frost can claim a general reading audience, especially among readers who want poems that 'make sense'--yet his aesthetic is evasive, arguably manipulative, and has at its core a freezing indifference that would make the neighborhood barbecue awfully uncomfortable...Any Frost reader will benefit from Faggen's thoughtful introduction and be intrigued by the way in which concepts from these largely aphoristic journals animate the poems and vice versa...More than four decades after his death, this most American of American poets still fits uncomfortably into our country's favorite aesthetic categories.
Irish Times - Anthony Glavin
Eliot, Pound and Santayana are among the myriad names that surface in the welter of observations, meditations, epigrams, and poetic drafts in The Notebooks of Robert Frost, 48 in total, dating from the 1890s to the early 1960s. What also surfaces is the immense erudition of Frost, who was better versed in the classics than Pound, and hugely read in the Bible and English poetry as well...Truth be told, it's hard to think of another American poet who knows as much about what little we can safely apprehend as Robert Frost.
New York Sun - Adam Kirsch
[Lionel] Trilling insisted on calling Frost, to his face, 'a terrifying poet.' Really, he had less in common with Longfellow than with Sophocles, 'who made plain...the terrible things of human life.' Trilling's remarks came in for what seems now like a surprising amount of criticism...If Trilling had been able to read The Notebooks of Robert Frost--now published for the first time, 44 years after the poet's death--he would have smiled to see how completely they vindicate his view of Frost. This strange volume transcribes, with excruciating accuracy, every page of the 48 notebooks that Frost left behind: every list, every stray jotting, every crossingout...If the Notebooks contain ore instead of ingots, for that very reason they seem to give us a glimpse of a more subterranean Frost. And the more private the poet, the more genuinely terrifying he becomes...Much of the Notebooks is occupied with formulating Frost's ideas on politics and prosody--ideas that are integral to his whole achievement, but already familiar from his published work. But then, without warning, Frost will suddenly jot down a phrase that seems to open onto an abyss, showing how truly 'terrifying' his wasteful, inhuman universe can be. Frost is known as a master of metaphor, and many of his poems take the form of extended metaphors. Yet when he writes, 'I doubt if any thing is more related to another thing than it is to any third thing except as we make it,' he shows how the power of metaphor can turn on the poet, plunging him into a world of sheer perspectivism where there is no essence, only likeness. If we can make anything resemble anything else, then we are doomed to perish from the very excess of significations. This is the terror that has always loomed behind the willful optimism of the Emersonian tradition, and which Frost, very much like Nietzsche, was able to exhume from the corpse of Emerson's gentility. Perhaps not even Nietzsche ever captured that terror in an image as striking and bottomless as Frost's: 'We get truth like a man trying to drink at a hydrant.' At such moments, Frost's Notebooks, like his best poems, remind us that there has never been a more genuinely mystical American writer.
Washington Times - Robert Ganz
These notebooks constitute [Frost's] intellectual autobiography, a wonderful setting forth of the rich and vivid life of his mind going on over many decades.
Christian Science Monitor - Elizabeth Lund
More than 40 years after his death, Robert Frost remains America's quintessential poet and perhaps its least understood...What can be found is intellect in action, as Frost explores literature, history, philosophy, and religion. The voice is similar to that in his verse--clear, authoritative, sometimes sharp or funny--but the currents flowing through these pages predate those in the poetry, meaning that the water is colder and deeper, not a warm, easy dip. Editor Robert Faggen, the preeminent Frost scholar, does help readers take the plunge. His introduction to the notebooks, more than 40 in all, is insightful and pitch-perfect...The Frost in this tome is complex and challenging.
Los Angeles Times Book Review - Meghan O'Rourke
[Frost] was a set of inconsistencies: a Romantic bent on critiquing Romanticism; a pragmatist and quasi-Social Darwinist who wasn't quite convinced of his own views. As Faggen points out in an insightful introduction, Frost returns again and again to the feeling that life 'can consist of the inconsistent.' Like Thomas Hardy before him, he was skeptical of the tidy categories and labels society tended to supply. He describes the public as 'hasty judges.' He spoke of wishing to be viewed as 'the exception I like to think I am in everything.'...Patient readers will discover plenty of the pith of which Frost was capable. Cumulatively, the fragments are almost poignant; they underscore the privacy of the human mind and remind us of the labor that goes into the apparent transparency of Frost's poetry. And while we don't learn much about his actual mode of composition--there are few drafts here--the notebooks do supply a great deal of what Faggen calls 'insight into the...ideas that became poems.'...Faggen calls Frost's notebooks a 'laboratory' and so they seem. What they capture is a figure bent on examining above all how to say things he considers true...If his lodestars are pragmatism and reticence, his notebooks reveal how hard-won these qualities were--how Frost struggled to combat his vanity and the scorn he sometimes felt for others.
Charleston Post and Courier - Catherine Holmes
The notebooks are a sampling ground for ideas, each of them momentarily pausing the confusion but also yielding easily to other, often contradictory notions. It's exciting to see Frost testing ideas of what a poem is or could be...America's homespun poet was a not-so-closeted intellectual, a subversive and in his own words what every poet is: 'the most abhorrent little workman.' Robert Faggen's massive volume lets us have a look at some of the workman's tools and scraps.
Boston Globe - Jan Gardner
The collection of meditations, aphorisms, and other writings offers fresh insights into Frost's craft.
Times Literary Supplement - Tim Kendall
The notebooks...offer their share of brilliant surprises...Editing Frost's notebooks in all their vastness--complete with excisions, repetitions, contradictions and utterly enigmatic interjections--must have been a labor of love. Anyone who dips into them has reason to be grateful to their editor...Page after page offers its delights.
National Post - Robert Fulford
[The Notebooks] make marvellous reading: 809 pages of opinion, wisdom, prophecy and disconnected scribblings, a life's intellectual debris. For the reader, this is a long, leisurely tour through Frost's mind, a chance to see at close range one of the oddest of all the odd ducks who wrote the last century's poetry.
Virginia Quarterly Review - Ania Wieckowski
Perhaps the most delightful aspect of Robert Frost's notebooks is their inscrutability. Transcribed and published for the first time, Frost's jottings posed a wide variety of challenges to editor Robert Faggen...Faggen handles these issues admirably...More directly accessible, perhaps, the poet's characteristic aphorisms are everywhere to be found, some with strikeouts and additions, artifacts of the care with which he deepened his paradoxical sayings.
historywire.com - Steve Goddard
Belknap/Harvard University Press has given scholarship a significant gift in compiling and annotating these notebooks, which contain surprises for the reader in unexpected places.
New Criterion - Eric Ormsby
The editor supplies an elegant and perceptive introduction, as well as illuminating notes...a magnificent achievement. The publication of the Notebooks...is a literary event of the first magnitude.
Yale Review - Marit Macarthur
In reading Frost’s notebooks...Faggen provides much assistance, with thorough cross-references, indispensable notes (106 pages of them), and a useful index. Frost did not date the notebooks, and he wrote in some of them, erratically, over decades. They suggest no clear chronology, and Faggen, wisely, does not try to impose any other order.
Poetry - Kay Ryan
Over the long project of reading this lifetime of notes (nearly a lifetime itself) you see how long a poet can stay fascinated by an image or thought, how he gets hooked and can't get unhooked--whether he ever can make anything from the image or not; how he works his ideas over decades, how he favors them, how he develops a limp for them.
Choice - P. J. Ferlazzo
Throughout his life as a writer, Frost kept notebooks in which he recorded thoughts about life, literature, philosophy, religion, politics, and science. Faggen reprints, in chronological order, the actual text of those 48 notebooks, including guesses at illegible words and all of Frost's cross-outs, and provides extensive editorial notes that clarify historical and obscure references...This treasure trove of the workings of Frost's mind requires patient and systematic exploration. Although some passages may appear as literary doodling, other items show the poet thinking and rethinking important ideas and beliefs.
Threepenny Review - Louis B. Jones
To read it is to peer into the dense plasma of Frost's consciousness, the blip-and-arc traces in his cloud chamber...Faggen provides a welter of end-notes, for the dedicated; and, for the dedicated, these notebooks will offer a rich, microscopic view of the particles that over sixty years went into the making of Frost's poetry.
Newsweek
Since Frost used his notebooks to think through his poems, his essays and his teaching, they reveal only his working mind--and that's revelation aplenty... By now, nobody buys Frost's old image as a rustic autodidact or a versifying Andy Rooney. He read as widely and deeply as any American poet--the notebooks allude to the likes of Dryden, Marx, Nietzsche, Freud, Einstein, Santayana and Maria Montessori--and funny as he was, he could still outbleak T. S. Eliot. He was also American poetry's biggest ham (at least until Allen Ginsberg), and his poems were performances: not just in his well-known public readings but on the page. These deliberately preserved notebooks, too, might have kept one eye on an audience. But unlike the much-revised poems, they sometimes show this least innocent of men taking himself by surprise.
— David Gates
Choice
Throughout his life as a writer, Frost kept notebooks in which he recorded thoughts about life, literature, philosophy, religion, politics, and science. Faggen reprints, in chronological order, the actual text of those 48 notebooks, including guesses at illegible words and all of Frost's cross-outs, and provides extensive editorial notes that clarify historical and obscure references...This treasure trove of the workings of Frost's mind requires patient and systematic exploration. Although some passages may appear as literary doodling, other items show the poet thinking and rethinking important ideas and beliefs.
— P. J. Ferlazzo
New Republic
The Notebooks of Robert Frost [is] seven hundred pages of wisdom and prophecy, raving and rant, expertly edited and annotated by Robert Faggen...The biggest surprise in The Notebooks of Robert Frost, sixty years of private jottings in preparation for poems and prose, is the spectacular profusion of epigrams, aphorisms, and what Frost called 'dark sayings.'
— Christopher Benfey
Daily Telegraph
The American poet Robert Frost was not keen on having his rough drafts inspected by posterity. Few survive for his poems. Here for the first time, however, are 47 pocket flip-pads, diaries and school exercise books that record his life as a poetic thinker...Frost's notebooks illuminate the oblique concerns of his [poetry].
— Jeremy Noel-Tod
Boston Globe
The collection of meditations, aphorisms, and other writings offers fresh insights into Frost's craft.
— Jan Gardner
Irish Times
Eliot, Pound and Santayana are among the myriad names that surface in the welter of observations, meditations, epigrams, and poetic drafts in The Notebooks of Robert Frost, 48 in total, dating from the 1890s to the early 1960s. What also surfaces is the immense erudition of Frost, who was better versed in the classics than Pound, and hugely read in the Bible and English poetry as well...Truth be told, it's hard to think of another American poet who knows as much about what little we can safely apprehend as Robert Frost.
— Anthony Glavin
Virginia Quarterly Review
Perhaps the most delightful aspect of Robert Frost's notebooks is their inscrutability. Transcribed and published for the first time, Frost's jottings posed a wide variety of challenges to editor Robert Faggen...Faggen handles these issues admirably...More directly accessible, perhaps, the poet's characteristic aphorisms are everywhere to be found, some with strikeouts and additions, artifacts of the care with which he deepened his paradoxical sayings.
— Ania Wieckowski
Financial Times
While those such as Eliot and Stevens shivered with distaste at the idea of writing poetry that was intelligible to the masses, Frost was determined to evolve a style that would appeal both to an average poetry consumer and, through its secret equivocations, to the more discerning reader. Ideally, it would educate the former, and transform them into the latter...In 1915, Frost returned to the US as something of a celebrity, and shrewdly set about cultivating, on the one hand, a popular audience and, on the other, the esteem of influential critics. The Notebooks of Robert Frost offer an intriguing insight into Frost's mind. They are not, it should be said, at all systematic. The first entries in Notebook 4, for instance, were made in 1909, and the last in the 1950s. Some contain drafts of work in progress, others fragments of lectures and notes for classes. Their scrupulous, perhaps over-scrupulous, editor Robert Faggen, has chosen to reprint the contents of all 49 notebooks in their entirety...While only the most devoted of Frost scholars will find their attention held by every page, this is a great book to open at random...Frost once described poetry as a 'momentary stay against confusion.' There's plenty of confusion in these notebooks, but they also offer a series of vivid glimpses into how and why he fashioned each 'momentary stay.'
— Mark Ford
New York Times Book Review
Frost was as innovative as many poets more often considered 'experimental'...He's a technician of prodigious agility, yet he generally limited himself to iambics, and favored rhymes like 'reason' and 'season' or 'star' and 'far'...Unlike almost every poet of comparable ability, Frost can claim a general reading audience, especially among readers who want poems that 'make sense'--yet his aesthetic is evasive, arguably manipulative, and has at its core a freezing indifference that would make the neighborhood barbecue awfully uncomfortable...Any Frost reader will benefit from Faggen's thoughtful introduction and be intrigued by the way in which concepts from these largely aphoristic journals animate the poems and vice versa...More than four decades after his death, this most American of American poets still fits uncomfortably into our country's favorite aesthetic categories.
— David Orr
Washington Times
These notebooks constitute [Frost's] intellectual autobiography, a wonderful setting forth of the rich and vivid life of his mind going on over many decades.
— Robert Ganz
Times Literary Supplement
The notebooks...offer their share of brilliant surprises...Editing Frost's notebooks in all their vastness--complete with excisions, repetitions, contradictions and utterly enigmatic interjections--must have been a labor of love. Anyone who dips into them has reason to be grateful to their editor...Page after page offers its delights.
— Tim Kendall
Poetry
Over the long project of reading this lifetime of notes (nearly a lifetime itself) you see how long a poet can stay fascinated by an image or thought, how he gets hooked and can't get unhooked--whether he ever can make anything from the image or not; how he works his ideas over decades, how he favors them, how he develops a limp for them.
— Kay Ryan
Los Angeles Times Book Review
[Frost] was a set of inconsistencies: a Romantic bent on critiquing Romanticism; a pragmatist and quasi-Social Darwinist who wasn't quite convinced of his own views. As Faggen points out in an insightful introduction, Frost returns again and again to the feeling that life 'can consist of the inconsistent.' Like Thomas Hardy before him, he was skeptical of the tidy categories and labels society tended to supply. He describes the public as 'hasty judges.' He spoke of wishing to be viewed as 'the exception I like to think I am in everything.'...Patient readers will discover plenty of the pith of which Frost was capable. Cumulatively, the fragments are almost poignant; they underscore the privacy of the human mind and remind us of the labor that goes into the apparent transparency of Frost's poetry. And while we don't learn much about his actual mode of composition--there are few drafts here--the notebooks do supply a great deal of what Faggen calls 'insight into the...ideas that became poems.'...Faggen calls Frost's notebooks a 'laboratory' and so they seem. What they capture is a figure bent on examining above all how to say things he considers true...If his lodestars are pragmatism and reticence, his notebooks reveal how hard-won these qualities were--how Frost struggled to combat his vanity and the scorn he sometimes felt for others.
— Meghan O'Rourke
Christian Science Monitor
More than 40 years after his death, Robert Frost remains America's quintessential poet and perhaps its least understood...What can be found is intellect in action, as Frost explores literature, history, philosophy, and religion. The voice is similar to that in his verse--clear, authoritative, sometimes sharp or funny--but the currents flowing through these pages predate those in the poetry, meaning that the water is colder and deeper, not a warm, easy dip. Editor Robert Faggen, the preeminent Frost scholar, does help readers take the plunge. His introduction to the notebooks, more than 40 in all, is insightful and pitch-perfect...The Frost in this tome is complex and challenging.
— Elizabeth Lund
Yale Review
In reading Frost’s notebooks...Faggen provides much assistance, with thorough cross-references, indispensable notes (106 pages of them), and a useful index. Frost did not date the notebooks, and he wrote in some of them, erratically, over decades. They suggest no clear chronology, and Faggen, wisely, does not try to impose any other order.
— Marit Macarthur
New Criterion
The editor supplies an elegant and perceptive introduction, as well as illuminating notes...a magnificent achievement. The publication of the Notebooks...is a literary event of the first magnitude.
— Eric Ormsby
National Post
[The Notebooks] make marvellous reading: 809 pages of opinion, wisdom, prophecy and disconnected scribblings, a life's intellectual debris. For the reader, this is a long, leisurely tour through Frost's mind, a chance to see at close range one of the oddest of all the odd ducks who wrote the last century's poetry.
— Robert Fulford
New York Sun
[Lionel] Trilling insisted on calling Frost, to his face, 'a terrifying poet.' Really, he had less in common with Longfellow than with Sophocles, 'who made plain...the terrible things of human life.' Trilling's remarks came in for what seems now like a surprising amount of criticism...If Trilling had been able to read The Notebooks of Robert Frost--now published for the first time, 44 years after the poet's death--he would have smiled to see how completely they vindicate his view of Frost. This strange volume transcribes, with excruciating accuracy, every page of the 48 notebooks that Frost left behind: every list, every stray jotting, every crossingout...If the Notebooks contain ore instead of ingots, for that very reason they seem to give us a glimpse of a more subterranean Frost. And the more private the poet, the more genuinely terrifying he becomes...Much of the Notebooks is occupied with formulating Frost's ideas on politics and prosody--ideas that are integral to his whole achievement, but already familiar from his published work. But then, without warning, Frost will suddenly jot down a phrase that seems to open onto an abyss, showing how truly 'terrifying' his wasteful, inhuman universe can be. Frost is known as a master of metaphor, and many of his poems take the form of extended metaphors. Yet when he writes, 'I doubt if any thing is more related to another thing than it is to any third thing except as we make it,' he shows how the power of metaphor can turn on the poet, plunging him into a world of sheer perspectivism where there is no essence, only likeness. If we can make anything resemble anything else, then we are doomed to perish from the very excess of significations. This is the terror that has always loomed behind the willful optimism of the Emersonian tradition, and which Frost, very much like Nietzsche, was able to exhume from the corpse of Emerson's gentility. Perhaps not even Nietzsche ever captured that terror in an image as striking and bottomless as Frost's: 'We get truth like a man trying to drink at a hydrant.' At such moments, Frost's Notebooks, like his best poems, remind us that there has never been a more genuinely mystical American writer.
— Adam Kirsch
Charleston Post and Courier
The notebooks are a sampling ground for ideas, each of them momentarily pausing the confusion but also yielding easily to other, often contradictory notions. It's exciting to see Frost testing ideas of what a poem is or could be...America's homespun poet was a not-so-closeted intellectual, a subversive and in his own words what every poet is: 'the most abhorrent little workman.' Robert Faggen's massive volume lets us have a look at some of the workman's tools and scraps.
— Catherine Holmes
historywire.com
Belknap/Harvard University Press has given scholarship a significant gift in compiling and annotating these notebooks, which contain surprises for the reader in unexpected places.
— Steve Goddard
Publishers Weekly
A new book containing unpublished work by America's most famous poet is a literary event. While he was not much of a diarist, Frost avidly kept notebooks throughout his life. He recorded his daily musings in what Frost scholar Faggen calls " `ordinaries,' unassuming dime-store spiral pads and school theme books." This roughly chronological (the poet abandoned and then resumed writing in some notebooks) and thoroughly annotated edition offers devotees a substantial glimpse of the workings of Frost's complex and often contradictory mind, though it provides little in the way of narrative. In scattered jottings on poetry, teaching, politics and family-to name just a few of the many topics covered-Frost drafts poems ("And oh but it was fetching/ To see the wretches retching"); theorizes about poetics ("The Poem must have as good a point as a [sic] anecdote or joke"); lists topics for later writings ("Subjects used in 1906 Eng classes.... Things My Mother Keeps to Remember My Infancy by"); spins aphorisms, stories and sketches; and even shows the development of famous quotes ("No surprise to author none to reader"). Better suited to flipping around in than reading straight through, this is an essential book for Frost fans and serious poetry lovers, who will find it to be a trove of Frost's famously earthy and yet deceptively simple wisdom, as well as a damn good read. (Jan.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Noted Frost scholar Faggen (literature, Claremont McKenna Coll.; Robert Frost and the Challenge of Darwin) continues to explore the challenging personalities, topics, and currents of 20th-century American letters. His latest endeavor is a scholarly mammoth of a project, for which he edited nearly 50 notebooks belonging to Frost and dating from the late 1890s to the early 1960s. Faggen notes that these numerous volumes are "teeming with terse thoughts about life, literature, philosophy, religion, politics, and science," among other things, and "reveal much about the style...[and] substance of Frost's thinking." Those hoping to glean insight into Frost's political thinking will be somewhat disappointed, though the poet occasionally entertains certain 20th-century events. Frost was a deliberate, masterly, and sometimes enigmatic poet, and these qualities show in his notebooks. Faggen offers a beautifully crafted introduction to this superb annotated and cross-referenced volume. The value of this work is tremendous for scholars of all types, not only in poetry and literature. Recommended for academic and research libraries.-Anthony J. Elia, McCormick Theological Seminary & Lutheran Sch. of Theology Lib., Chicago Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674034662
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press
  • Publication date: 3/30/2010
  • Pages: 848
  • Sales rank: 795,066
  • Product dimensions: 6.40 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.50 (d)

Meet the Author

Robert Faggen is Barton Evans and H. Andrea Neves Professor of Literature at Claremont McKenna College.
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Table of Contents

Introduction

Editorial Procedures

1. 1890s-1950: "Hunter James"

2. 1903: "The Hermits"

3. 1903-1910: "All these different psycological experiments"

4. 1909-1950: "If I had prayed every day you don't see how I could help calling myself a Utopian"

5. 1910-1955: "Submission to the law of the machine"

6. 1911: "What you expect to find for a teacher in psychology"

7. 1912: "Bring all under the influence of the great books as under a spell"

8. 1912-1915: "A Place Apart"

9. 1913-1917: "Beggars in England"

10. 1916-1918: "All my thoughts of every thing"

11. 1916-1919: "Two Poets"

12. 1918-1921: "A time when nothing, neither religion nor patriotism comes to an apex"

13. 1919: "The Copperhead"

14. 1920-1930: "The furthest two things can be away from each other"

15. 1923-1924: "Learn lives of poet"

16. 1924: "I don't see what you have to complain of"

17. 1926-1930: "You and I"

18. 1926-1928: "Difference between meter and rhythm"

19. 1928: "I learned to laugh when I was young"

20. 1929: "These are not monologues but my part in a conversation"

21. 1930-1940: "Thick skinned: Thick headed"

22. 1930-1940: "True humility is a kind of carelessness"

23. 1935-1951: "True humility lies in suffering"

24. 1935: "Curiously Enough—as a connection"

25. 1935: "America and The Plot"

26. 1935: "Since surely good is evil's better half"

27. 1936: "The question for the original"

28. 1936-1939: "Having Learned to Read"

29. 1937-1942: "Democracy"

30. 1937: "Alcie That Socratic boy"

31. 1937-1955: "Three of those evils parsed in half an hour"

32. 1940-1950: "Leila.: What have you brought him into the house for?"

33. 1940: "Prophetic"

34. 1950: "What is your attitude toward having robbed the Indians of the American Continent?

35. 1951-1952: "Pertinax"

36. 1950-1955: "He and it would satisfy something in him"

37. 1950-1955: "If his own intuitions were correct"

38. 1950-1951: "There is a sense shadow always on success"

39. 1950-1962 "If we are too much given to reflect"

40. 1950-1962: "I wont be talked to by a woman, tell her"

41. 1960-1962: "Dedication to___ of 'The Gift Outright'"

42. Undated: "The more trouble that can be shown to have with a poem"

43. Undated: "First Answerability Divine Right"

44. Undated: "Last Refinement of Subject Matter Voice Imagination Voice as Subject Matter"

45. Undated: "Sentences may have the greatest monotony to the eye"

46. Undated: "Many speak as if it was a reproach to the Puritans"

47. Undated Loose Notebook Pages: "All thoughts all passions all delights"

48. Undated: "Nothing more composing as composition"

49. Undated: "One Favored Acorn"

Notes

Acknowledgments

Index

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