The Letters of Robert Frost, Volume 1: 1886 - 1920

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Overview

One of the acknowledged giants of twentieth-century American literature, Robert Frost was a public figure much celebrated in his day. Although his poetry reached a wide audience, the private Frost—pensive, mercurial, and often very funny—remains less appreciated. Following upon the publication of Frost’s notebooks and collected prose, The Letters of Robert Frost is the first major edition of the poet’s written correspondence. The hundreds of previously unpublished letters in these annotated volumes deepen our ...

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The Letters of Robert Frost, Volume 1

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Overview

One of the acknowledged giants of twentieth-century American literature, Robert Frost was a public figure much celebrated in his day. Although his poetry reached a wide audience, the private Frost—pensive, mercurial, and often very funny—remains less appreciated. Following upon the publication of Frost’s notebooks and collected prose, The Letters of Robert Frost is the first major edition of the poet’s written correspondence. The hundreds of previously unpublished letters in these annotated volumes deepen our understanding and appreciation of this most complex and subtle of verbal artists.

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 drama of his personal life—as well as the growth of the audacious mind that produced his poetry—unfolds before us in Frost’s day-to-day missives. These rhetorical performances are at once revealing and tantalizingly evasive about relationships with family and close friends, including the poet Edward Thomas. We listen in as Frost defines himself against contemporaries Ezra Pound and William Butler Yeats, and we witness the evolution of his thoughts about prosody, sound, style, and other aspects of poetic craft.

In its literary interest and sheer display of personality, Frost’s correspondence is on a par with the letters of Emily Dickinson, Robert Lowell, and Samuel Beckett. The Letters of Robert Frost holds hours of pleasurable reading for lovers of Frost and modern American poetry.

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Editorial Reviews

The New York Times Book Review - William Logan
This opening volume of a complete edition of Frost's letters meanders from a schoolboy's love notes…to the dashed valedictions of the poet at 45, fleeing a cushy job at Amherst. Generously annotated, it replaces the selected letters edited by Lawrance Thompson half a century ago…In almost every way, this new edition is a triumph of scholarly care…The notes are as thorough as most readers could wish…
Publishers Weekly
12/09/2013
Not the rustic sage, but the savvy, ambitious, cosmopolitan poet emerges from this first volume of Frost’s lively, shrewd letters. The editors include every missive chronologically, most from 1912 onward, when Frost, pushing 40 and sojourning in England, won acclaim with his long-incubated first poetry books after a feckless career farming and teaching. These letters show him seizing fame by the lapels: invading London literary circles; cultivating editors, publishers, and other poets, including a testy Ezra Pound; helpfully coaching critics on how they should review him; drumming up lucrative public readings and lectures. Settled back on a New Hampshire farm, he both nurtures and protests his image as the bard of plain-spoken New England, while influencing the poetry scene and promoting his own protégés. But beyond his devotion to careerism and literary politics, Frost produces trenchant criticism and elaborates his poetics of “sentence tones”—his incorporation of the musicality of ordinary speech into an expressive vernacular that made him the most accessible of modernists. The editors’ exhaustive, well-organized notes and appendices, explicating every obscure figure and stray allusion, make the collection a must for scholars; but Frost’s witty, urbane style make the letters an engaging browse for ordinary readers, too. 9 halftones. (Feb.)
Prospect - Clive James
The first volume [of letters] is already enough to prove, if proof were needed, that Frost was anything but the shit-kicking fireside verse-whittier of legend. When not actually practicing his art, he thought about it so long and hard that it was a wonder he had time for anything else. His detractors would like to think that he found plenty of time to suborn editors, sabotage rival poets and practice infinite cruelties on his wife and family, but even his detractors must have noticed that he got quite a lot of meticulously crafted poems written. These letters are proof that his working methods and principles were the product of a mental preoccupation that began very early. Right from the start he had an idea of what a poem should do…Whatever else they reveal about him--perhaps he stole cars--the next two volumes of letters are bound to go on showing that he was as thoughtful and hard-working as an artist can get: further evidence that the best of modernism is a way for the classical to keep going.
New Yorker - Dan Chiasson
It can sometimes seem, from the surfeit of images of Frost in his later years, that he was born old, incapable of youth in the same way John Keats is incapable of age. The Letters of Robert Frost, Volume I: 1886–1920, edited by Donald Sheehy, Mark Richardson, and Robert Faggen, part of a heroic effort by Harvard University Press to collect all Frost’s writings in a definitive edition, goes some way toward filling this imaginative deficit… These letters [show] Frost at home in metaphor, if nowhere else… His own oppositional modernism was as revolutionary as Eliot’s.
New York Times - Jennifer Schuessler
The Letters of Robert Frost [is] a projected four-volume edition of all the poet’s known correspondence that promises to offer the most rounded, complete portrait to date…The complete correspondence, scholars say, will show Frost in full, revealing a complex man who juggled uncommon fame with an uncommonly difficult private life (including four children who died before him, one a suicide), a canny self-fashioner who may have cultivated the image of a birch-swinging rustic but was as much the modernist innovator as T. S. Eliot and Ezra Pound…If there’s a true revelation in the first volume, the editors say, it’s the sheer intellectual firepower Frost brings even to a casual missive, the range of references that can wind playfully from George Bernard Shaw to Gothic architecture to Neolithic archaeology, all in a few hundred words.
NPR online - J. P. O’Malley
Such a joy to read… This is the first time a complete version of [Frost’s letters]—running in chronological order—has been made available. Frost saw these noble exchanges almost like an art form: one where he could deconstruct his own work, and the work of others, with precision and intellectual rigor… Through them, we get a deep insight into Frost’s views on: the mechanics of poetry; politics; the art of conversation; and the importance of structure and syntax in language… These letters give us greater insight into Frost the poet, and Frost the man, and they are a fitting testament to his exceptional work ethic as a writer. Anyone interested in the laborious process an artist must undertake to perfect his craft will read this book with awe and fascination, and as a constant source of inspiration.
Chronicle of Higher Education - Jay Parini
Long overdue, The Letters of Robert Frost, Volume I: 1886–1920 is deservedly getting a lot of attention. Frost is not simply a lively correspondent, he is an artist of the epistolary form, defining himself and his poetic era in these pages. The trio of editors, Donald Sheehy, Mark Richardson, and Robert Faggen, have done a splendid job, bringing into print all of the known letters from this period, silently correcting obvious typos, offering helpful annotations in ample headnotes and footnotes… The truly original, splenetic, aphoristic, and revisionary mind of a major poet comes into view… No reader will come away from this volume without a quickened sense of the poet’s greatness in the face of his obvious failings as a human being. His unique, almost ferocious, intelligence shines on every page of these letters.
Boston Globe - Valerie Duff
Writers, in particular, are revealed through traditional correspondence. Thanks to Harvard’s undertaking, Frost’s more complete, chronological letters help correct the poet’s legacy by allowing it weight and breadth.
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette - Mackenzie Carpenter
Robert Frost, it seems, didn’t just craft some of the best poetry in the English language, he wrote a lot of letters, too: 3,000 and counting. While many have appeared in prior collections, nothing matches the size and scope of this project.
National Post - Michael Lista
The Frost of the letters is deeply literary, a theorist of prosody, a scholar of Greek and Latin…Frost’s erudite, wide-referencing letters…revel in multi-level puns and literary riddles as much as anything in Joyce…That so many perfect poems arose from what his letters testify was an imperfect life isn’t duplicity; it’s grace.
Weekly Standard - Micah Mattix
Overall, the letters show Frost to be a mature artist, a good friend, and a caring husband and father…The introduction, chronology, index of correspondents, and helpful contextual notes make these letters both accessible and enjoyable for anyone interested in Frost. How could it be otherwise for a poet who always wrote for the many and the few?
Books & Culture - Mark Walhout
The Frost who emerges from his letters can come across as vain, defensive, ingratiating, stubborn….But what redeems Frost is his acute awareness of his own deficiencies of character--along with his lively sense of humor. Like his poems, his letters can be playful and teasing. Others read like drafts of lectures, in which he tries out his ideas about poetry. They take us back to an era when letter-writing was the next best thing to a conversation beside the fireplace. Frost meant his letters to do what Horace said poetry should do--please and instruct their readers. Thanks to the labors of Donald Sheehy, Mark Richardson, and Robert Faggen, they can now please and instruct us as well, even though we don’t write letters anymore.
New York Times Book Review - William Logan
This opening volume of a complete edition of Frost’s letters meanders from a schoolboy’s love notes (‘I have got read a composition after recess and I hate to offaly’) to the dashed valedictions of the poet at 45, fleeing a cushy job at Amherst. Generously annotated, it replaces the selected letters edited by Lawrance Thompson half a century ago… In almost every way, this new edition is a triumph of scholarly care… The notes are as thorough as most readers could wish… For all his private flaws, his tragedies large and small, American literature—and the language itself—owes a profound debt to that dark, demonic, beguiling figure, Robert Frost.
PopMatters - Shyam K. Sriram
The Letters of Robert Frost, Volume I, 1886–1920 is a staggering effort by the three editors—Donald Sheehy, Mark Richardson and Robert Faggen—and Harvard University Press to present, for the first time, the entire collection of all of Frost’s preserved correspondence. What’s unique about this effort is that there’s no discernible bias made by the editors; instead, their expectation, as suggested in the preface, is that unlike prior biographies and incomplete collections of correspondence, ‘the availability of the correspondence in its entirety will present both an occasion and a means to come to know Robert Frost anew.’ [It’s] a collection so massive that casual readers may look at its fatty binding and flee in terror with memories of being forced to read Boswell’s Life of Johnson, Joyce’s Ulysses or Wallace’s Infinite Jest. But those people would be mistaken; while visibly daunting, The Letters of Robert Frost should be read by everyone.
The Australian - Simon West
To remove some of the confusion surrounding Frost himself is among the editors’ aims in this first of four planned volumes of his complete letters. It continues the commendable project by Harvard University Press of bringing into print all the primary material of one of America’s most important 20th-century poets…Judging by this first volume, which takes us up to Frost at age 46 (he was born in 1874), he comes across very well: sympathetic, funny, self-deprecating, and both loyal and caring towards family and friends.
Times Literary Supplement - David Bromwich
It must be said that these early letters carry the burden of [Frost’s] poetry so finely as to be no embarrassment to the poetry. The book has been edited by Donald Sheehy, Mark Richardson and Robert Faggen with continuous tact and sensitivity to the likely demands of a literate reader; there are enough notes and just enough (they never strike one as intrusions pretending to be elucidations). A good index and a biographical glossary complete the authority of a book that has been printed with the care and elegance it deserves. Frost’s letters seem the inevitable expressions of a personality, so that, even when a mask is on, there is interest to be found in exactly what it reveals.
William H. Pritchard
After decades in which Robert Frost's letters were unavailable, we are given the first of several volumes, taking him up through 1920. Especially valuable are letters from 1913-14 in which Frost staked out his poetic aims and principles. The editorial job is painstakingly, indeed brilliantly, performed.
William H. Pritchard
After decades in which Robert Frost's letters were unavailable, we are given the first of three volumes, taking him up through 1921. Especially valuable are letters from 1913-14 in which Frost staked out his poetic aims and principles. The editorial job is painstakingly, indeed brilliantly, performed.
Kirkus Reviews
2013-11-03
Letters illuminate the life of an iconic American poet. As Sheehy (English/Edinboro Univ.), Richardson (English/Doshisha Univ.) and Faggen (Literature/Claremont McKenna Coll.) note, in the 1980s, Robert Frost (1874–1963) received a blow to his reputation from a castigating biography by Lawrance Thompson. The publication of Frost's letters, which follows collections of his prose (2007) and notebooks (2006), contributes to a reassessment of the poet's stature and significance. The collection begins with 12-year-old Frost's endearing note to a "childhood sweetheart" and ends with the poet at 46, his prestige established by acclaim from such critics as Ezra Pound and William Butler Yeats, whom Frost met in England in 1913. He liked Yeats: "[H]is manner is like that of a man in some dream he cant [sic] shake off." Pound, though, tried to bully him. "The fact that he discovered me gives him the right to see that I live up to his good opinion of me," Frost remarked. The best among these hundreds of letters reveal candid self-reflections. Feeling like a "fugitive," he retreated to farming "to save myself and fix myself before I measured my strength against all creation." He brought to his writing "an almost technical interest" in the cadences and rhythms of people's speech. If he was not gregarious, still his friendships were deep: When poet Edward Thomas was killed in battle in 1917, Frost was disconsolate. Thomas, he told British writer Edward Garnett, "was the only brother I ever had." Frost shows himself to be playful, sly, caring and supremely serious about his art in his letters to poets Amy Lowell, Louis Untermeyer, Edward Arlington Robinson and Harriet Monroe; publishers Alfred Knopf and Henry Holt; former students; his daughter; and many friends. Judiciously annotated with a biographical glossary of correspondents and an indispensable chronology, this volume may well inspire a Frost renaissance.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674057609
  • Publisher: Harvard
  • Publication date: 2/25/2014
  • Pages: 848
  • Sales rank: 622,316
  • Product dimensions: 6.30 (w) x 9.20 (h) x 1.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Donald Sheehy is Professor of English at Edinboro University of Pennsylvania.

Mark Richardson is Professor of English at Doshisha University in Kyoto, Japan.

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

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