The Letters of Robert Frost, Volume 1 (1886-1920)

The Letters of Robert Frost, Volume 1 (1886-1920)

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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 The hundreds of previously unpublished letters in these annotated volumes deepen our understanding and appreciation of this most complex and subtle of verbal artists.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.


“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.”—Dan Chiasson, The New Yorker

“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.”—Jennifer Schuessler, The New York Times

“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, andRobert 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.”—Jay Parini, The Chronicle of Higher Education

“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.”—J. P. O’Malley, NPR Books

“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.”—Valerie Duff, Boston Globe

“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.”—Clive James, Prospect Magazine

“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.”—Kirkus Reviews

“Not the rustic sage, but the savvy, ambitious, cosmopolitan poet emerges from this first volume of Frost’s lively, shrewd letters… 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.”—Publishers Weekly

“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, Amherst College

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  • Language: English
  • ISBN-13: 9780674057609
  • Paperback: 848 pages