Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Rediscovered Robert Frost poem

Student finds Frost poem lost for 88 years

· Letter held clue to work in US college library
· American poet's war verse handwritten inside book

Ed Pilkington in New York

Guardian September 29, 2006

A poem by Robert Frost that has lain unpublished and forgotten for 88 years has been rediscovered by a student in Virgina. The poem, War Thoughts at Home, casts light on the development of Frost's first world war poetry. It was written in 1918, shortly after his good friend, Edward Thomas, died in the trenches of France.
Robert Stilling, a graduate student at the University of Virginia, was browsing through correspondence relating to Frost in the university library when he came across a 1947 letter from another of the writer's close friends, Frederick Melcher. It referred to an "unpublished poem about the war" which Frost had written on an inside page of a book held by Melcher.
Mr Stilling discovered that the volume, a copy of Frost's second book, North of Boston, was itself part of Virginia university's substantial Frost collection.
"I went back to the desk for the book in question and, within minutes, I had in my hands a puzzle. There, inscribed by Frost, was a poem that began with a 'flurry of bird war' and ended with a train of sheds laying 'dead on a side track'."
The poem, with Mr Stilling's account of its discovery, will be published for the first time in the autumn edition of the Virginia Quarterly Review. The review's editor, Ted Genoways, was the last person to uncover a Frost poem, his discovery being seven years ago. "The poem was published and ballyhooed as the last scrap of Frost verse we could ever expect to read, and, at the time, it seemed most likely that was true," he said. "That is why the discovery of a complete, unpublished, and unknown Frost poem is so staggering."
War Thoughts at Home is set in a snow-bound house at the time of the first world war. Some blue jays are fighting outside the back door - "this flurry of bird war". The woman of the house is disturbed from her sewing and goes to the window. The birds fall silent, and in the next stanza one bird says to the other: "We must watch our chance/ And escape one by one/ Though the fight is no more done/ Than the war is in France." The woman thinks of the winter camps "where soldiers for France are made", then draws the shades. Outside the sheds look like "cars that long have lain/ Dead on a side track".
· Robert Frost, born in San Francisco in 1874, first came to prominence as a poet in London with his book A Boy's Will, in 1913. He became one of America's leading poets, writing on social and philosphical themes set against rural New England. He won four Pulitzer prizes and died in 1963 in Boston. The newly published poem will be publicly displayed for the first time at the Harrison Institute, University of Virginia, on October 20.

Please see also an account of the discovery of this poem and Frost’s relationship with Melcher by Robert Stilling in
http://www.vqronline.org/articles/2006/fall/stilling-between-friends/
See also a long critical analysis of this poem by Glyn Maxwell on
http://www.vqronline.org/articles/2006/fall/maxwell-dead-side-track/

10 Comments:

Blogger Da' Square Wheelman, said...

This is what I've been able to piece together from various reports.

War Thoughts at Home
Robert Frost
[35 lines, 7 stanzas, each 5 lines]

1.
The flurry of bird war [?]
….[?]
….[?]
….[?]
….[?]

2.
It is late in an afternoon
More grey with snow to fall
Than white with fallen snow
When it is blue jay and crow
Or no bird at all.

3. [or 1?]
On the backside of the house
Where it wears no paint to the weather
And so shows most its age,
Suddenly blue jays rage
And flash in blue feather.

4.
….[?]
….[?]
….[?]
….[?]
….[?]

5.
And one says to the rest
“We must just watch our chance
And escape one by one-
Though the fight is no more done
Than the war is in France.”

6.
Than the war is in France!
She thinks of a winter camp
Where soldiers for France are made.
She draws down the window shade
And it glows with an early lamp.

7.
…..[?]
The uneven sheds stretch back
Shed behind shed in train
Like cars that have long lain
Dead on a side track.

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