by Robert Hanaford Smith, Sr.
Weirs Times Contributing Writer
Robert Frost wrote in his poem, New Hampshire, “It’s restful to arrive at a decision , And restful just to think about New Hampshire.” Frost liked New Hampshire, but I never realized until I recently read an article in The Literary Digest for October 6, 1923, how much the people of New Hampshire, the ones who knew him as a person, not just as a poet, liked Robert Frost. His ties to New Hampshire were so strong that the unidentified writer in the 1923 article mistakenly referred to him as a native. It might be proper to say, however, that “he went native” when he came to live in New Hampshire and as a result was highly respected by his neighbors.
Robert Frost was portrayed by the magazine as “a missionary of poetry”, reading and talking about poetry to the people amongst whom he lived. The New York Evening Post had reported on comments a Stanley Johnson had made to it about the relationship Frost had with the people of Grafton County, New Hampshire. Besides expressing satisfaction that Frost had obtained inspiration for some of his best-known poems from their part of the country, the people accepted him as one of their own rather than an intruder.
Robert Lee Frost was born in San Francisco, California on March 26, 1874 and was named for General Robert E. Lee of the Southern Army during the Civil War. After Robert’s father died of tuberculosis in 1885, he moved with his mother to Lawrence, Massachusetts where he attended high school . It was during his high school years that he began writing poetry. He attended Dartmouth College for one semester, married Elinor White and became a not so successful farmer in Derry, New Hampshire – a farm he received from his grandfather.
Frost continued to write poems but could not find a publisher for his work in America so he moved to England in 1912 where he did find better success in having his works published. With the outbreak of World War I he returned to the States. He bought a farm in the town of Franconia where he mingled with the people of the area and promoted poetry. Mr. Johnson wrote: “He has never been unwilling to know us in our own towns and villages. He has read his poems to us in our little churches, and from the talks afterwards around our own firesides we have come to believe that he likes us very much. We think he is one of us for other reasons; he has taught in our normal schools, and he was for a time a student at Dartmouth…”.
Apparently, before Frost came along, the village and country folk of northern New Hampshire had a favorite poet, one Will Carleton. But Carleton was from Michigan and Robert Frost was not only with them, and indicating he understood them, he also seemed a lot like them. On one occasion he told them “ I have been breaking stone all summer. There are sometimes interesting things in the cleft rock; now and then a bit of ruby red, where garnet has been deposited.” He went on to tell them that if he were a magazine editor he would find the task of selecting a poem out of “the mass of contributions as hard as breaking rock, and the actual finding one as rare as the bit of red stone…”. Frost, as popular as he may have been, found it necessary to engage in other work besides that which he was most interested in to provide sufficient income for his family. Besides New Hampshire’s Plymouth Normal School, Dartmouth, and Pinkerton Academy he taught at the University of Michigan, Amherst College and Harvard.
Mr. Stanley Johnson, who apparently lived in the town of Bath, spoke further about the meetings in which Mr. Frost talked to them. He said “Our people on this summer evening liked the charm of Robert Frost’s personality and his informal manner of taking us into his confidence”. He continued, “Once his reading and talking ended, there was the usual human flutter about him. Most of us natives waited until the summer folk had retired. Then a few of us, having found him a part of our country and rather like ourselves, completely enjoyed the moments he gave us.”
Frost only lived at Franconia full-time from 1915 to 1920, but spent the summers there during additional years. Then he moved to Vermont, reportedly for better farming land where he could raise apples. He spent the summer and fall months there from 1939 until his death in 1963. Though still in the northern New England country-side, one wonders if those folk around Franconia, who accepted Robert Frost as being one of them had a feeling of having lost one of their own to a rival State.
I am a New Hampshire native, but have lived part of my life in other states. In Maine I was told that one has to have two generations of ancestors in their graves in that State before they can be considered a native. Although he was born in California and buried in Vermont, I think many Granite Staters still think of Robert Lee Frost as one of their own. Even with the move to Vermont he was still our neighbor.
“Good fences make good neighbors.” So wrote Frost. He apparently was a valued friend to his neighbors, but his poems would make us believe that he did not want all walls and boundaries torn down.
Robert Hanaford Smith, Sr. lives in New Hampton.