A Unique Perspective On The Life of Robert Frost

by Paul F. Kisak 22 April 2002

Robert Frost (1874-1963)

Lesley Lee Francis is the daughter of Lesley Frost who is the eldest child of Robert and Elinor Frost. On the 9th of April 2002 Lesley Lee Francis was attending The Shenandoah University in Winchester, Virginia as a visiting scholar and scheduled a lecture at Lord Fairfax Community College in my home-town of Middletown, Virginia. The purpose of the lecture was to promote her recently released book entitled "The Frost Family’s Adventure." After the lecture I cajoled her into reminiscing about her relationship with her grandfather.

Lesley Lee Francis

Lesley explained how the family referred to the master poet as "RF". She went on to state that " RF was so involved with his own children and the experience of their New England Farm that she did not know him very well until after she was grown." I asked if she remembered any certain poems that her grandfather had shared with her or written for her as she was growing up. She explained that ‘It was not that way. It wasn’t until later in life that I got to know RF through visits and correspondence.’ She did offer one poem that was special to her for personal reasons. She later explained that the personal reasons that made the poem so special were that it made reference to her mother Lesley. The poem is entitled "The Last Word of a Bluebird – as told to a child." She explained that "RF" was fond of adding the phrase "as told to a child" and that she knew it to mean that he intended it to add a special heartfelt warmth in the reading. The poem follows:

 

The Last Word of a Bluebird

As Told to a Child

As I went out a Crow
In a low voice said, "Oh,
I was looking for you.
How do you do?
I just came to tell you
To tell Lesley (will you?)
That her little Bluebird
Wanted me to bring word
That the north wind last night
That made the stars bright
And made ice on the trough

Almost made him cough
His tail feathers off.
He just had to fly!
But he sent her Good-by,
And said to be good,
And wear her red hood,
And look for skunk tracks
In the snow with an ax-
And do everything!
And perhaps in the spring
He would come back and sing."

 

I then asked her how she would express the personality of her Grandfather. She stated how he hated to travel and despised sightseeing even more. She went on to elaborate that "RF" used to give a special rendering of the following Mother Goose nursery rhyme:

 
Pussycat, pussycat, where have you been?
I've been to London to visit the Queen.
Pussycat, pussycat, what did you there?
I frightened a little mouse under her chair.

 

"RF" would vocalize that everything he needed he could find at home. He didn’t need ‘to travel anywhere to chase mice, he could chase them at home.’

The details of Robert Frost’s career in writing are fairly well outlined in numerous books so I didn’t bother asking for any information regarding the matter. She did summarize during the lecture that Robert Frost declared himself a poet in the third grade. He then went on to do nothing else. He inherited a farm and became distressed at the academic distractions in the United States. This was his motivation to sell the farm and transplant the family in England where his career took off.

I pressed Lesley for more details regarding his personality and philosophy on writing. She stated that after numerous arguments with herself and others "RF" was adamant about stating that "the essence of poetry was the metaphor" and that ‘his children and his environment comprised a large part of his motivation practicum’. She went on to outline how ‘RF had developed a reputation in the United States as a dark poet’. She implied that this didn’t bother him and stated that "RF" had told her and others that his ‘goal was primarily to push back the dark and reduce the anxiety of life’. It was at this point that she offered the only other poem, during the discussion, that she felt significant enough, for the point at hand.

The Exposed Nest
by Robert Frost - 1916

You were forever finding some new play.
So when I saw you down on hands and knees
In the meadow, busy with the new-cut hay,
Trying, I thought, to set it up on end,
I went to show you how to make it stay,
If that was your idea, against the breeze,
And, if you asked me, even help pretend
To make it root again and grow afresh.
But 'twas no make-believe with you to-day,
Nor was the grass itself your real concern,
Though I found your hand full of wilted fern,
Steel-bright June-grass, and blackening heads of clover.
'Twas a nest full of young birds on the ground
The cutter-bar had just gone champing over
(Miraculously without tasting flesh)
And left defenseless to the heat and light.
You wanted to restore them to their right
Of something interposed between their sight
And too much world at once--could means be found.
The way the nest-full every time we stirred
Stood up to us as to a mother-bird
Whose coming home has been too long deferred,
Made me ask would the mother-bird return
And care for them in such a change of scene
And might our meddling make her more afraid.
That was a thing we could not wait to learn.
We saw the risk we took in doing good,
But dared not spare to do the best we could
Though harm should come of it; so built the screen
You had begun, and gave them back their shade.
All this to prove we cared. Why is there then
No more to tell? We turned to other things.
I haven't any memory--have you?--
Of ever coming to the place again

To see if the birds lived the first night through,
And so at last to learn to use their wings.

 

I then asked Lesley about the desires of Robert Frost. She smiled boldly when stating that "RF" wanted to write more plays, but that he commented that his plays always seemed to turn into poetry. She said that "RF" loved writing sonnets and that it was an area that he wished to develop. She stated with equal vigor that he never wanted to see his poetry in a ‘collected works’ edition. Lesley went on to confirm the rivalries that "RF" had with Carl Sandburg and that the writing of Chaucer was annoying to him because "he broke all the rules."

Lesley confirmed that there were many unpublished works of Robert Frost to which I expressed surprise.

Based on my own knowledge of the life and work of Robert Frost, I don’t think that anybody would argue that he succeeded in realizing his ambition to write "a few poems it will be hard to get rid of."

In 1942 Robert Frost wrote a poem entitled "The Lesson for Today." There is a line in the poem that reads "I had a lover's quarrel with the world." This line is used as the poets epitaph at his grave site in Bennington, Vermont.