Unknown Frost Poem Comes Out From Hiding at U-Va.
Friday, September 29, 2006
On the opening page of a small leather-bound book in a University of Virginia library, graduate student Robert Stilling found an inscription in brownish-gray ink. It was a poem by Robert Frost, in the poet's own hand, unknown and, Stilling believes, unpublished.
"It's like coming across a ruin," he said, finding a poem that Frost seemed to have abandoned.
"It was a complete bolt out of the blue," said Ted Genoways, editor of the Virginia Quarterly Review, the kind of dramatic discovery that scholars dream of as they pore over manuscripts and letters.
The poem, "War Thoughts at Home," has particular resonance now, Stilling said. It will be published, for the first time, it is believed, in the Virginia Quarterly Review available Monday.
Thus completes a curious circle. During Frost's lifetime, the publication ran many of his poems, including some of his most beloved works. And when Genoways was a U-Va. graduate student about seven years ago, he made the last major discovery of the New England poet's work: a manuscript of a then-unknown poem -- with one stanza torn out.
It was tantalizing, he said, because it seemed that the poet had ripped out the one part he wasn't happy with, leaving just the last words of those lines.
"I think for most people the thought was, 'This is probably the last piece of Frost we don't know,' " Genoways said.
With the country at war, readers and scholars have a lens with which to understand this lost work of Frost's. "He composed this at a time when World War I was heavily on his mind," Stilling said.
One of Frost's best friends, a British poet with whom he corresponded, had enlisted in the army.
Frost sent him "The Road Not Taken," the now-famous piece on diverging paths in life. Edward Thomas wrote back, Stilling said, that Frost had captured the conflict he went through over whether to enlist -- or to come to the United States to teach and write.
Thomas was killed in France in 1917. When he died, he had a collection of Frost's poems with him.