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Obscure Frost poem is found

Unpublished work had been written inside a copy of `North of Boston.'

September 28, 2006|Hillel Italie | Associated Press

New York — AN unpublished Robert Frost poem, a tribute to a friend killed during World War I, has been rediscovered and will appear next week in the fall issue of the Virginia Quarterly Review, the University of Virginia announced Wednesday.

"War Thoughts at Home" first emerged in 1918 when Frost inscribed it in a copy of "North of Boston," his second collection. The poem was not seen again until a graduate student at the University of Virginia, Robert Stilling, recently spotted "War Thoughts" while looking through some Frost papers.

"I had been tipped off about a new collection of Frost's correspondence and rare editions," Stilling writes in the Virginia Quarterly. "After just an hour or so sifting through some not-yet-cataloged binders, I found a few letters that set off little scholarly alarm bells."

A 1947 letter, by Frost's friend, Frederick Melcher, referred to an "unpublished poem about the war which has not been reprinted," but had been handwritten inside one copy of "North of Boston." That book, Stilling soon learned, was part of the university's Frost collection.

"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,' " Stilling writes.

Melcher was a longtime friend and supporter of Frost's who became head of Publishers Weekly and helped establish the Newbery and Caldecott medals for children's literature.

Frost, the celebrated New England poet known for such verse as "The Road Not Taken" and "The Gift Outright," spent much of World War I teaching English at Amherst College. At the start of the war, however, he had been living in England and befriended British poet Edward Thomas. Thomas was in his mid-30s when the war began but volunteered for duty and was killed in France in 1917.

Seven stanzas long, Frost's poem imagines a soldier's wife in an old house at wintertime, late afternoon, when she is alarmed by the "rage" of some blue jays. Her sewing in her lap, she rises, looks out the window and watches the birds.

"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."

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