UVA grad student discovers unknown Robert Frost poem

Robert FrostNorth of Boston"Two roads diverged in a wood, and I–
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference." - Robert Frost, from "The Road Not Taken"

One Frost poem certainly took the road less traveled. In the newest edition of the Virginia Quarterly Review, Frost's poem "War Thoughts at Home" makes its way into print after almost 90 years.

The poem, composed in 1918 on the inside of a copy of Frost’s book, North of Boston, was discovered by UVA English grad student Rob Stilling as he was searching through a new collection of Frost books and letters in UVA’s Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library.

“These books and papers once belonged to Frederic Melcher, about whom I knew next to nothing,” writes Stilling in the Fall 2006 Virginia Quarterly Review, in which Frost’s poem “War Thoughts at Home” will be published for the first time. “ After just an hour or so sifting through some not-yet-catalogued binders, I found a few letters that set off little scholarly alarm bells.” The letters indicated that Frost had inscribed one of his books with a poem. As it so happened, the copy of the book was in the Special Collections Library. “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.

Apparently, the poem was written shortly after Frost’s friend and poet Edward Thomas was killed in WWI, and tells the story of a woman finding out her husband has been killed in combat. Hmm”Šsome things never change.

In 1999, UVA English professor and former U.S. Poet Laureate, Rita Dove, waxed action hero about the previous discovery of two lost Robert Frost poems in the UVA Special Collections Library. "Imagine crawling on your belly through a tunnel deep in the Egyptian desert, only to stumble into a burial chamber stacked high with a Pharaoh's final treasures," said Dove in a UVA press release. "That's how exciting the discovery of two new Frost poems is to the literary world."

One can only imagine what ââ?¬Ë?Raiders of the Lost Ark’ imagery Dove would have to summon to express her excitement for the most recent discovery!

Coincidently, it was award-winning VQR editor Ted Genoways who discovered the Frost poems that made Dove croon in 1999. An MFA grad student at the time, Genoways, like Stilling, happened to be sifting through material in the special collections library. "We routinely go through Special Collections looking for unusual pieces,” said Genoways in a press release at the time, talking about his role as editor of the UVA student literary magazine Meridian,” but I never expected anything of this caliber from the Frost collection.”

What are the odds? Two editorships, three lost Frost poems. One wonders what the literary prospector will dig up next?

“I think Rob Stilling's discovery is even more exciting than the one I made in 1999,” Genoways tells the readthehook.com/blog. “For one thing, the poem I found was incomplete. What was there was excellent but ultimately frustrating because the manuscript was torn. What Rob found is a complete poem. And, most important of all, it's unmistakably, quintessentially Frost.”

And Genoways was kind enough to pass along the second stanza via e-mail to prove his point:

"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."

2 comments

Hey, that thing rhymes! You sure it's not Kipling??

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]

"War Thoughts at Home" 35 lines

1.
The flurry of bird war [?]
”Š.[?]
”Š.[?]
”Š.[?]
”Š.[?]

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 [1st?]
Where it wears no paint to the weather
And so shows most its age,
Suddenly blue jays rage
And flash in blue feather.

4.
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.

5.
And one says to the rest
ââ?¬Å?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.
”Š..[?]
The uneven sheds stretch back
Shed behind shed in train
Like cars that have long lain
Dead on a side track.