Into My Own
At the age of thirty-eight, Robert Frost was a schoolteacher and an unsuccessful poultry farmer, with a wife and four young children to support. For almost twenty years, he had been writing poems and trying to publish them without much success in small magazines and local newspapers, subsisting for much of that time on the income from a small farm in Derry, New Hampshire, and a modest annuity left to him by his grandfather. The Derry farm had been willed to Frost by his grandfather on the condition that he farm it for at least ten years. In 1911, after more than a decade of hard work, the farm was his to keep or sell. That winter, on the threshold of middle age, restless and dissatisfied with his life, Frost made a daring decision. He would take his family and a briefcase full of unpublished poems and try to publish them in England. In August, 1912, the Frosts sailed from Boston to Glasgow on the USS Parisian; they arrived by train in London ready to embark on their adventure.
Scholars have always recognized that these years, from 1912 to 1915, were absolutely crucial for Frost’s career as a poet, but the English years have never before received the kind of careful and sympathetic treatment they are afforded in John Evangelist Walsh’s important biographical study, Into My Own: The English Years of Robert Frost. Frost had the misfortune to choose an unsympathetic biographer in Lawrance Thompson, whose three-volume biography makes the poet out to be a monster of selfishness, vindictiveness, and jealousy, building his literary reputation at the expense of his wife and children. Scholars have debated the accuracy of Thompson’s portrait and his friends and kin have objected to the misrepresentation, but the impressions left by Thompson’s marshaling of voluminous (however biased) evidence have done their work. Rather than the shrewd, genial New England philosopher-poet, Frost began to be seen as an unscrupulous egotist and manipulator of others. Later, revisionist scholars have worked to undo the mischief of the Thompson biography. Beginning with William Pritchard’s Frost: A Literary Life Reconsidered (1984), a fairer and more impartial biographical portrait began to emerge. Nowhere is this scholarship more important than with Frost’s English years. Walsh’s Into My Own presents an objective and carefully documented account of Frost’s experiences in Beaconsfield and later in Dymock, where Frost worked to find an English publisher for his poems and established important friendships with a number of influential writers and critics, among them Ezra Pound, F. S. Flint, T. E. Hulme, Wilfrid Gibson, and Edward Thomas.
The Frost whom Walsh portrays is a kind and considerate father and husband, devoted to his family and eager to share with them the once-in-a-lifetime adventure of living abroad, made possible by the sale of the Derry farm and by his grandfather’s annuity. Frost comes across as a mature and seasoned writer, certain of his talent and ability and eager to find a publisher for the accumulated poems written during his Derry years. That he finally found a publisher in David Nutt of London was sheer luck. The manuscript of A Boy’s Will (1913) was accepted by Nutt’s widow as a vanity item under very unfavorable terms, and Frost immediately set out to promote his book in London literary circles. A chance introduction to Pound in the fall of 1912 led to Pound’s offer to review A Boy’s Will in Poetry and The Smart Set. In Beaconsfield, Frost was living close enough to London to meet with other writers, and being naturally gregarious, he soon struck up literary friendships that helped him to formulate his theories of prosody and encouraged him to move beyond conventional lyric poetry to the more daring, colloquial, blank-verse dramatic monologues and dialogues that would appear in North of Boston (1914). Frost was canny enough to sense the risks of Pound’s patronage, and he soon detached himself from Pound and instead cultivated friendships among Georgian poets such as Gibson, Lascelles Abercrombie, and W. H. Davies.
Frost’s relationship with Pound is particularly problematic. His break with Pound in the summer of 1913, after a friendship of four months, has led some critics to charge Frost with ingratitude or worse, but both men had strong personalities, and Pound was difficult to get along with. Frost was first introduced to Pound through a mutual friend, the poet F. S. Flint, when Pound was serving as a corresponding editor for Poetry magazine. Pound was trying to find new American talent and was eager to meet Frost. With Pound’s calling card in his hand, Frost sought him out in his Kensington flat in March, 1913, and was met by a brusque, flamboyant figure with bushy red hair, in a dressing gown, who promptly asked why Frost had taken so long to come around. He then demanded to see a copy of A Boy’s Will, and when Frost confessed that he had...
(The entire section is 2042 words.)