Robert Francis Critical Essays


(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Francis, Robert 1901–

Francis is an American poet. An artist of unique gifts, he says of his own style that it is "neither avant-garde nor traditional." His poetry is generally lyrical and has often been compared to that of Robert Frost, although many critics find this a rather simplistic comparison. The setting of his poetry is most often, rural, reflecting a life spent in a solitary, indeed Thoreau-like, existence. This lifestyle has contributed to Francis's relative obscurity and it is only in his later years that he has received his well-deserved recognition. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 1-4, rev. ed.)

Isabel Foster

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

No literary echoes, no awkwardness, no bewilderment clearly mark Robert Francis's "Stand With Me Here," as poems of youth; but none the less it is immediately apparent that they reflect a boy's will and a young man's thoughts. Strangely there is nothing here adventurous, curious, impatient, avid for life, but rather as though Santayana's last Puritan were writing verse, there is tranquility, appreciation of old ways and simple pleasures, a strict moral sense, and a conscientious craftsman's attitude toward balance, order and good form.

Pastoral New England has become a tradition in American literature…. Robert Francis has tried his hand with skill at the traditional themes. Apple picking, haying,...

(The entire section is 298 words.)

William Rose BenéT

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)


A slight book in bulk is Robert Francis's "Stand With Me Here" … but I have found a distinct person in it. He is another of our New Englanders, terse and direct….

It would be inequitable to lay too great emphasis on this volume; but, in expectation of finding little, in reality I found much. Those who are fond of the lonely New England country world will find its flavor here, will discover dark comfort in these unobtrusive verses.

William Rose Benét, "The Phoenix Nest," in The Saturday Review of Literature (copyright © 1936 by Saturday Review; all rights reserved; reprinted by permission), Vol. 14,...

(The entire section is 304 words.)

Louis Untermeyer

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

"The Sound I Listened For" is all clear sound, precise, honest, unequivocal. Robert Francis has a gift for seeing minutiae which are anything but trivial. In this he reminds the reader of his more illustrious forerunners, especially of one whose background is contiguous. It is nothing against Robert Francis that he often resembles Robert Frost. But, though he sometimes chooses the same landscape, he should avoid using the same language. "True North," "Statement," and "The Wasp"—to name only three—read like poems that Frost had been writing and had not yet decided to print. They are admirably neat, they are playfully philosophical, they blend observation with imagination. But we know who wrote them first. (p. 345)...

(The entire section is 140 words.)

Jack Lindeman

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

The Orb Weaver is Robert Francis's fifth book of poems. The attitude, style and tone are much the same as they were in 1938. His world is rural New England, but not a New England which has undergone any significant changes during the past twenty-five years. It is a world of personal observations made within a quiet, peaceful, static environment walled off from the loud, blaring events of Mr. Auden's "age of anxiety."

Though Mr. Francis lacks the gritty muscularity of Robert Frost, he can stand side by side with the elder poet as an exponent of pantheistic serenity. (p. 109)

Mr. Francis seems to favor a loose blank verse, a "Freedom that flows in form and still is free" is...

(The entire section is 229 words.)


(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

With his mind clearly at pains to confront and express them, Robert Francis delights in and is disturbed by the incongruities of life. In Dog-Day Night the speaker, realising that the objects of love are self-interested and free, is pained by the vanity of selfless love. Man must look for and never find his identity (The Spy), strain but fail to achieve his aims, and experience the elation and despair of recognizing this truth (The Rock Climbers). Moreover man is a construct of belief and scepticism, freedom and restriction, communion and loneliness, for which polarities he is both praised and damned, distinguished and forgotten (Epitaph). The mind separates by means of symbols the amoral...

(The entire section is 300 words.)

David Young

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Autobiographical writings are supposed to be spectacular these days, a thrill a page…. But I know that kind of thing won't do for the autobiography of Robert Francis…. [Rather, The Trouble with Francis invites comparison with] Walden, Edwin Muir's An Autobiography, Nadezha Mandelstam's Hope Against Hope. Like them it uses one life, one set of experiences, as a way of investigating how an individual existence can gain coherence, shape, and meaning under social circumstances that are hostile or indifferent; and like them it succeeds through a scrupulous honesty that is especially wary of tidal waving. The books I have mentioned could be called low-key, but they all turn out to be...

(The entire section is 678 words.)

Victor Howes

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

The verse of Robert Francis is like a small, sun-warmed stone, smooth to the touch, pleasant to handle, and as you hold it, releasing a hidden inner warmth.

[In Like Ghosts of Eagles] he writes of mountain and water, of permanence and change, of what it is to forget and what it is to remember. Francis is a poet of seasons, the seasons men keep in their comings and goings over the face of the earth.

He takes the long view, the focus of his camera eye being set just short of infinity….

He is sober but not somber, delighting to play the games language plays with us—"The bulldozer / bulls by day / And dozes by night. / Would that the dulldozer / Dozed all...

(The entire section is 264 words.)

Michael True

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[Robert Francis's Collected Poems exhibits] clearly the achievement of an exceptional, if infrequently honored, craftsman….

Francis's poems, like the athletes he often writes about and whose superior form he imitates, are firm, clean, and graceful. In "Pitcher," one of his best-known poems, Francis might be describing himself: "He / Throws to be a moment misunderstood. / Yet not too much. Not errant, arrant, wild, / But every seeming aberration willed. /"…

There is often a sense of the inevitability of fate in these poems, events or lives working themselves out and revealing what has to be. Elemental questions are posed with a kind of sureness, the speaker confident, yet...

(The entire section is 330 words.)

Howard Nelson

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

September, 1976, marked the publication of the Collected Poems of an American poet who at seventy-six has written quietly over the past half-century a body of poems which deserves to be celebrated. The poet is Robert Francis. His career was long characterized by a lack of recognition—Robert Frost called him America's "best neglected poet"—and even after the publication of The Orb Weaver by Wesleyan in 1960 and Come Out Into the Sun by the University of Massachusetts in 1968 helped change this situation to some degree, his work has continued to be omitted from most of the anthologies which have tried to represent the best contemporary American poetry. It seems to me that any sampling of "the...

(The entire section is 1574 words.)

Robert B. Shaw

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

No doubt a sense of fulfillment attaches to any poet's Collected Poems. In the case of Robert Francis, the volume carries a sense not merely of fulfillment but of vindication. One of our most knowing, skilled, and dedicated poets has survived decades of critical indifference to find himself, in his old age, possessed of a secure and even flowering reputation. (p. 106)

Robert B. Shaw, "Coming Out into the Sun," in Poetry (© 1977 by The Modern Poetry Association; reprinted by permission of the Editor of Poetry), Vol. CXXXI, No. 2, November, 1977, pp. 106-10.

(The entire section is 90 words.)

Jeff Morris

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Robert Francis's A Certain Distance is an ill-conceived project. In his introductory remarks, Francis refers to the "erotic impulse" which has prompted artists, through the ages to concentrate on the female form in their paintings and poems. He avers that the same impulse has led him to write this group of poem-pictures of the male form. While I can sympathize with the motive and the interest, it seems to me that Francis is, perhaps, working out of a tradition which dooms his project to just the embarrassing sentimentality and simpering obliquity which characterize this volume. There have been volumes by individuals, and anthologies as well, of homoerotic poems. None has yet risen above maudlin...

(The entire section is 215 words.)

James K. Robinson

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Francis has, if anything, written more impressively as he has grown older. His first volume, Stand With Me Here (1936), appeared when he was thirty-five …, and his serene, detached style was already formed. He has published slowly—eight books in forty years. He has grown slowly.

What sticks in the memory about Francis is his quiet ebullience, his understated Yankee wit. Take, for instance, "Pitcher," one of several gems about baseball:

His art is eccentricity, his aim
How not to hit the mark he seems to aim at,

His passion how to avoid the obvious,
His technique how to vary the...

(The entire section is 559 words.)