Robert Francis

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Introduction

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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

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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, wood-chopping, they are all there. Though verbal echoes are few, the influence of Robert Frost, his humor and his further range lacking, is to be seen in every thicket and field of this land, not far west or northwest of Boston.

In such verse as this there is a definite appeal not only to other youths who faced with the complexities of modern life find reassurance in art forms, but also to those who buffeted by experience seek escape by turning to things simple, natural, old and lovely…. Mr. Francis makes of his old people grotesque figures, such as are found in Grimm's Tales. Age for him has pathos, a good deal more than it has perhaps for those who understand its great compensations from experience. But more important to their enjoyment of his poems than the portraits is his complete absorption in the joys of country life and his conviction that strength still lies in contact with the earth….

Isabel Foster, "Order and Good Form," in The Christian Science Monitor (reprinted by permission from The Christian Science Monitor; © 1936 The Christian Science Publishing Society; all rights reserved), September 23, 1936, p. 11.

William Rose BenéT

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WILLIAM ROSE BENÉT

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, No. 24, October 10, 1936, p. 36.∗

[In Stand with Me Here ] the terse yet tender quality of [Robert Francis'] verse springs from … deep roots in primitive experience. Not that he is ever obscure or tenebrous. He sees things clear-cut and draws them objectively whether it is a frog sitting on a stone beside a spring, a boy waiting to plunge into still water, or runners going up a hill under elms. But behind the foreground definition there is an elemental background, felt if not necessarily sketched in, but dominating such poems...

(This entire section contains 304 words.)

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as "Monotone By a Cellar Hole," "Slow," or "Appearance and Disappearance."… [He] has a remarkable gift for identifying himself with natural things—with snow and hay and stones, and with those, too, who serve Nature and work with her, such as old men gathering apples from the ground or women weeding the onion fields in white kerchiefs. And many of his poems, such as "A Broken View," reveal from original and attractive angles that collaboration between Man and Nature which is their inspiration.

"Other New Books: 'Stand with Me Here'," in The Times Literary Supplement (© Times Newspapers Ltd. (London) 1937; reproduced from The Times Literary Supplement by permission), No. 1823, January 9, 1937, p. 30.

Louis Untermeyer

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"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)

Louis Untermeyer, "Among the Poets," in The Yale Review (© 1944 by Yale University; reprinted by permission of the editors), Vol. XXXIV, No. 2, Winter, 1945, pp. 341-46.∗

Jack Lindeman

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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 what he calls it in an earlier book in a poem about seagulls. Not even the most impatient reader could register a charge of obscurity against these poems. The author himself has said,

         Words of a poem should be glass
         But glass so simple-subtle its shape
         Is nothing but the shape of what it holds.

Like Frost, Mr. Francis is a type of bucolic philosopher with which we are all familiar, who translates the wisdom of nature into a means for achieving human contentment. (p. 110)

Jack Lindeman, "Three Poets," in Poetry (© 1960 by The Modern Poetry Association; reprinted by permission of the Editor of Poetry), Vol. XCVII, No. 1, October, 1960, pp. 109-13.∗

MARK McCLOSKEY

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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 union of vitality and death, and man, once he finds that this truth of being eludes his abstractions, rages at life (As Near to Eden). Conversely, a joyful acceptance of such antinomies and of the illogical variety of life is the intention of Sing a Song of Juniper and Statement.

One of Mr. Francis's favorite figures is iteration: in Hide-and-Seek "hide" acquires a dual coloration in terms of life and death, and in While I Slept, sleep means both the inattention of the beloved and the death of the lover. This figure is excessive in Old Man's Confession of Faith, where the "wind" of chance blows on long after its implications are exhausted, and in The Orb Weaver, where the quasi-synonyms for "art" and "patience" are decorative, not germane to the poem's development.

But many, particularly his earlier, poems, because of the truths, clear judgments, precise structure, and formal rhythms they display, are significant contributions to contemporary lyric verse. (pp. 275-76)

Mark McCloskey, "Five Poets," in Poetry (© 1966 by The Modern Poetry Association; reprinted by permission of the Editor of Poetry), Vol. CVIII, No. 4, July, 1966, pp. 272-76.∗

David Young

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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 engrossing and memorable…. (pp. 28-9)

Words like "recluse" and "hermit" do not really fit [Robert Francis], but there can be no doubt that by most standards his life has been marked by solitude, and that his literary reputation, to those who know and admire his poems, is misleadingly slight. But the life and the work, as the autobiography reveals, make a curious fit, the obscurity of the one contributing to the neglect of the other, and the excellence of the poetry, it now appears, deriving in part from the originality, economy, and harmony of the life. For Francis, who has lived with astonishing frugality on the tiny income from his writing and occasional lecturing … is a poet of retrenchment and modesty. His effects are controlled, exact, and sparse. And he celebrates—like Issa, like Robert Herrick, poets to whom he seems akin—the small in scale and the virtues of patience, tenacity, and quietness. He writes of toads, icicles, wasps, thistle seeds and tomatoes; and he can relish a single word—e.g. "hogwash"—as a bunting relishes a sunflower seed….

The structure of The Trouble With Francis is canny. Francis begins with the middle of his life, the time when his distinctive tendencies came to full realization…. The book's design, besides affording a wry comparison to the epic, gives us the mature man, making firm decisions and wise choices about himself and others, before we are introduced to the child—sensitive, timid, beset with fears and incapable of the boisterousness and competition that are the norms of boyhood. Thus, while we eventually recognize that the child who was forced to become "a gazer and a brooder" was in some sense father to the man who is Robert Francis, we are protected from indulging in too much social or psychological determinism…. Francis' modus vivendi, a withdrawal that afforded him an independence resembling Thoreau's at the same time that it cost him a measure of the prestige he might have had by mixing more vigorously in the world, is, as he sees it—and we are inclined to concur—neither heroic nor ludicrous, inevitable nor accidental…. Reigning over all is an honesty that keeps everything in check, even the modesty, and that is capable of startling: just as you have begun to admire Francis' courage, he warns you against it; just as your sympathy has begun to turn to pity, he dissolves the suffering with a wave of the hand. He is master of the show at all times, but not, you feel, so that he may conceal truth; rather as a way of unerringly revealing it. (p. 29)

Francis has lived for years in the shadow of Frost, who influenced his work, encouraged him at an early stage, dropped in for one-way conversations, and whose magnetism and presence Francis must at times have wished for himself…. Let me take a position here and say that I hope Francis can come out of that shadow. I like his work not for the way it resembles Frost's, but for the way in which it is different; and I feel the same way about the man. I can't imagine Frost writing a book about himself this good, this true, this wise. (pp. 29-30)

David Young, "Out of the Shadow," in The New Republic (reprinted by permission of The New Republic; © 1971 The New Republic, Inc.), Vol. 165, Nos. 6 & 7, August 7 and 14, 1971, pp. 28-30.

Victor Howes

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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 time."…

Like Robert Frost, his friend and an acknowledged mentor, Robert Francis learns many of his best poems by studying nature up close, collecting blue colors for a cornucopia: "blue-green turquoise peacock blue spruce / blue verging on violet the fringed gentian / gray blue blue bonfire smoke autumnal / haze," a tour de force of azure nouns….

Poem after poem in "Like Ghosts of Eagles" hits the bulls-eye of delight with epigrammatic force and artful cunning.

Francis is a traditionalist who experiments, a wisdom-writer unafraid to stoop to folly, a local poet who looks out on an expanded horizon. He has packed a brief book with enduring matter.

Victor Howes, "Of Bulldozers and Bees: A Celebration in Poetry," in The Christian Science Monitor (reprinted by permission from The Christian Science Monitor; © 1974 The Christian Science Publishing Society; all rights reserved), June 26, 1974, p. F4.

Michael True

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[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 never smug about where the answers lie. At their best, things achieve a balance between freedom and conformity…. (p. 441)

Such mysteries are the subject of Francis's best poems, in a style that recognizes a need for tradition and experimentation, sometimes rhyming, sometimes not. These lines, from "Epitaph," suggest a persistent theme and tone: "Freedom he loved and order he embraced. / Fifty extremists called him Janus-faced. / Though cool centrality was his desire, / He drew the zealot fire and counter-fire."

Like A. E. Housman, Francis is fascinated with human beings, with flowers and small insects, caught at the moment of peak performance, at the height of their powers. He is a person fiercely in love with the created world and fiercely angry, at times, with the natural and supernatural powers that threaten them, so that his occasional protest poems seem consistent with his other preoccupations. He can also be quietly, but deeply erotic, as in "The Good Life," an idyllic, even romantic meditation…. [It] ends with a question: "Where is the evil / Here where the river pours upon the rocks / And sun pours on the rocks and on the river? / Here is no Eve. Here is no little snake." (pp. 441-42)

Michael True, "Books: 'Collected Poems'," in Commonweal (copyright © 1977 Commonweal Publishing Co., Inc.; reprinted by permission of Commonweal Publishing Co., Inc.), Vol. CIV, No. 14, July 8, 1977, pp. 441-42.

Howard Nelson

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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 best" of our poetry that doesn't include Francis is incomplete. (pp. 1-2)

In the experimentation and vital restlessness of the American poetry of the past twenty years or so, certain basic poetic values—e.g., music, clarity of statement, the calm light of a reflective mind, a polished surface—have often been overshadowed or shunted aside. Not without a certain growing interest of his own in more open variations of form, Francis throughout his career has been calmly stubborn in his devotion to a kind of poem that exists in the currents of literary experiment and opinion like a smooth, deeply imbedded stone in a stream: the short, clear, meditative, lyrical poem. Francis has followed no poetic movements but those of his own imagination, and he has become a master of this kind of poem. (pp. 2-3)

Reading through Francis's poetry, one of the most strongly pervasive qualities one notices is the clarity, the subtle lustre, of the language. The poems have certainly been polished, but toward a greater transparence and directness rather than glittering effects. The language is fresh, exact, attractive, but it rarely stops the reader in his tracks, not for over-cleverness, nor obscurity, not even a sudden stab of power…. Francis's diction is lucid. He almost never sacrifices the movement or clarity of a poem for complicated phrases or images. (pp. 3-4)

["Poppycock"] is a celebration of the delicious eccentricity of words, and concludes with these lines:

              But to get back to poppycock
              what a word!
              God, what a word!
              Just the word!

              Keep your damn poems
              only give me the words
              they are made of.
              Poppycock!

The poem is not a very good one—Francis has a playfulness that sometimes turns cute, and then soft spots appear—but those closing lines express an important clement in his poetry: his relish for language, the weight of it on the tongue, the texture of it in the mind. While his love of words themselves at times leads him into preciousness and ornament, more often it helps him to become a namer: one of those poets—such as Whitman could be, enumerating the objects of the world, the "dumb, beautiful ministers"—whose noticing and mentioning of a thing captures the resonance a poem needs, whose naming is an act of creation and love. (p. 4)

If there is poetry that celebrates words, and poetry that tries to make words disappear, then Francis has written poems that could be assigned to one category or the other, but in most of his poetry he accomplishes the paradox of language which seems to move in both directions at once, to a degree not many modern poets have been able to sustain. Almost always there is in Francis's poetry the savor of the balance between memorable language and a relaxed lucidity.

There is a quality of crispness in Francis's work. Partly it derives from his clear eye, his closely observed imagery. His use of imagery is steady and sure, never bizarre or spectacular. An inward man by nature and lifestyle, when Francis writes of inward things he carries the solidity and delicacy of the things of the world with him.

The cripsness comes also from Francis's ear. Compared to most recent poetry, Francis's work is unfashionably musical. (pp. 5-6)

Early and late, Francis has been a lyrical poet. Many of his poems have the small, sharp music of epigrams and couplets, but his poetry also has more flowing rhythms and the more beautiful and haunting music of older repetitions—alliteration, assonance, refrain—and often they are quietly chant-like….

And there is the clarity of his intelligence. There is a wonderful crispness in Francis's thinking in his poems—the sense of a mind that has been given a long time to work, for the ideas to grow slowly, like crystals.

Many of Francis's poems are poems of direct, rational statement. This sort of poem seems especially prone to becoming stiff and unmysterious. Yvor Winters is the outstanding example of a poet whose dedication to reason gave his poems a grave, graven quality. But this kind of thinking in poems of course has a beauty of its own. Francis's grasp is firm and sure, but there is nothing stiff or didactic in its strength and precision. (p. 6)

[In the poem "The Orb Weaver," for instance, the] mind proceeds deliberately from observation, to reflection, to a plainly stated abstract conclusion growing out of the observation, creating a luminous, troubling arc. The poem is rational statement tinged with darkness—the darkness of the black spider, of the grasshopper wrapped and silent, of the mind caught in its quarrel, as in a web, with that dark thriving.

Francis is frequently a poet of wit, both in the modern and the Seventeenth Century sense of the word. It leads him sometimes to light verse—some of it, the recent poem "History" for example, very keen, some of it merely light. (p. 8)

Happily Francis's Collected Poems is already incomplete: he continues to produce excellent work. In 1976 he published a collection called A Certain Distance, which includes previously published poems but is primarily made up of prose poems—"portraits and sketches … done in words" Francis calls them—collected for the first time. The pieces in the book are contemplations and celebrations of young men. As Francis moves to the looser form of the prose poem, he retains the poise and perception of his poems written in verse. (p. 9)

Francis has no ideology or personal mythology, but his work has a great pervasive theme. This is one of the major themes of modern poetry especially, the theme of Williams and Stevens, of Richard Wilbur and Gary Snyder, in their different ways: the engagement of the imagination and the actual, poetry's effort to focus the material world in a new light and make us more awake to it. Francis's poems are mostly about things, observations, actions, seasons…. His poems only occasionally discuss this theme; continually, they embody it. He uses the things of the world for symbolic and moral purposes, but this is simply a part of the interplay of mind and subject, of the homage to awareness and the world. Since there is no heaven, we had better pay attention to the earth. (pp. 9-10)

In the poem "Statement," Francis avows his devotion to earthly rather than any ideal beauty, and says "I want a beauty I must dig for…. / I am in love with what resists my loving, / With what I have to labor to make live." This supports what I've said above, but it also brings to mind one of the limitations of Francis's poetry. The things that he writes about are commonplace and plain enough, but they are not things which require the greatest labor to love and make live. Imaginative renderings and meditations on juniper bushes and baseball players are welcome, but Francis stops about there in pursuing the lowly and the ordinary. One of the fine things about Williams is his insistence on including the ugly and forsaken in his poetic vision, which Francis does not do. He is a bit too decorous to do so.

Another theme which Francis has written on often is death, and he has done many beautiful poems on the subject. Reading such poems as "The Quiet Thing," "Past Tense," and "When I Come," one notices especially their calm, their clear-headedness and restraint. This is an admirable quality in elegiac poems, but it is part of another, related limitation, that of emotional intensity and range. Francis is not a poet of the depths and heights of emotion. His poems, whether acknowledgements of evil or expressions of joy, have an air of controlled grace. There is little if any terror or despair or exaltation in them. They lack the kind of power strong grief can give. (pp. 10-11)

Some of Francis's poems are aimed primarily at the ear, some at the eye; some are satiric, some are straightforward celebrations; some are discursive, some are "silent." Central to his work, however, is that it brings music and image, a steady light of the mind and things simple and mysterious, together into a union, a wholeness. Francis provides a valuable counterpoint to the solipsism of much of our poetry now….

[There is a] kind of beauty in poets who write short, lyrical, haunting, moving, clear, clarifying poems all their lives. In such poems there is a union of sense and sound, thought and feeling, that implies a union and condition of aliveness that might exist in human beings as well. This is the work this poet has done for us. (p. 11)

Howard Nelson, "Moving Unnoticed: Notes on Robert Francis's Poetry," in The Hollins Critic (copyright 1977 by Hollins College), Vol. XIV, No. 4, October, 1977, pp. 1-12.

Robert B. Shaw

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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.

Jeff Morris

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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 self-congratulation. A revolution in consciousness and form is necessary if this situation is ever to be alleviated. If an example is needed, we can look at one of the typically failed-Keatsian efforts:

                 Boy over water,
                 Boy waiting to plunge
                 Into still water
                 Among white clouds
                 That will shatter
                 Into bright foam—
                 I could wish you
                 Forever bronze
                 And the blue water
                 Never broken.

That kind of eroticism must remind us that Faust was damned the moment he stretched forth his hand to stop the fleeting moment.

Jeff Morris, "Reviews: 'A Certain Distance'," in Open Places (copyright 1979 Open Places), No. 27, Spring, 1979, p. 59.

James K. Robinson

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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 avoidance.

       The others throw to be comprehended. He
       Throws to be a moment misunderstood.

       Yet not too much. Not errant, arrant, wild,
       But every seeming aberration willed.

       Not to, yet still, still to communicate
       Making the batter understand too late.

This is a very tight little poem, playful, as deceptively artful as the art of pitching. Quite unobtrusively Francis slides past the reader stanzas pitched to varying lengths. A first stanza with a decasyllabic line followed by a hendecasyllabic is succeeded by a stanza with two hendecasyllabics. The third stanza, a change-up, consists of a hendecasyllabic followed by a decasyllabic. The last two stanzas are in decasyllabics. If there are rhythmical changes of pace, so is there wiliness in the rhyming. "Aim" and "aim at" clang but do not rhyme. "Wild" and "willed" come close. "Communicate" and "late" reinforce the poet's strong implication that the pitcher knows how to throw a curve. The poem ends triumphantly, ball safely in catcher's mitt, a bat unswung or swung in vain.

The poet who wrote "Pitcher" displays his New England mind, a mind so New England that the temptation is nearly irresistible to compare it to that of Robert Frost, and so inevitably to Francis' disadvantage…. Francis' best work, of which "Pitcher" is a sample, appeared before Frost's death, but years after Frost's best work appeared. Francis, for all his poems' similarities to Frost's in theme, style, and tone, and for all his admiration of Frost and all Frost's kindness to him, is only superficially Frostian. Where Frost's obsessive theme is the relation between fact and dream, Francis' is the plenitude of fact. His beauty is a pied beauty; he delights, like Hopkins, in dappled things…. He delights in trades, in skills, as "Pitcher" indicates. The art he admires, like his nature, exists in its factualness; it is modest, diaphonous. (pp. 236-37)

Francis' plain and unaffected style suits his themes. At its best, as in such poems as "Pitcher" and "Glass", it is supple and subtle, like Hardy's before and William Stafford's after, almost mysteriously unpretentious. At its worst, as in "Comedian Body" and "The Bulldozer," it is prosy and banal. Perhaps the style follows subject: Francis is versed not in cosmic but in country things. Perhaps, in its colloquialism, it owes something to our century. But chiefly it expresses the poet's unpretentious, unegotistical personality, the personality of a highly sensitive, kind, absolutely unambitious man.

This style usually finds appropriate accommodation in tone, in the poet's relation to his reader, a relation that never involves condescension, preaching, or badgering but is indeed a simple sharing. (p. 238)

James K. Robinson, "Two Hardy Gentlemen: Archibald MacLeish and Robert Francis," in Parnassus: Poetry in Review (copyright © Poetry in Review Foundation), Vol. 7, No. 2, Spring-Summer, 1979, pp. 231-38.∗

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Francis, Robert (Poetry Criticism)