New Frost Exhibit Highlights Poet’s Personal Life

Robert Frost may be one of the most well-loved American poets of any era. A new exhibit at the Robert Frost Stone House Museum in Vermont takes a look at a different side of the poet. Assembled by Frost scholar, Donald Sheehy, the exhibit features 11 key women in Robert Frost”s life. Those women include his mother, his wife Elinor, his sister, his daughters, writer Dorothy Canfield Fisher, and Kathleen Morrison, wife of writer Ted Morrison. Frost and Morrison are said to have had an affair that spanned decades.

Sheehy is collaborating with two other writers to publish three volumes of letters to and from Frost, including many letters between the poet and Kay Morrison, as Kathleen Morrison was known. His letters and poetry show a man who was deeply sensitive to the feelings of women, Sheehy says, but was, in his words, a chauvinist through and through. “He believed that woman should be submissive to man,” Sheehy said in an interview with a Rutland newspaper.

It”s amusing that the estimation of Frost”s attitude towards women is almost cited as a fault, as if somehow we believe that the poet should have been above the era in which he was raised and lived. While the letters and personal correspondence of famous poets often show sides of them that explains their poetry, if we are going to judge a poet by his personal writings, I think it”s important that we put those writings in the context of their times. In Frost”s time, the woman was the “little lady”, who might have her opinions and be allowed them – but it was the place of the man to do the thinking for them both and lead the way.

The article and Sheehy”s words about Frost led me to finding some of Frost”s letters in holograph form at Middlebury”s College”s web site. The letters chosen to display there are obviously not his most personal – but they do reveal the person behind the poems. In writing about the acceptance of his first book, Frost said, “Its safe mediocrity is attested by the good luck it has had to start with… it was so very ordinary.”

So very ordinary are not words that most would use to describe Frost or his poetry, and I think I like it that way. I”m not certain that I”ll delve into the collections of his letters edited by Sheehy and colleagues, for fear that the man will be revealed as having been, after all, only an ordinary man of his generation with a gift for putting together words in a way that makes people feel.

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