Tuesday, March 5, 2013

One more setting, the one I haven't visited - Franconia, New Hampshire, USA

Well, I won't be the first - I remember the novel by Stef Penney, 'The Tenderness of Wolves' set in a bitter Canadian winter  so powerful it was  almost a character in the novel: people were rather amazed to find that she'd done all the research online. I think that's perfectly fair. What would not be fair would be to use someone else's work of fiction for the same purpose - facts and images, yes, someone else's fictional use of their work, no.

It was very much helped for me that the farmhouse Robert Frost bought in June 1915 still stands. It is now called  The Frost Place and is a museum and centre for poetry and Frost Studies.

Genuine or not, this image appears everywhere
There are so many images of it it's hard to choose - do have a look at their website, http://frostplace.org

Photo-Jeannine Atkins'journal

I'm inclined to think, though,  that you gain most from visiting writers' locations by looking at the view from their windows, or in this case, the porch. That's certainly what they would have spent a great deal of time doing.

An extract from the novel:
'In July the Frosts moved in to the farm. Robert and Elinor were ready to meet the removers who brought their long-stored goods on a wagon. All their old possessions from the Derry farm piled higgledy-piggledy in the kitchen, and the men clumping about heavily upstairs could not spoil their elation. Elinor did become thoughtful as she looked out of the kitchen window: how well she would come to know that view, those tall weeds where the kitchen water was thrown out, over the years ahead. Many years maybe, even though they were not so young and all their long past years were piled up there, in the chaos of the kitchen at her back.
‘My, am I glad to have a home of my own again,’ Elinor said.
‘Yes, and such freedom – our own birch woods. No one to tell us what we can and can’t do, where we can and can’t go. I couldn’t have taken that one moment longer. But we had some good times in England, didn’t we, Elly?’
‘Well, some, I guess.’
‘And it’s turned out for the best, you must admit that.’
‘I know.’
A few days later they moved in with the children, the younger three running off together to the Hyla brook. Lesley climbed Ore Hill and after a while ran down towards them.
‘I’ve found a great crop of blueberries all round the wood over there – do come see.’
So they picked blueberries, they fixed up the house and swam in the brook that hot summer. Robert and the children went back to playing baseball. It was Carol, at fourteen, who was to work the farm: Robert believed that a son must earn his father’s love but his mother’s is rightly there for free.
Robert himself began to be busy with writing, organising his work and with Poetry Society matters. The little post-office at Franconia, where their mail was retained for them, had never known such mail as arrived daily for Mr Robert Frost.
But Elinor was not wholly content for long.
Robert would sit out on the white-painted porch, gazing into the autumn morning. He liked to see the mist clear and the mountains take up their true shapes while the last shreds of mist remained only in the deepest valleys.
‘He’s watching the dragon come out of the Notch,’ the children said. It was the Franconia Notch, the saddle of the mountain facing them. He had always believed that you could not get too much winter in winter, something he’d missed in England. He was beginning to wonder, though. Would they pay for their mountain view with too harsh and bitter weather? Would his plan for orchards fail? One late frost would kill the early blossom. '
Robert both composed new poems and revised  for publication the work he had done in England.  He published Mountain Interval in 1916. It contains many of his best known shorter poems. The Exposed Nest, Locked Out, the Sound of Trees and Putting in the Seed are all Leddington and Ryton work. The 'tricky' Road Less Travelled is part of the collection, and Out, Out, The Hill Wife, The Oven Bird.

  •                                       Published Henry Holt, 1916

    The Frost Copyright has to be respected but I am sure these poems, over 75 years old, are out of copyright. Here is ' Birches' which I think is Franconia inspired.
    When I see birches bend to left and right
    Across the lines of straighter darker trees,
    I like to think some boy's been swinging them.
    But swinging doesn't bend them down to stay
    As ice-storms do. Often you must have seen them
    Loaded with ice a sunny winter morning
    After a rain. They click upon themselves
    As the breeze rises, and turn many-colored
    As the stir cracks and crazes their enamel.
    Soon the sun's warmth makes them shed crystal shells
    Shattering and avalanching on the snow-crust—
    Such heaps of broken glass to sweep away
    You'd think the inner dome of heaven had fallen.
    They are dragged to the withered bracken by the load,
    And they seem not to break; though once they are bowed
    So low for long, they never right themselves:
    You may see their trunks arching in the woods
    Years afterwards, trailing their leaves on the ground
    Like girls on hands and knees that throw their hair
    Before them over their heads to dry in the sun.
    But I was going to say when Truth broke in
    With all her matter-of-fact about the ice-storm
    I should prefer to have some boy bend them
    As he went out and in to fetch the cows—
    Some boy too far from town to learn baseball,
    Whose only play was what he found himself,
    Summer or winter, and could play alone.
    One by one he subdued his father's trees
    By riding them down over and over again
    Until he took the stiffness out of them,
    And not one but hung limp, not one was left
    For him to conquer. He learned all there was
    To learn about not launching out too soon
    And so not carrying the tree away
    Clear to the ground. He always kept his poise
    To the top branches, climbing carefully
    With the same pains you use to fill a cup
    Up to the brim, and even above the brim.
    Then he flung outward, feet first, with a swish,
    Kicking his way down through the air to the ground.
    So was I once myself a swinger of birches.
    And so I dream of going back to be.
    It's when I'm weary of considerations,
    And life is too much like a pathless wood
    Where your face burns and tickles with the cobwebs
    Broken across it, and one eye is weeping
    From a twig's having lashed across it open.
    I'd like to get away from earth awhile
    And then come back to it and begin over.
    May no fate willfully misunderstand me
    And half grant what I wish and snatch me away
    Not to return. Earth's the right place for love:
    I don't know where it's likely to go better.
    I'd like to go by climbing a birch tree,
    And climb black branches up a snow-white trunk
    Toward heaven, till the tree could bear no more,
    But dipped its top and set me down again.
    That would be good both going and coming back.
    One could do worse than be a swinger of birches.

    Has anyone been to the Frost Place? It would be so interesting to have comments from you.

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