Frost, friendship, and a longing for poetic simplicity
There is no shortage of peaceful places at the Robert Frost Farm in Derry. (Courtesy of Stephanie White Ferland)
The Granite State claims the beloved poet Robert Frost as its own, and with one of his collections actually titled “New Hampshire,” it seems perfectly appropriate to do so. For those of us raised here, Frost became part of the fabric of our education, and many of us probably still carry visions of stone walls, bending birches, or harness bells. We contemplate what it might be like to spend the day in his world, wondering if poetry lingers in the air waiting to be captured by our own imaginations and carefully crafted into language.
In addition to being a staple of school English classes, Frost won the Pulitzer four times, was Vermont’s first poet laureate, and recited his “The Gift Outright” at the inauguration of John F. Kennedy. But, to me he will always be an artist who managed to braid the beauty of nature, and the simultaneous joy and despair of simple living, into a plait of words and share them with the world, including a couple of junior high kids who have held on tight to them ever since.
My friend Anne-Marie and I met in kindergarten, and we’ve been talking about visiting the Robert Frost Farm since junior high, when Mrs. Kendall assigned us “Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening.” But, as is so often the case, time swept the years by in a blink, and we never quite got around to making our way to the old farmhouse and fields in Derry. Until late this summer that is, when we finally found ourselves in the middle of his world. And, what a beautiful – and peaceful – world it is.
I wasn’t surprised that the trails and streams soothed me, but it was the old farmhouse that occupied my thoughts for days afterward. I kept returning to the curious sense of calm that wrapped itself around me there. I pondered the power of the physical space to act as a sedative of sorts, especially when I tend to live in a constant state of mild anxiety. I concluded that it was a combination of things.
While the writer in me felt something of a kinship with the spirit of Frost, I was also enchanted by the simplicity of the home itself. The things that were there, and the things that were not. The cast iron cookstove, the collection of books, the simple pantry, the soapstone sink, the Morris chair, and the handmade quilts all made me forget for a moment about the modern day conveniences that were missing: three remote controls for one television, an iPhone charger, a laptop computer, and a countertop full of electric appliances for specific culinary needs.
I am not saying I want to forgo indoor plumbing and the comfort of an electric fan on a summer night, but I long for that peaceful feeling. And I will admit I’ve spent some time thinking about how to get it back since I left the farm, and what I might be willing to give up to do so.
In the meantime, my thoughts keep returning to the poet’s old home and its place in our modern moment.
Between Frost’s sale of the farm in 1911 and its current life as a National Historic Site, it had been many things, including an auto graveyard. But, thanks to efforts in the 1970s by Frost’s eldest daughter, Lesley, and a group of trustees, it was meticulously restored and the property as Frost knew it has been brought back to life. As a result of Lesley’’s eye for detail, and insistence that everything resemble life exactly as she knew it as a child, it is truly like walking back in time and one almost expects Robert or his wife, Elinor, to come through the door with a basket of eggs or an apron full of apples.
Could I manage something so peaceful for myself someday? Would it be possible to simplify my life to the point of the bare necessities and a few modern conveniences? How can I begin to lay the groundwork for building such a life, and how much of my current life would I have to deconstruct to do so?
I left the Frost farm feeling a little sad it had taken me and Anne-Marie decades to make our way there. But, I also thought a lot about how we sometimes find people, or arrive at places, exactly when we need them most. Who’s to say that I would have appreciated Frost’s story as much, or found the same degree of solace inside his home, if we had made the trip as teenagers, or even in early adulthood.
And perhaps now, in a world where technology constantly distracts us from being present in the moment, is when I need the reminder of simplicity and the centering of thought – and poetry – most of all.
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