Tuesday, November 6, 2018

First Frost

“This is the very first I ever had published …” reads Robert Frost’s words penned atop this newspaper. On November 8, 1894, The Independent, a New York newspaper which ran from 1848-1921, became the first professional publisher to feature poetry by Robert L. Frost.

However, The Independent was not the first to print Frost’s poetry, or even “My Butterfly.” Frost worked with a printer in Lawrence, Massachusetts to self-publish two copies of a collection he called Twilight, one for himself and one gifted to his future wife, Elinor. Only Elinor’s copy of Twilight survives today –  after personally delivering Elinor’s copy to her at St. Lawrence College and perceiving rejection, Frost destroyed his copy.

While Elinor's copy of Twilight is housed in special collections at the University of Virginia, Dartmouth’s Rauner Alumni Collection features an original copy of the Independent, issue number 2397. This particular copy features a brief note penned by Frost dedicated to one Earle Bernheimer. Bernheimer, it turns out, was a patron of Frost who supported him financially in exchange for bits of writing from the poet. Their letters suggest that, at least for Frost, the relationship was more business than friendship, and that he got Bernheimer to progressively pay him more and more for less and less. Ultimately, Bernheimer had to sell his collection of Frost’s works during a divorce settlement. It is quite possible that this piece was part of that very collection.

The poem, “My Butterfly” itself was written by Frost at eighteen and was also featured in his first commercially published book of poems A Boy’s Will. Another thing that stands out about the poem is its use of poeticisms – formalistic flairs like thee, tis, and o’er – which slowly fled Frost’s work as he progressed as a poet. On January 30, 1895 Frost composed a letter concerning “My Butterfly” to Susan Hayes Ward, an editor for The Independent, “If it is seriously I must speak, I undertake a future. I cannot believe that poem was merely a chance. I will surpass it.”

The rest of Frost's inscription quoted above is "...unless you count the three or four I had in the Lawrence High School Bulletin when I was at school." We have one of those, too. To see "My Butterfly" ask for Alumni F9296my; to see the Bulletin, ask for Frost LH1 L285 H54 1892.

Posted for Bradford Stone '19.

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