Flicking through Penelope Brandage’s recent biography of Robert Frost (‘Frost on the Lobelias’, Random House, 2017) was surprised to discover the seminal poem ‘Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening’, previously considered ‘finished’ in 1922 (and published in the volume New Hampshire, 1923), was actually the product of an earlier draft composed during a visit to Woodchuck Lodge, the summer residence of John Burroughs, shortly before the conservationist’s death in 1921.
Exhaustive research by Ms Brandage within the archives of the Burroughs Foundation has turned up a previously unrecorded letter from the poet to Burroughs’ young wife Clara Barrus, composed shortly after his stay at their Catskills home. Whilst primarily focussed on a number of rambles undertaken together in the hills above Roxbury, during which Robert and Clara ‘delved headwaters of the Beaverkill, through slavering crack and crevice furred’, the latter portion reflects upon the arduous journey Frost was compelled to endure following his weekend sojourn; to New York City, and a reading by the Dymock Poets (Ezra Pound, Edward Thomas, T.E. Hulme) at The Town Hall on 43rd Street. The deflating effect of several hours on the road stands in stark contrast to the poet’s eulogizing of his hostess’s ‘dumpling bosom, fresh briar-baked’, and the letter finishes with a short poem in postscript, clearly a draft of Frost’s later masterpiece. Once again, it seems, the life of the Catskill Mountains reveals itself to be the wellspring of creative genius.
Whose Subaru is this, we sing,
Parked up here by the Burger King?
He will not see us stopping here
For Whopper Meal and Poland Spring.
We’re driving with some prancing queer
From Williamsburg or somewhere near
Who didn’t want to take the bus
And drank our farmhouse dry of beer.
The dog found something in the grass
Which now is belching from its ass.
The kids are bored to fucking tears
Of Sarah Vowell and Ira Glass.
The car smells like a cheese fondue.
But I have loads of shit to do,
And miles to go before I poo,
And miles to go before I poo.
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