Posted by: jeannineatkins | August 19, 2011

A Visit to The Robert Frost Farm

Peter and I recently spent two days near the New Hampshire coast, then drove back home by way of Derry, to see The Robert Frost Farm. Like the Frost Place in Franconia and the Stone House near Bennington, Vermont, which we visited earlier this year, this farmhouse was full of inspiration. Robert and Elinor Frost raised four children here from 1900 to 1911, on a farm his grandfather promised could be his if he stayed ten years. About forty poems were written at or inspired by the site, where he struggled for publication and tended chickens and peach and apple trees.



Our knowledgeable and enthusiastic guide brought us past the double privy, then the laundry room, and into the kitchen, where details had been overlooked by the oldest daughter, Lesley Frost Ballantine. There was a Glenwood stove and Royal Doulton china, which many neighbors considered an affectation – steel plates should be good enough. The old tree that reflected many moods as Frost looked from the kitchen table is gone, but a new one has been planted. 

Upstairs, we stood by a crib holding a small white nightgown that surely hadn’t been worn in a long, long time. Looking out toward the stairway, our guide spoke of Frost’s moving “Home Burial,” and the argument a bereaved couple have on the stairs. Neither Robert nor Elinor Frost may have ever fully recovered from the loss of a young son. There were two beds and two rooms for four children, and their daughter Lesley reported they shared by who was getting along with whom that day.  Apparently Robert Frost’s parents celebrated their Scottish ancestry and literature by reciting ballads or reading at his bedtime, a tradition he continued with his children. His work of choice was Macbeth. 

We stepped into the garret with slanting ceilings and saw the mattress on the floor. Here our guide spoke of “The Death of the Hired Man,” another poem that’s mostly dialogue, and which includes the line: “Home is the place where, when you have to go there,/They have to take you in.”

Frost said a scythe and a pen were his favorite tools.  Peter and I walked on a path through the woods and around the old hayfield. Here’s our rainy-day view toward the house, which looks much prettier than it did in the 1950s when the owners filled it with broken-down cars, calling it Frosty Acres Automobile Graveyard. I was so shocked by the photos I didn’t get the Frost reference until Peter pointed it out. I suppose some of those neighbors were still talking about his high-faulting dinnerware. His daughter asked the state of New Hampshire for help buying it back and restoring it, which they did. She did her part staying in a trailer and overseeing details such as locating wallpaper and making sure that the washboard in the laundry room was made of glass and not steel, just like the one her mother used.

Please visit Dori http://dorireads.blogspot.com/ for the Poetry Friday roundup!

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Responses

  1. “A scythe and a pen were his favorite tools.”
    Marvelous, on so many levels. Thanks for the tour–and this food for thought. I’ll be reflecting on this all day… 🙂

  2. Beautiful pictures. And even more beautiful words. Thanks for these snapshots, Jeannine.
    Choosing which sibling to sleep with must have made bedtime a little fraught. But maybe the chills of Macbeth were a distraction?

  3. Another Frost residence we must visit someday. Thanks for the photos and commentary!

  4. Yes, which is today, the scythe or the pen? And is that scythe over paper? So glad you enjoyed the tour. Wish I could whisk over the scent of wet meadow.

  5. Thanks, Amy. Perhaps after ghosts, witches, and murder, all four sometimes wanted to share a bed!
    It was so nice that their child could help rid the old meadow of cars, search for ways to make the old house much as it was — knife marks still in the soapstone sink — and have late in life it seems more happy memories than not. In the barn/welcome center we got to see a video of her talking, and Robert Frost reading some poems, and both charmed me.

  6. Yes, it’s not so far from Franconia, and in summer the hours are good. But you’ve made me want to get back to The Frost Place in Franconia, and get one of those Frost sandwiches at Wendie’s Deli. http://jamarattigan.com/2011/08/16/lunch-in-franconia/ Philosophy and good food.

  7. I’m still mulling over Frosty Acres Automobile Graveyard! We visited Stone House last summer, and it was quite an experience to wander through those rooms and fields. I loved that you included the line: “Home is the place where, when you have to go there,/They have to take you in.” My father used to say that years and years ago when we’d had a spat and I was getting set to storm out. Funny how certain lines evoke such strong memories. Your pictures were lovely – misty and otherworldly, somehow.

  8. Thanks re the photos on a rainy day. I took the top one, my husband the others.
    Rooms and lines with their memories. I loved your blog post today, hearing that you also got to stand in Vincent van Gogh’s room in Auvers-sur-Olse. I just read that he painted at least one painting a day during the last 70 days of his life. I’ve only looked through a bit, but recommend Van Gogh in Auvers: His Last Days, Wouter Van Der Veen.

  9. How beautiful. Thank you for taking us with you!

  10. All this beauty and inspiration, yet what I’m hung up on is the double privy! Now that’s high living. 🙂

  11. One more gorgeous part of New Hampshire.Thanks, Cindy.

  12. I always love the intimate details you include, Jeannine. Your perspective makes me think you and Frost were friends. And I got hung up on this: where he struggled for publication and tended chickens and peach and apple trees. I tend to forgot those masters we treasure went through the same struggles we do.

  13. Thank you. There is something about going through a writer’s house that makes you feel, at least briefly, on intimate terms. And hearing some of those lasting words in a lasting house.
    I believe Frost wrote for twenty years before getting his first book published, which is indeed so hard to remember. You think “Robert Frost” and you think of words almost eternal, as if meant to be. But it was many years, and lots of chicken feeding and mowing hay, before he got there.

  14. Irene, the double privy, now painted a pale sky blue, was my husband’s favorite part. You can see a picture on his blog: http://plairdblog.blogspot.com/2011/08/quick-trip-to-seacoast-and-seeing-last.html

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  16. Interesting bed-time reading – Macbeth. Would have given me the willies and kept me up.
    Lovely post.
    Sarah Lamstein

  17. Sarah, thank you for stopping by! Yes, lots of willies. Of course Mother Goose, which Frost often mentioned as a vital intro to poetry, can be harrowing, too. But one definitely gets the sense that things weren’t peaceful as hens in a roost in this house, or not a lot of the time. Of course even Charlotte’s Web with its hymn to farms starts out with “Where’s Pa going with that ax?.”

  18. I have adored Frost since I attended Robert Frost Intermediate (7th and 8th grades). I even stole a book of his poetry from the library, I wanted it so bad. I memorized “Nothing Gold Can Stay” and other poems. I have the 4-volume biography.
    But I never got to visit his home, until now. Thanks, Jeannine.

  19. Thanks, Candice. A school named after a poet is much more appropriate than an auto graveyard. I didn’t realize there was a 4 volume biography. That is a commitment. I like learning bits of his life scattershot.


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