New Hampshire, a Poem With Notes and Grace Notes

by Robert Frost. With Woodcuts by J. J. Lankes. New York: Henry Holt & Co. 1923. 12mo. x+113 pp. $2.50.
TIME was when a poet with so clearly American a quality as Robert Frost would have been hailed as a Yankee Vergil, Theocritus, Burns, or what you will. Now it may be said that an American is striking a note at once so truly indigenous and so unquestionably poetic that poets of other tongues and races may expect to be called the British, Celtic, or Latin Robert Frosts. This is hardly a statement which one would venture on the strength of a single book. But New Hampshire is the consistent culmination, up to the present time, of a series of books which give their author an entirely distinctive place in American letters. He is no less authentically himself in his own way than A. E. Housman is in his. He has made no profuse or sensational output. It has all possessed the beauty of an austere reality. It is modern in its idiom, without the ‘free’ extravagances of many contemporary makers of verse, and with the unspeakable advantage that its creator has something to say which, in feeling, thought, and mode of utterance, is abundantly worth saying.
The full title of this latest volume of Mr. Frost’s — New Hampshire, a Poem with Notes and Grace Notes — defines it admirably. ‘New Hampshire’ is the longest single poem in the book. As an expression of the essential American quality of rural inland New England, it may be regarded as a latter-day ‘Snow-Bound.’ Could its original projection have been made into the comparative vacuum of Whittier’s time — before Miss Jewett, Miss Wilkins, and other faithful delineators of New England folk had made their studies in this field &emdash it would have arrested an attention which no native poet commands to-day.
I knew a man who failing as a farmer
Burned down his farmhouse for the fire insurance
And spent the proceeds on a telescope
To satisfy a life-long curiosity
About our place among the infinities.
And how was that for other-worldliness?
These characteristic lines suggest the type of man and woman with whom the poet deals. With such persons and with the background of nature, especially in its more stern and wintry aspects, against which they are set, he goes on to concern himself. The ‘Notes’ which fill the central body of the book are New England eclogues, little narratives in the vein of his previous stories in verse, neither so grim as the grimmest of their predecessors, such as ‘A Servant to Servants,’ nor so broadly humorous as ‘Brown’s Ride.’ The ‘Grace Notes’ with which the volume ends are lyrics of life and nature so true and delicate in quality that they should be read and not described.
Intensely local as the book is, it conveys also a definite sense of the universal. So it is with any creative work which presents in forms of suitable beauty the essential truth of person and plane. It is by such writing that a country may best be judged. Therefore to foreign critics in particular Robert Frost may be commended as an illuminating antidote to our small-town novelists.