Sunday 10 July 2022

Frost Tries to Disappear

 I'm reading (for review) a couple of new books on wetlands – marsh, fen, bog, swamp, mire, etc. In one of them I came across a tale from Robert Frost's early life that I don't remember hearing before – his youthful journey into the poetically named Great Dismal Swamp (a still large area of wetland that straddles Virginia and North Carolina). The young poet was suffering from a bad case of thwarted love, and his intention was apparently to disappear into the swamp and never come out again. His sweetheart, Elinor White, was at college in New York, where, he feared, she was in danger of forgetting about him and dallying with other men. To make sure of winning her heart, he travelled overnight from Massachusetts and turned up unannounced at her college, clutching one of two specially made copies of his first collection of verse and bearing the good news that one of his poems (the rather dreadful 'My Butterfly') had been accepted for publication. Elinor sent him packing, citing the college rules about male visitors, and Frost, heartbroken, tore up his copy of his poems and resolved to disappear, never to be seen or heard of again. Hence the journey to the Great Dismal Swamp. 
   Arriving by ship at Norfolk, Virginia, Frost walked out to the village of Deep Creek, then took the road into the heart of the swamp, walking by moonlight and taking to plank boardwalks when the road ran out. This was dangerous stuff, but the young poet survived unscathed and, by the time he saw a light – the light of a lock-keeper's cottage – he was ready to abandon his suicidal venture. He got a lift on a canal boat to the nearest town, and embarked on a three-week journey back to Massachusetts, some of it on freight trains in the company of hobos. From Baltimore, he wired his mother for the money to buy a ticket home. And the following year he married Elinor. They were together for 43 years.

No comments:

Post a Comment