David Sanders opens ‘Sundays with Robert Frost' lecture series


SHAFTSBURY -- The Robert Frost Stone House Museum kicked off its "Sunday Afternoons with Robert Frost" series on Sunday with a talk from Frost scholar and author David Sanders.

Sanders' program, which he calls "Frost's Lyric Constellations," showed how three poems from Frost's second published collection "North of Boston" frame the changes taking place in rural New England during that time period. The book, published in 1915 and written primarily in England in 1913, is rooted in the time Frost spent in Derry, New Hampshire from 1900-1910, according to Sanders.

"Like the New England bedrock," said Sanders, "exposed in some places, covered in others, this story of economic decline touches the book's characters in different ways, compounding the perennial problems of long winters and poor soil, of aging, illness, and death."

A 15-poem volume, "North of Boston," starts with "Mending Wall," a poem about two neighbors meeting in the spring to fix the stone wall that runs along their property lines. "Mending Wall," along with "After Apple-Picking" and "The Wood-Pile," forms the structure of the book. "After Apple-Picking" takes place at the end of apple season in the late fall, and appears in the middle of the book, and "The Wood-Pile," the last poem in the volume, takes place in the "the dead of winter," said Sanders.

"Individually," said Sanders, "They are three of Frost's greatest poems, and when placed at the beginning, middle, and end of the book, they are far more. Not only do they provide three instances of intense, personal witness to the problem of human survival in a world of change, [they celebrate] three signature tasks of New England culture, and speaking in turn of spring, fall, and winter, these three poems trace the annual cycle from a winter-damaged wall repaired each spring to an abandoned woodpile decaying in a frozen swamp. In doing so, they outline the book's pervasive ‘drama of disappearance,' the underlying story of a traditional rural culture in retreat befroe natural forces and a growing capital economy."

After explaining the background of the works, Sanders read each of the poems in turn, after each pausing to ask for audience participation and to discuss the many-layered symbolism that Frost employs. After reading "Mending Wall," Sanders and the audience explored the meanings of the wall itself. One audience member spoke about the artificial and arbitrary nature of the wall, while another compared the wall to the emotional barriers put up between people. A third mentioned how important stone walls are for marking property lines. "I think Frost is reminding us, as human beings, that we can't live without barriers, and we can't live without connections," said Sanders.

The next lecture in the series will take place on July 13, and will feature Dr. Mark Miller, English professor at the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, speaking about reactions his students have had throughout his 30 years of teaching Frost's poem, "The Oven Bird." On August 3, Dr. Donald Sheehy, who teaches English at Edinboro University of Pennsylvania and edited the Letters of Robert Frost, will share reflections from his time working on the Letters. Finally, on September 14, Carole Thompson, president of the Friends of Robert Frost and founder and director of the Stone House Museum, will speak on "The Personal Side of Robert Frost." All the talks take place in the property's "Little Red Barn" and begin at 2 p.m.

Sanders, who last spoke in front of the museum in 2012, said at the start of the lecture, "I don't think I've had a better time than when I was here two years ago. It's great to see such an interest in poetry, that people are willing to come in out of the sun!"

Derek Carson can be reached for comment at dcarson@benningtonbanner.com. Follow him on Twitter @DerekCarsonBB


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