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The poetic play I didn't write


Robert Frost
Richard Wilbur Poet
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I was aware of Robert Frost when we lived in Cambridge from the very first moment because... in fact the poet whom I had first heard read his poems was Frost. I'd heard him read in Montclair, New Jersey ages before, and he was certainly one of my favourite poets from the beginning. That he was there in Cambridge seemed a great wonder to me, and I was very happy when we came in one way or another to know him.

Now, we had a special entrée with him. My wife, Charlee, came of, of the Ward family and William Hayes Ward, her grandfather, had been the first person to publish a poem of Robert Frost's. He'd published in his magazine, The Independent, he'd published Frost's poem My Butterfly and his sister was also a great advocate of Robert Frost, someone to whom he took his poems very often and whom he always described to the end of his days 'the first friend of my poetry'. Charlee being descended from such people, Frost was, was glad to, glad to see us, and I think he also was glad to see me because I had so much of his poems... so many of his poems by heart. No poet really minds hearing his poems talked back to him by someone who's memorized them. And so we saw quite a bit of Frost in our Cambridge days.

When I stayed on at Harvard and began to teach there, I taught a course in modern poetry in which, to be sure, I taught several days of Robert Frost. And there he was living on Riedesel Street in Cambridge and not coming to my class, but somehow at that distance he knew what I was saying about him. I think he had spies. If I said something rash about one of his poems in my class, he would send word to me that I was wrong about that. Well, that was our  first acquaintance with Frost, but we came often to see him in later years at Breadloaf or in our houses here or there, and, needless to say, he was the greatest all-night talker that ever was and we loved to sit around and prime his conversation.

Acclaimed US poet Richard Wilbur (1921-2017) published many books and was twice awarded the Pulitzer Prize. He was less well known for creating a musical version of Voltaire's “Candide” with Bernstein and Hellman which is still produced throughout the world today.

Listeners: David Sofield

David Sofield is the Samuel Williston Professor of English at Amherst College, where he has taught the reading and writing of poetry since 1965. He is the co-editor and a contributor to Under Criticism (1998) and the author of a book of poems, Light Disguise (2003).

Tags: Cambridge University, New Jersey, The Independent, My Butterfly, Harvard University, Robert Frost, William Hayes Ward

Duration: 3 minutes, 36 seconds

Date story recorded: April 2005

Date story went live: 24 January 2008