Today marks the 141st anniversary of the birth of Robert Frost, Dartmouth Class of 1896. While Frost attended the College for just one term in 1892, he remembered those fall months vividly.
In a 1959 interview with Edward Connery Lathem, Class of 1951, Frost recalled a visit to Wilson Hall, which was Dartmouth’s library from 1885 to 1928. The new, fireproof building made out of red brick and sandstone contained reading rooms, an "Alumni Alcove" with books written by alumni, and more than 30,000 volumes on four levels of stacks.
As the 18-year-old perused the library’s holdings, he was struck by a publication spread out on a newspaper stick. He said, “Here was a magazine I had never heard of, but it had a whole front page of poetry—all the page, three columns… That made a big impression on me.”
In The Independent was Richard Hovey’s poem "Seaward." (Hovey was Class of 1885.) Frost said, "And I saw that poem there. As if I could see it today. That’s why I must have had, more than you’d know, more interest in such a thing: What is that meaning? What does a big serious poem mean? And then I turned over, found talk about it in an editorial. So it meant that I was beginning to think of being a writer, I suppose."
A few months after that visit, Frost wrote the poem, "My Butterfly." The following year, the poem was published in The Independent. It was Frost’s first poem printed in a national publication.
The recipient of two honorary degrees from Dartmouth, Frost served as a regular lecturer at the College beginning in the early 1940s. One of the last public talks he gave before his death was at the Hopkins Center for the Arts dedication in 1962, 70 years after he first arrived at College.
Throughout those years at Dartmouth, as the famous poet walked across campus, he would look at Wilson Hall and remember that it was there that he decided to share his poetry with the world.
"That arch there, I always think," Frost said in that 1959 interview, "that that’s a sort of a beginning for me of something that was going to happen that year."