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Robert Frost's Dartmouth Lectures Published

Robert Frost’s private talks with Dartmouth students will be published for the first time, beginning with the printing of the Oct. 23, 1947, lecture, “Sometimes It Seems as If,” in the February issue of Literary Imagination. The lecture was part of the Great Issues course on current events, which was mandatory for seniors from 1947 until 1966.

Frost with students in library
Robert Frost meets with students in Baker Library’s Treasure Room in 1947. (Photo: Dartmouth College Library)

Online and in print, the world will have new access to this lecture plus others from the 40s, 50s, and 60s, thanks to the work of James Sitar ’01, who first discovered the phonotapes in Rauner Special Collections Library as an undergraduate. Sitar spent much of the past eight years organizing and transcribing the material.

In his introduction to the published transcript, Sitar notes that Frost was especially open at Dartmouth, where he matriculated as a member of the Class of 1896. “There he had a loyal audience of students, locals, and good friends, and he felt comfortable enough to speak from his gut,” Sitar wrote.  Though in the 1947 lecture Frost’s main topic was poetry, and poets, the talk was filled with asides, personal anecdotes, regional references, and students’ laughter.

Frost picture from cover
Robert Frost

Nuggets of intriguing information can be found throughout the transcript, such as Frost’s admission that he doesn’t often use the word beauty “because I got sort of a fear of it, I think,” and his description of the poem “A Drumlin Woodchuck,” as “my most Vermontly poem.” He also noted that Ezra Pound objected to the word “tessellation” in Frost’s poem  “The Ingenuities of Debt.”

College Archivist Peter Carini, who helped Sitar with some aspects of the project, credits the Dartmouth alumnus for turning an excellent idea into a reality. “Frost had an eclectic style of speaking, and he didn’t take a straight line,” he says. “Transcribing it and making sense of it all is a significant piece of work.”

A story about these newly accessible Dartmouth lectures by Frost, who received the Pulitzer Prize four times and is perhaps America’s most famous poet, was featured in over 40 newspapers and/or their Web sites on Feb. 25. “It’s incredible how much interest there’s been,” says Carini.

By STEVEN J. SMITH

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Last Updated: 12/17/08