In 1918, Robert Frost wrote a poem titled “War Thoughts at Home” shortly after the death of his friend, Edward Thomas, a fellow poet killed in World War I. Frost wrote the tribute on the flyleaf and cover page of a book of his poetry, North of Boston, the copy of which belonged to Frederick Melcher, a noted bookseller, editor and publisher. For the next 88 years, the 35-line poem remained unseen by the world.
The poem was discovered by UVA graduate student Robert Stilling while exploring a collection of Melcher’s books and letters recently purchased by the University’s Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library.
The poem tells the story of a woman, whom Stilling believes to be the widow of Edward Thomas, at home during World War I.
“Frost was trying to get inside, or show, or portray those left at home, and it draws attention that the war doesn’t just exist over in France,” Stilling told CBS News. “For us now, those absences resonate—and the absences that are too hard to think about, especially with a war going on. ... Here’s someone thinking about conflict—the larger issues of conflict, human conflict.”
The discovery was made possible by the confluence of the library’s focus on Frost’s work and an acquisitive mindset. “The Frost collection here is recognized as one of the most substantial in the world,” says Michael Plunkett, emeritus director of UVA’s Special Collections Library. Frost himself attended the 1960 dedication of the reading room that housed the University’s Clifton Waller Barrett Library of American Literature.
“We are actively looking for material,” Christian Dupont, director of the Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library, said of the library’s efforts to add to its collections. “We are always asking, ‘what should we be collecting?’ Because if we don’t do our jobs well, history is lost.”
“War Thoughts at Home” was published in the fall issue of the Virginia Quarterly Review, which also includes critical essays by Glyn Maxwell, poetry editor of the New Republic; and Stilling, a doctoral candidate in English. The appearance of the poem in the VQR is a homecoming of sorts—the literary magazine published 11 Frost poems between 1928 and 1946.
The book with the inscribed poem is on display at the Special Collections Library through March 2007.