Auctions | May 25, 2018

Newly Discovered Draft of Frost's "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening" at Bonhams

blobid6_1527248108353.pngThe definitive draft of Robert Frost’s poem Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening - one of the most famous and popular poems of the 20th century - is to be offered for sale at Bonhams Fine Books and Manuscripts sale in London on Wednesday 20 June.  It is estimated at £20,000-30,000.

It appears in a letter dated 28th January 1923 sent by Frost to his friend in England, Jack Haines. Frost wrote, “I shall be sending you some poetry in MS again before long", adding as an afterthought, "I believe I'll copy a bit here and now." The ‘bit’ turned out to be the final, four-verse, version of Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening word for word as it was subsequently published.

The only other surviving pre-publication draft of the poem consisted of three verses only. Frost added this fourth verse at the beginning to set the scene:

“Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.”

Bonhams Head of Fine Books Matthew Haley said: “Almost all of Frost’s correspondence is well documented, so it was a great surprise to discover this unpublished letter with Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening written out for the very first time, exactly as we know it today. The discovery allows us to date Frost’s composition of the extra verse and, therefore, the completed work.

“The addition of a new first verse rebalances the poem and creates a much more vivid picture than the three-verse version.  And, of course, the words “stopping… woods… snow” echo more fully the title of the poem. The work is wonderfully song-like, especially with the final repetition, and somehow thoroughly American in its mood of the lonely pioneer and the great American landscape.”

Haines and Frost met in early 1914 when the American poet, who had travelled to the UK in 1912 to restart his literary career, moved to Gloucestershire where Haines was a local solicitor. The two men became close and life-long friends. Haines, a poetry enthusiast, acted as the hub for a group of poets some of whom, including Frost, lived in the village of Dymock.  Among the other Dymock Poets, as they became known, were Rupert Brooke, Edward Thomas and John Drinkwater.

There are 30 letters from Frost to Haines in the sale, mainly written after Frost’s return to the USA in 1915. They are full of literary gossip and family news; his deep affection for Gloucestershire and the friends he left behind, the progress of his work and his growing fame. He also reflects on the devastation of the First World War, in which Brooke and Thomas died.

Of Brooke’s death in April 1915, Frost writes: ?I was struck sad for Rupert... how much the war had done to make him a better poet. The war saved him only to kill him.' The letter is dated 15 May 1915, and is estimated at £2,000-3,000.

The death of Edward Thomas hit Frost harder. Their friendship had been particularly intense. Frost’s first book of poetry, A Boy’s Will, was published in 1913, and was largely ignored until praised by Thomas - a prominent literary critic. In return, Frost encouraged Thomas to abandon literary journalism, which he found both stressful and demanding, and to embrace poetry.

Thomas was killed on 9 April 1917 on the first day of the Battle of Arras. Frost, who was later to describe Thomas as ‘the only brother I ever had’, wrote to Haines on 29 April, “I haven’t written for a long time because there was nothing to write except that I was sick at heart.’ The letter is estimated at £3,000-4,000.

The sale also features Edward Thomas’s newly discovered poetry notebook containing the only hand-written compositional drafts of his poems The Mountain Chapel and The Birds' Nests. It is estimated at £30,000-40,000.

Image: Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening by Robert Frost (right). Estimate: £20,000-30,000