A Boy's Will
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A Boy's Will is a poetry collection by Robert Frost. It is Frost's first commercially published book of poems.
Frost admitted that much of the book was autobiographical. As the proof sheets were printed in January 1913, he wrote the poems were "pretty near being the story of five years" of his life. Specifically, Frost noted that the first poem of the book, "Into My Own", expressed how he turned away from people and "Tuft of Flowers" showed how he "came back to them". In fact, some of the poems were written as early as two decades earlier. Frost was apparently pleased with the book and wrote to a friend shortly after its publication, "I expect to do something to the present state of literature in America."
Like much of Frost's work, the poems in A Boy's Will thematically associate with rural life, nature, philosophy, and individuality, while also alluding to earlier poets including Emily Dickinson, Thomas Hardy, William Shakespeare, and William Wordsworth. Despite the first section of poems having a theme of retreating from society, then, Frost does not retreat from his literary precursors and, instead, tries to find his place among them. The title of the book comes from the repeated lines in the poem "My Lost Youth" by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow: "A boy's will is the wind's will / And the thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts." Frost likely chose the title as a reflection of his own wayward early life.
Publication history and response
Most of the poems in A Boy's Will had never been published previously. While in England, Frost determined to have them collected and his manuscript was accepted by the first publisher he approached. The book was published by David Nutt of London in 1913, with a dedication to Frost's wife Elinor. Elinor had assisted in choosing the poems and arranging the order for publication. Following the success of North of Boston in 1914, Henry Holt and Company republished A Boy's Will in 1915. The New York Times said in a review, "In republishing his first book after his second, Mr. Robert Frost has undertaken the difficult task of competing with himself." The Holt edition was the first edition of the book published in the United States.
As it was being published, Frost met with fellow writer Ezra Pound, who insisted they immediately go to Nutt to see a copy of the book in print. Pound offered to write a review that day and soon introduced Frost to poet William Butler Yeats. Yeats said he considered A Boy's Will "the best poetry written in America in a long time." In his September 1913 review in the New Freeman, Pound noted: "The man has the good sense to speak naturally and to paint the thing, the thing as he sees it. And to do this is a very different matter from gunning about for the circumplectious polysyllable".
F. S. Flint was particularly pleased with the individual poem's using one specific theme each, allowing "direct observation of the object and immediate correlation with the emotion—spontaneity, subtlety in the evocation of moods, humor" and praised Frost's "ear for silences". Poet Richard Aldington would similarly praise Frost's "directness of treatment" and "simplicity of speech" in North of Boston. Lascelles Abercrombie, however, warned that the simplicity of Frost's language did not imply simplicity in his poetry and in A Boy's Will, he believed "the selection and arrangement of the substance do practically everything". William Morton Payne also noted there was further complexity within the seeming simplicity of the book, writing for The Dial in 1913, "A dream world of elusive shapes and tremulous imaginings is half revealed to our vision by the subdued lyrics which Mr. Robert Frost entitles 'A Boy's Will'." The youth of the author, however, was apparent to at least one anonymous critic who wrote in a September 20, 1913, review, "We do not need to be told that the poet is a young man: the dew and the ecstasy — the audacity, too — of pristine vision are here." Overall, the book was widely well-received and positively reviewed.
- Fagan, Deirdre. Critical Companion to Robert Frost: A Literary Reference to His Life and Work. New York: Facts on File, 2007: 52. ISBN 978-0-8160-6182-2
- Kendall, Tim. The Art of Robert Frost. Yale University Press, 2012: 13. ISBN 978-0-300-11813-1
- Kilcup, Karen L. Robert Frost and Feminine Literary Tradition. University of Michigan Press, 1998: 89. ISBN 0-472-10967-7
- Richardson, Mark. The Ordeal of Robert Frost: The Poet and His Poetics. University of Illinois Press, 1997: 105–106. ISBN 0-252-02338-2
- Parini, Jay. Robert Frost: A Life. New York: Henry Holt and Company, LLC, 1999: 119. ISBN 0-8050-6341-2
- Staff review (November 21, 1915). A Boy's Will. By Robert Frost (review) New York Times
- Parini, Jay. Robert Frost: A Life. New York: Henry Holt and Company, LLC, 1999: 127–128. ISBN 0-8050-6341-2
- Shuman, R. Baird Great American Writers: Twentieth Century. Marshall Cavendish, ISBN 9780761472407
- Hoffman, Tyler. Robert Frost and the Politics of Poetry. Hanover, NH: Middlebury College Press, 2001: 54. ISBN 1-58465-150-4
- Hoffman, Tyler. Robert Frost and the Politics of Poetry. Hanover, NH: Middlebury College Press, 2001: 53. ISBN 1-58465-150-4
- Hoffman, Tyler. Robert Frost and the Politics of Poetry. Hanover, NH: Middlebury College Press, 2001: 66. ISBN 1-58465-150-4
- Diepeveen, Leonard. The Difficulties of Modernism. New York: Routledge, 2003: 186. ISBN 0-415-94069-9
- Fagan, Deirdre. Critical Companion to Robert Frost: A Literary Reference to His Life and Work. New York: Facts on File, 2007: 53. ISBN 978-0-8160-6182-2
- Kendall, Tim. The Art of Robert Frost. Yale University Press, 2012: 14. ISBN 978-0-300-11813-1
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