A Calendar of the Letters of Willa Cather

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To Robert FrostNovember 17, 1915, from Number Five Bank Street, New YorkDartmouth 

As one displeased with the poets of the Spoon River school, wishes to thank him for producing the only recent American poetry that has captured her interest. The emergence of his distinctive voice is an important event. Wishes she could enjoy all the poets listed by Mr. Bynner and Miss Rittenhouse, but if Ezra Pound and Mr. Masters can be called "poets," how can Frost be? Is embarrassed by her lack of interest in "new" poetry and by her tendency to mock it, so takes special pleasure in Frost's work, which, though "new," is rich with classic poetic elements.   Willa Sibert Cather 


To Robert FrostJanuary 20, [1916], from 1180 Murray Hill Avenue, PittsburghDartmouth 

Wishes she could be in New York for the Poetry Society banquet, but cannot. Regrets missing the opportunity to meet him and Mrs. [Elinor Miriam White] Frost. Wonders if he ever chanced to meet Miss Jewett. Has often thought, if she had lived to see them, that Frost's books would have been a great encouragement to her in a world full of poets like Witter Bynner and Phoebe Snow. Unfortunately, Frost's fellows in the Poetry Society are so wound up in the ideal of "free verse" that they can't distinguish a line by him from one published in a rural newspaper. They don't even know enough to dislike Florence Earle Coates or Ella Wheeler Wilcox. Many of the so-called "poets" seem to be so just to make Miss Rittenhouse happy. Thankfully, the success of junk only damages things in the short term. Fears that if she ever attended a meeting of the Poetry Society she would be unable to suppress her opinions, and begs Frost to keep them private. Since poetry needs publicity as much as anything else, perhaps the Rittenhouse crowd will actually help Frost somewhat. Anyhow, more subtle methods can still succeed. Has shown many of his poems to others, including "The Mountain," "Mowing," "Going for Water," and "The Tuft of Flowers," and no one needs to have them explained, nor has anyone's sensibility been altered because, in Mr. Masters's words, "the hammock fell/ Into [sic] the dust with Milton's poems [sic]" [from Masters's poem "Many Soldiers" in Spoon River Anthology]. Not everyone believes that is symbolic!   Willa S. Cather 


To Roscoe CatherMarch 2, [1908] on McClure's Magazine letterhead, from BostonUNL-Roscoe 

Has been in Boston since January and is now, after a couple of weeks with Mrs. Deland, back in the comfortable, old-fashioned Parker House. Has been seeing many remarkable people, including Winthrop Ames, an arts patron interested in Ibsen who has an air of ennui and the grandson of Otis [actually, Oliver] Ames. Listening to him talk, one thinks of that rocky monument to the Ames brothers on the mountain [near Laramie, Wyoming], and knows that they were not bothered with ennui. Oh, well, it is difficult being one of the first generation of sophisticates—think of the talk they heard about the Troll Garden. Is sailing for Naples with Isabelle on either April 8 on the Carpathia or on April 11 on the Freiderich der Grosse. Itinerary includes Naples, Capri, and Pompeii, Rome, a 300-mile walk along the Mediterranean from Monte Carlo to Marseilles, Arles, Avignon, and finally Paris. Seems odd to go to Rome after its long life in her imagination and education. One could say that Rome, London, and Paris were the three main cities in Nebraska. May or may not stop at London; has letters of introduction to Kipling, Maurice Hewlett, Barrie, and Conan Doyle, among others, but is more interested in places and ancient ruins than people right now. By comparison with Roman civilization, our own looks pretty shabby. The Roman civilization is still preserved in southern France, where people still live as in Virgil's Georgics. Has bought Roscoe several excellent pictures in Boston: Van Dyck's self-portrait, The Windmill (old Dutch), The Song of the Lark by Jules Breton, Wyeth's Calling the Moose and Indian Hunter, "The Dinkey Bird is Singing in the Amfalulu Tree" by Maxfield Parrish, and Remington's Caught in the Circle, all for $16.23, which Roscoe now owes her. Hopes he and Meta like them. If he doesn't appreciate the Van Dyck, she will be angry, as she has one and loves it. It was Jessie who thought he would like The Song of the Lark. Would have preferred to send older French and Dutch images herself, but thought he might prefer these moderns. Does he like The Queen's Quaire?   Willie 


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