Word for Word: My night in Robert Frost’s room

Clapboard home: the poet Robert Frost. Photograph: Eric Schaal//Time Life Pictures/Getty Images

Clapboard home: the poet Robert Frost. Photograph: Eric Schaal//Time Life Pictures/Getty Images

Fri, Sep 20, 2013, 17:51

At Robert Frost’s old home in Franconia, New Hampshire, there was a skunk under the deck, deer in the garden, and bears in the forest. I could see the black and white body of the skunk snuffling under the gaps in the timber. I could see the deers grazing in the early morning. I couldn’t see the bears that lived in the yellow wood behind the house where two roads diverged, and which inspired one of Frost’s most famous poems, but in a way I was quite glad about that.

Frost lived in this simple clapboard house from 1915 to 1920, with his wife, Elinor, and their children, at a time in his life when his work was finally being recognised. It was here that he wrote some of his best-known poems, including The Road Not Taken and Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening . In 1976, the people of Franconia bought the house, and created a small museum in honour of Frost, and a centre for poetry.

What took me there in May 1991 was a month-long Frost Fellowship I’d been awarded after my first book of poems, Muscle Creek , was published. I’d never been to the US before. At Franconia, I stepped off the bus from Boston into deep silence, views out over the White Mountains, and a residency in a museum. It was not a typical first night in the US.

The arrangement was that I had an account at the local (and only) grocery store to buy my provisions, and an old bike to get there and back from the house, which was some three miles outside the village. My simple accommodation was a couple of rooms in the downstairs part of the museum, all of which was mine to wander through freely.

Nothing was locked. I opened cabinets to carefully examine signed first editions. There was a piece of wood in one cabinet that Frost had liked to write on, placing it between the arms of his favourite armchair as a lapboard. I took this out on to the deck, put it between the arms of the deckchair there, and wrote my diary on it each evening.

I had brought Frost’s Selected Poems with me, and read my way through it as the weeks progressed. At night there alone, the unfamilar sounds of a wooden house seemed louder. The ancient boiler roared in the huge, unlit basement, a place I was too intimidated to explore.

One night, I read Frost’s gripping supernatural poem The Witch of Coos , which is about noises in the cellar, made by the bones of a skeleton, “put together / Not like a man, but like a chandelier”. The unseen boiler rattled with sinister ferocity.

On my final night, I was driven shrieking from my downstairs bedroom, not by a skeleton but by a mouse. I grabbed the covers and ran upstairs. There was nowhere else to sleep, and so I spent that last, memorable night in the museum section of the house; in the iron bed of Robert Frost’s bedroom.

Rosita Boland is an Irish Times journalist