Biography of Robert Francis
Robert Francis, born in Upland, Pennsylvania in 1901. He was educated at Harvard University. After graduating, he moved into a small house in Amherst, Massachusetts that he named "Fort Juniper", inspiring editors at the University of Massachusetts Press to name their poetry award the Juniper Prize. His autobiography, The Trouble with Francis (1971), recounts in alarming detail the construction of this retreat, even including a ledger of materials and their cost down to the last nail, as though the poet were driven to prove his frugality.
In The Satirical Rogue On Poetry, his curious collection of witticisms, criticisms and aphorisms, Francis included a short essay called "Poetry and Poverty." Here he cited the poet, Robert Herrick, whose cottage garden provided sufficiency for a modest board: "Or pea, or bean, or wort, or beet, Whatever comes, content makes sweet." From his own experience Francis proposed that "a young poet just out of college and not yet married might consider a Herrick sort of life for a few years. Like Herrick he could grow the pea, the bean, the wort, the beet, and like Herrick, he could keep a hen. Rough clothes, old clothes, would be fine. A good half the day or half the year he could have clear for himself and his poetry. Even if he didn’t wholly like such a life, it might be better than going hungry in New York or Paris. He could always move to the city whenever his income permitted…. He might, of course, like it. He might decide to stay on. Healthy, solvent, and independent, he might find cottage life good for him, and being good for him, good for his poetry as well." He was sixty-seven when Satirical Rogue appeared in 1968. He lived another nineteen years, long enough to see his collected poems in print, and to produce a final slender volume, Late Fire, Late Snow, which contains several of his finest lyrics.
During his writing career, Francis served as Phi Beta Kappa poet at both Tufts and Harvard. A world traveler, he often journeyed to Europe, at one time teaching at the American University in Beirut, Lebanon.
Francis' poems are widely varied in form and subject, though a kind tone permeates much of his work. His first collection of poetry, Stand with Me Here (1936) was followed by nine other volumes, including The Orb Weaver (Wesleyan University Press). His complete poetic texts can be found in Collected Poems: 1936-1976 (1976). Prolific in many genres, Francis also produced a novel, We Fly Away (1948), and essays. In 1957, he received the Rome Prize of the American Academy of Arts and Letters.
Robert Francis died in July, 1987
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Robert Francis Poems
Winter uses all the blues there are. One shade of blue for water, one for ice, Another blue for shadows over snow. The clear or cloudy sky uses blue twice-
Keep me from going to sleep too soon Or if I go to sleep too soon Come wake me up. Come any hour Of night. Come whistling up the road.
Farm Boy After Summer
A seated statue of himself he seems. A bronze slowness becomes him. Patently The page he contemplates he doesn't see.
Paper Men To Air Hopes And Fears
The first speaker said Fear fire. Fear furnaces Incinerators, the city dump The faint scratch of a match.
Two boys uncoached are tossing a poem together, Overhand, underhand, backhand, sleight of hand, everyhand, Teasing with attitudes, latitudes, interludes, altitudes, High, make him fly off the ground for it, low, make him stoop,
The winter apples have been picked, the garden turned. Rain and wind have picked the maple leaves and gone. The last of them now bank the house or have been burned. None are left upon the trees or on the lawn.
backroad leafmold stonewall chipmunk underbrush grapevine woodchuck shadblow woodsmoke cowbarn honeysuckle woodpile
Bull by day And dozes by night. Would that the bulldozer
Four Tao philosophers as cedar waxwings chat on a February berry bush in sun, and I am one.
From where I stand the sheep stand still As stones against the stony hill. The stones are gray
Words of a poem should be glass But glass so simple-subtle its shape Is nothing but the shape of what it holds.
Hallelujah: A Sestina
A wind's word, the Hebrew Hallelujah. I wonder they never gave it to a boy (Hal for short) boy with wind-wild hair. It means Praise God, as well it should since praise
This little house sows the degrees By which wood can return to trees. Weather has stained the shingles dark
On A Theme By Frost
Amherst never had a witch O Coos or of Grafton But once upon a time
Hallelujah: A Sestina
A wind's word, the Hebrew Hallelujah.
I wonder they never gave it to a boy
(Hal for short) boy with wind-wild hair.
It means Praise God, as well it should since praise
Is what God's for. Why didn't they call my father
Hallelujah instead of Ebenezer?
Eben, of course, but christened Ebenezer,
Product of Nova Scotia (hallelujah).