Singularities

New Hampshire’s most celebrated poet wrote those lines in one of his lesser-known poems, appropriately titled “New Hampshire.” I say “lesser known” but not unappreciated. The book (by the same name) that contained it won Frost his first of four Pulitzer Prizes, but the sheer mass of words and the rambling narrative in the poem make it a challenging read. It’s a worthwhile challenge though. Since I found this nugget, I’ve repeated it frequently over the years.

And while much has changed since the poem was published in 1923, and even since I first read it as an aspiring editor 20 years or so ago trying to better understand the state, it still rings pretty true.

Sure, we have mountains, but the crown jewel of our range is singular: Mt. Washington. Yes, we have cities, but Manchester fulfills our requirement of a gritty, bustling urban environment. Celebrities? Well, we have a few names we could mention, but every time we’ve polled our readers they agree on our “official” one: Adam Sandler. Presidents? We’ve had exactly one nonfictional president: Franklin Pierce.

“She had one Daniel Webster,” Frost wrote in the poem, “all the Daniel Webster ever was or shall be. She had the Dartmouth needed to produce him.” That’s right, just one Ivy League college too.

Our story on Frost this month (page 46) is by a writer who studied the poet for decades. I’m not wise nor scholarly enough to make a case for exactly what Frost meant in those lines, but I’m reminded of them every time I visit a new small town and realize the locals think there’s no place like it anywhere. In New Hampshire, each town, however small or remote, is a singularity, a hub of the universe.

Frost was known for unspooling the ambiguities contained in what might seem like a rustic nature scene, and in that verse from “New Hampshire” he may have merely been using our tiny state to suggest that everything is unique if you look closely enough.

The irony of the poet declaring that New Hampshire has “one each of everything” is perhaps made more complete by the fact that we have two farms where his memories and his poetry are preserved, The Frost Place in Franconia and Frost’s Derry farm.

My wife recalls some years ago when she was helping with a video and journaling project for New Hampshire’s substantial refugee population from the mysterious Himalayan mountain kingdom of Bhutan. In Concord, the Bhutanese were mostly making lives for themselves on Loudon Road, known for high-volume traffic, fast-food joints and affordable rent. These new citizens had witnessed so much, being forced from a familiar world of mind-blowing majesty, ancient Buddhist traditions and, inevitably, the armed conflict that affects even peaceful nations poised between international actors (India and China in this case).

For them, the sounds of mountain wind in the temples had been replaced by the rush of car tires on asphalt, so their hosts were delighted to take a contingent to the Frost farm in Derry, to reveal some of the local beauty to them. They were surprised to learn that nearly every one of their guests not only knew of Frost, they had committed his poem “The Road Not Taken” to memory.

After a tour of the farm, the Bhutanese wanted to stay and talk, and docents enjoyed an hour of discussions about this and other verses the great poet wrote while there.

Frost’s words and influence may have reached the peaks of the farthest, highest mountains, and he might be claimed by other states and climes, but for us there’s just our one Robert Frost and, yes, he’s not for sale.

Categories: Editor’s Note

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