Robert Frost in Russia - book cover


by F. D. Reeve
ISBN 0-939010-63-1 (paper), $13.95
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5½ x 7½
192 pages

At the height of the Cold War in 1962, the most American of poets traveled to the Soviet Union to confront Premier Nikita Khrushchev. Robert Frost in Russia endures as a portrait of the American poet and the Soviet culture he witnessed. First printed in 1964—and out of print for the last 30 years—this updated version is augmented by a new, retrospective introduction by the noted poet, scholar and translator F.D. Reeve. This edition also includes an exhaustive set of endnotes to the events and individuals who appear throughout the text, and never before published photographs of the trip.

From Robert Frost in Russia

Lunch was drawing near. Akhmatova arrived. She came in a dark dress, a pale lilac shawl over her shoulders, august and dignified with her white hair and deep eyes. She and Frost greeted each other with polite deference. At table Alexeyev toasted Frost and then toasted both Akhmatova and Frost, referring to their meeting as one of the great literary events of our time. The rumor was then pervasive that the two great poets were in competition for the Nobel Prize. They themselves were conscious of the stakes, the rumors, and the pressures, but neither one let on. Later, they said they knew what they were up against, but at the time only tension expressed awareness of the competition—tension and Frost's increased desire to confront Khruschchev.

We sat around the table in the sun-filled dining room, the lunch a seven-course dinner, the conversation turning to both American and English writers and to the Greek and Latin classics, topics on which Akhmatova, Frost, and Alexeyev were all extremely well read. Akhmatova, Frost, and Alexeyev, some twenty years younger than the other two, were people intellectually of the same generation. Akhmatova and Frost both had begun to be recognized poets before the First World War. They both had long and exceptional careers, bringing them, in their different ways, to the same point: each was the leading poet of his country, of a whole national literary culture and tradition. Here they were, sitting at lunch, symbols, so we thought, of the reunion of that understanding which almost a hundred years earlier had existed between Turgenev and James and which seemed to us all, despite the absence of any “profound” discussion, more important than the parleys of politicians.

Frost seemed to feel out of things. Possibly he was only very nervous about his reading that evening. At any rate, after several Russians had much praised Akhmatova, I put in some highly praiseful phrases about Frost, he snapped out angrily, “No more of that, none of that, you cut that out.” I nodded, started to try to explain what I had meant, but he refused to listen. “Cut it out,” he repeated.

Pressed to say a poem, he declined, immediately deferring to Akhmatova….

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