Mention Robert Frost and
people instantly think of snowy woods and less-traveled paths and rural
neighbors meeting to fix their stone fence.
But what does Robert Frost have to do with science? You might be surprised. Born in 1874, Frost lived
through a remarkable period of scientific progress, including the development
of quantum mechanics and the theory of relativity, the Big Bang theory, the
discovery of the structure of DNA and the beginnings of space travel. Possessing a powerful intellect driven by
keen curiosity, Frost was highly knowledgeable about the science of his time
and infuses his poetry with imagery and language borrowed from science. Frost not only uses the language of science
to enrich his poetry in the same way he uses classical, historical, biblical
and literary allusions, but he also uses ordinary language to create
sophisticated metaphors based on scientific concepts such as evolution and
entropy. A Scientific Companion to Robert Frost represents the first
systematic attempt to catalogue and explain all of the references to science
and natural history in Frost’s poetry. The
book, which is organized chronologically, uses language that is accessible to
laymen and is supplemented by numerous illustrations, and appendices that
should make it a valuable resource for teachers and scholars.
What a wonderful idea Virginia Smith, with her strong scientific background, had in providing us with A Scientific Companion to my grandfather’s verses! Always impressed by Rorber Frost’s deep understanding of his natural surroundings – in botany, archeology, astronomy, among others – we learn here just how his scientific knowledge enriches the metaphorical language of many of his verses. As a teacher of his poems, I frequently note the need for such a Companion: the heal-all in “Design,” the iris in “Iris by Night” that is not a flower, or the complex interaction of fruit, trees, ancestral primates, and a young girl, in “Wild Grapes,” one of my favorites. Richly illustrated, the volume will help you move ever more deeply into the poet’s layers of meaning while, at the same time, awaken you to the endless mysteries of the universe.
Lesley Lee Francis, author of You Come Too: My Journey With Robert Frost and Robert Frost: An Adventure in Poetry, 1900–1918.
More than half a century ago, C. P. Snow lamented that science and the humanities had become so specialized that their practitioners could no longer speak to one another. With the publication of A Scientific Companion to Robert Frost, Virginia Smith proves the exception to the “two cultures” divide. A professor of biochemistry at the United States Naval Academy, Ms. Smith is also an astute reader of Frost’s poetry. In combining her “avocation and vocation,” as Frost advises in “Two Tramps in Mud Time,” Ms. Smith demonstrates the breadth of Frost’s engagement with science and carefully discloses how Frost used the lessons of science—in astronomy, biology, chemistry, physics, and natural history—to inform his poetry. In doing so, she provides devotees and scholars with an invaluable primary resource that will surely stimulate new thinking about our most thoughtful and complex American poet.
Robert Bernard Hass, author of Going by Contraries: Robert Frost’s Conflict with Science and co-editor of the Letters of Robert Frost
Any lover of Frost’s poetry will be delighted by Virginia Smith’s A Scientific Companion to Robert Frost. It brings an exciting new perspective to many of the poems we have all long admired. Now with her book as our guide through all the allusions to matters of science that Frost continually turned to in writing his poetry, we can experience and appreciate these poems more fully. Smith has not missed a single one of these allusions, providing us with clarifying details of the significance and history of specific words and phrases in the poems related to the fields of botany, ornithology, chemistry, geology, astronomy, physics, and the technology of his day. But her book is not merely a catalog of Frost’s use of scientific language and imagery; Smith puts her commentaries in the context of where he was living, the books he was reading, the people he knew, and the discussions of the times. Each entry is meticulously documented, drawing on an impressive body of research, often primary sources, including what he had read, courses he had taken, and letters he had written and received. The ninety one illustrations throughout the book further illuminate and enrich our understanding of Frost’s fascination with science. While scholars will surely make use of this book for academic study, I urge the multitude of readers who have made Frost their favorite poet not to pass up this opportunity to get to know his poetry more deeply and enjoy it even more.
Lea Bertani Vozar Newman, author of Robert Frost: The People, Places, and Stories Behind His New England Poetry
Robert Frost was one of the few poets who knew as much about science as he did the humanities. Here at last in one volume Virginia Smith allows readers to see just how deeply informed and rich with scientific knowledge Frost’s poetry could be.
Jonathan N. Barron, director of The Robert Frost Society and author of How Robert Frost Made Realism Matter