Robert Frost and Writing Places

We recently stopped by the Robert Frost cabin in Ripton, Vermont. The cabin – unchanged from Frost’s time – was where the great American poet spent summers during the last 30 years of his life from the late 1930’s until his death in 1963. He did much of his writing there.
Owned by Middlebury College, the cabin is too fragile to be opened to the public, but what one can see from the porch window is how remarkably spare it is. Constructed of unfinished logs and planks, it is not graced anywhere by so much as a coat of paint. The furnishings are equally spare, a few unpainted book shelves and a straight chair. The great poet wrote in a red leather Morris chair with a piece of plywood balanced on the arm rests for a desk.
Frost was successful and well-to-do at this stage of his life, but he chose this austerity as if the view from his windows – the swaying meadow grasses flanked by birch and pine trees and beyond them, the graceful Green Mountains – were all he really needed for his comfort.
The cabin made us think about the places where we chose to do our writing. It doesn’t matter where or what they are, but these are such important places, where the mind and the heart are free to roam – and, if one can turn off the Internet, it is possible to focus on the impossible task of filling a blank page.
One of Robert Frost’s last, great poems was written at the Ripton cabin in 1951. “A Cabin in the Clearing” is a dialogue between mist and smoke, exterior and interior vapors that mirror the exterior and interior voices of the two people living in the poem’s cabin, who are struggling with life’s big, existential questions.
Among other things, the poem speaks to the importance of place, saying that place is not only an intrinsic part of who we are, but also that we are an intrinsic part of the place we choose.
“If the day ever comes when they know who
They are, they may know better where they are.”