The Baystate Objectivist

The Baystate Objectivist

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Robert Francis 1901 - 1987

The poet of Puffer's Pond.

When we think of poetry, at least in Amherst, we tend to think of the town's two worldclass poets, the legendary Robert Frost and the sainted Emily Dickinson. But there actually is a literary genius who unites both place and craft, the so-called "Poet of Puffer's Pond" Robert Francis. He was a friend of Robert Frost and he lived in a self-made cabin ala Thoreau just a short distance upstream from the main waterfall at the pond. He called his Puffer's Pond hideaway Fort Juniper, and today it is a literary historic shrine.

When Francis died almost twenty-one years ago, in July of 1987, the New York Times had in part this to say:

Robert Churchill Francis, once described by Robert Frost as ''the best neglected poet,'' died Monday in Cooley Dickinson Hospital in Northampton. He was 85 years old. Mr. Francis had lived simply in a two-room home in Amherst for more than 40 years. In 1984 he received the Academy of American Poets Followship Award for distinguished achievement.

Born in Upland, Pa., Mr. Francis moved to Amherst in 1926 shortly after graduating from Harvard University. He taught high school for one year, then devoted his life to writing poetry.

"My speciality has been not to earn much but to spend little," Mr. Francis told The Daily Hampshire Gazette in a 1981 interview.

So while Frost and Dickinson got all the glory, toiling in obscurity was this other master, content to sit by Puffer's Pond composing poetry that would eventually win him some of literature's most prestigious prizes. But if he is not well known to the wider public, he is honored here in town with his image painted on a wall in downtown Amherst, as seen below.

Here is my favorite poem by Robert Francis. I feel to some extent that he is describing me.

New England Mind

My mind matches this understated land.
Outdoors the pencilled tree, the wind-carved drift,
Indoors the constant fire, the careful thrift
Are facts that I accept and understand.

I have brought in red berries and green boughs-
Berries of black alder, boughs of pine.
They and the sunlight on them, both are mine.
I need no florist flowers in my house.

Having lived here the years that are my best,
I call it home. I am content to stay.
I have no bird's desire to fly away.
I envy neither north, east, south, nor west.

My outer world and inner make a pair.
But would the two be always of a kind?
Another latitude, another mind?
Or would I be New England anywhere?

Looking through this window you might think that the ghost of Bob Marley was haunting this Amherst apartment, but actually it is merely a poster serving in place of a shade.

The french restaurant Chez Albert in downtown Amherst had this chalkboard sign out last weekend. I have no idea what it says.

I prefer the nearby Bueno Y Sarno, which has the biggest burritos for the lowest prices in town.

People are sometimes surprised when I list as one of my all time heroes Hugh Hefner. After all, isn't Hef the King of Heterosexual Sex? Yeah, but it was also Hefner who in the 1960's pioneered the change in social consciousness that sex was not just for having babies, but for having fun as well. There is no room for homosexuality in a world where sex is only for procreation, so by breaking down the barriers so that sex could be considered as something good for it's own sake, Hefner paved the way to mainstream the gay way.

Thanks Hef.


Heather B said...

"Life is pitiless (merciless, ruthless) for dreamers"

Bill Dusty said...


I hate to break the news to you, old man, but 1987 was almost *21* years ago. :-\

Tommy said...

OOPS! Thanks Bill, I'll fix my time machine. Heather that is a beautiful quote, I just wish it was less true.

Mary E.Carey said...

Nice tribute to Robert Francis. I like the part about it always being so cold you need to have a fire. Is that painting of him from the West Cemetery mural? I hope that Chez Albert sign doesn't portend something bad having to do with the restaurant. I love it.