The sun warms his shoulders as it sets across the Connecticut River into the green hills of Vermont. But his back is turned on Dartmouth. With only the stars, woods and a watchtower as companions, he sits high on a Hanover hilltop. He takes his place with The Observatory, Bartlett Tower and a view of the silent grassy amphitheater of the Bema – which would have been his graduation venue had he finished his Dartmouth degree with the rest of the Class of 1896. Instead he contemplates the scene as if memory plays across his mind, his bronze hand paused after writing one line on his makeshift alfresco desk (propped on a stick between his knees), “Something there is that doesn’t love a wall.”
Yet he embodies the Yankee ethic that says “good fences make good neighbors.” With Dartmouth, too, he thrummed with the tension that “men work together … from the heart” the one who came after said to the one who worked at dawn, “whether he works together or apart.”
George Lundeen’s life-sized bronze of Robert Frost, (sculpted in 1996, the gift of the Dartmouth Class of 1961), is a few minutes’ walk across the Dartmouth Green from The Hanover Inn (on the corner where the Appalachian Trail comes up South Main Street and turns east on Wheelock). Past his undergraduate digs, Wentworth Hall, a white-with-green-shutters Federalist companion to the founder’s “1791” Dartmouth Hall overlooking the Green, the statue’s just over the hill.
Born March 26, 1874 in San Francisco, the young man came East after his father’s death in 1886, when the penniless Belle, his mother, brought the two children to Methuen, Mass. and her in-laws accommodated in the spirit, as Frost would later write, “home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.” He enrolled in Dartmouth in the fall of 1892, directed by a favorite teacher at Lawrence High School. Like so many who found the rarified atmosphere of the Ivy League unwelcoming, he was gone by Thanksgiving. Yet, true to his would-have-been alma mater, he “kept the still north in his soul.” He would be back as the prodigal – faculty lecturer, favorite son and honorary man of letters, once the world confirmed what the man himself seemed to refuse to accept: that he was a success. His papers are among the treasures in Dartmouth’s Rauner Special Collections at Baker Library.
Decades after Dartmouth, he would till New Hampshire soil in Franconia and Derry, New Hampshire to plant images of yellow woods and birches in American literature. On a hill in Hanover, there’s still the sense of why he chose as his epitaph “I had a lover’s quarrel with the world.”