The Victor E. Reichert Robert Frost Collection, a treasure trove of letters, recordings, photos, and other items collected over the course of a 24-year friendship between Frost and a Cincinnati rabbi, opens this week at the University of Buffalo.
Nearly 75 years ago, Frost and Rabbi Victor E. Reichert met at a reading in Cincinnati and spent summers together in Vermont, where the Reicherts had a summer home, sharing talks and hiking excursions. Over the years, the pair forged a friendship build on literature, philosophy, and religion. During the course of that friendship, the star-struck Reichert, who was nearly 60 years younger than Frost, saved thousands of Frost-related items, including books with personal messages or quotes from Frost poetry, gifted to Reichert family members; more than 60 photographs of Frost at ceremonies, public events, and in private settings; some 600 newspaper and magazine clippings about Frost; rare Frost chapbooks and holiday publications; and handwritten letters between Frost and Reichert.
Upon his death, Rabbi Reichert left the treasured memorabilia with his son, Jonathan F. Reichert, a retired physics professor who taught for three decades at the University of Buffalo. Reichert, now 81, donated the items to the university just in time for an anniversary display of Frost, who died 50 years ago this month at the age of 88.
“I wanted the friendship of my father with Frost to be part of history,” Reichert told the Buffalo News. “Because I saw it. I know it changed Frost.”
The collection is a major acquisition for the university and vaults it into the top Frost archives and collections in the country. It also sheds new light on the beloved poet famous for such poems as “Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening” and “The Road Not Taken.” In particular, the collection offers new insights into Frost’s views on religious beliefs, a topic that until now has stumped Frost experts. Frost and Reichert shared discussions about the New and Old Testaments as well as personal tragedies, including the deaths of Frost’s wife and children.
“There is not the slightest doubt in my mind about the deep, deep religious nature of Robert Frost,” Reichert once wrote in his notes on Frost. He said Frost once summarized his faith by calling himself an “Old Testament Christian.”
“He saw that the laws that Judaism had built up really were not the essence, and that Jesus was a great prophet, rather than seeing Jesus as the son of God, or the savior," Reichert told NPR. "That's how I interpret what he meant when he said, 'I'm an Old Testament Christian.’”
The pair’s relationship is captured in a 1994 book, “The Poet and the Rabbi,” by Andrew Marks.
Frost, along with his relationship with Reichert, and his views on religion, will gain fresh attention with his 50th anniversary exhibit at the University of Buffalo.
The exhibit will run from 9 AM to 5 PM weekdays from Jan. 31 through March 29.
Husna Haq is a Monitor correspondent.