This year includes the 50th anniversary of Robert Frost’s death, and April’s observance of National Poetry Month is a good time to remember the 20th century’s most celebrated American poet.
Frost (1874-1963) is perhaps best known for poems such as “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” and “The Death of the Hired Man,” compositions inspired by the New England countryside that nevertheless attained universal appeal.
Not surprisingly, this master writer was also a master reader, and when the Massachusetts Library Association asked Frost to name his favorite books, he wrote an interesting top 10 list in 1934.
“‘The Odyssey’ chooses itself, the first in time and rank of all romances,” Frost told readers in introducing his first pick. “‘Robinson Crusoe’ is never quite out of my mind,” he added in offering his second choice. “I never tire of being shown how the limited can make snug in the limitless.”
“Walden,” Henry David Thoreau’s classic, came in at No. 3. “Crusoe was cast away; Thoreau was self-cast away,” Frost observed. “Both found themselves sufficient. No prose writer has ever been more fortunate in subject than these two.”
The tales of Edgar Allan Poe ranked fourth on Frost’s lists. “Here is every kind of entertainment the short story can afford,” Frost wrote.
For his fifth and sixth choices, Frost picked “The Oxford Book of Verse” and editor Louis Untermeyer’s “Modern American and British Poetry.” James Fenimore Cooper’s “The Last of the Mohicans” earned a No. 7 spot because, wrote Frost, the novel “supplies us once and for all with our way of thinking of the American Indian.”
Frost recommended his eighth choice, Anthony Hope’s “The Prisoner of Zenda,” as “surely one of the very best of our modern best-sellers.”
“The Jungle Book,” Rudyard Kipling’s famous adventure story, was No. 9. “I shall read it again as often as I can find a new child to listen to me,” Frost explained.
Ralph Waldo Emerson’s “Essays and Poems” rounded out the list at No. 10. Frost found in Emerson “the rapture of idealism either way you have it, in prose or in verse and in brief.”
Frost’s Top 10 list appears in “Frost: Collected Poems, Prose & Plays,” a 1995 Library of America edition that’s a handy introduction to his work.
Meanwhile, as spring deepens its hold on the calendar, it’s not too early to start thinking of a summer reading list. Half a century after his passing, Frost’s recommendations seem a good place to start.