Back Robert Frost, “Christmas Trees”

Robert Frost (1874–1963)
From Robert Frost: Collected Poems, Prose, & Plays

Illustrations for two of Robert Frost’s annual Christmas cards, both inscribed to Dartmouth librarian Harold Goddard Rugg. The card on the left, sent in 1941, features a woodcut by J. J. Lankes that was commissioned (but not used) for Frost’s forthcoming collection A Witness Tree. The inscription reads: “Picture of a Witness Tree / As in my book about to be / Which see.” The 1942 card on the right is adorned with a hand-colored illustration by J. O’Hara Cosgrave. (Images and details courtesy of the blog of the Rauner Library at Dartmouth College.)

When she was an adult, Lesley Frost Ballantine recalled Christmases during her childhood in New Hampshire. Her father, the poet Robert Frost, was very much involved in—and, in fact, usually coordinated—the planning for the holidays, which began as early as October.

Picking out the tree was itself an event. When the children were very young, Frost would hike out to the woods with an ax to “see Santa Claus” and would secretly chop down the tree that would be unveiled on Christmas Day. But when they were older it became a family event. “We went scouting for a well-shaped pine or balsam or spruce,” she wrote. “The proud child was the one who had spotted the ‘perfect tree,’ the one symmetrically rounded, slimly tapered, and not too tall for the bay window of our front living room. It became, long before it was cut, a sort of symbol, the raison d’etre of our Christmas preparations.”

The woods on their property in Derry Village and, later, in Franconia became an essential part of the Frost family’s daily lives—and of Frost’s poetry. And nowhere is the convergence of Christmas and the forest more obvious than in Frost’s poem “Christmas Trees,” which began life as a Christmas letter to friends and families. We present both the poem and the story of its curious history as our Story of the Week selection.

Read “Christmas Trees” by Robert Frost

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