An eyewitness account of Frost's 1962 visit to the Soviet Union
Back in print after 30 years
At the height of the Cold War in 1962, the most American of poets traveled to the Soviet Union to confront Premier Nikita Khrushchev. Robert Frost in Russia endures as a portrait of the American poet and the Soviet culture he witnessed. First printed in 1964—and out of print for the last 30 years—this updated version is augmented by a new, retrospective introduction by the noted poet, scholar and translator F.D. Reeve. This edition also includes an exhaustive set of endnotes to the events and individuals who appear throughout the text, and never before published photographs of the trip.
From Robert Frost in Russia:
Lunch was drawing near. Akhmatova arrived. She came in a dark dress, a pale lilac shawl over her shoulders, august and dignified with her white hair and deep eyes. She and Frost greeted each other with polite deference. At table Alexeyev toasted Frost and then toasted both Akhmatova and Frost, referring to their meeting as one of the great literary events of our time. The rumor was then pervasive that the two great poets were in competition for the Nobel Prize. They themselves were conscious of the stakes, the rumors, and the pressures, but neither one let on. Later, they said they knew what they were up against, but at the time only tension expressed awareness of the competition—tension and Frost's increased desire to confront Khruschchev.
We sat around the table in the sun-filled dining room, the lunch a seven-course dinner, the conversation turning to both American and English writers and to the Greek and Latin classics, topics on which Akhmatova, Frost, and Alexeyev were all extremely well read. Akhmatova, Frost, and Alexeyev, some twenty years younger than the other two, were people intellectually of the same generation. Akhmatova and Frost both had begun to be recognized poets before the First World War. They both had long and exceptional careers, bringing them, in their different ways, to the same point: each was the leading poet of his country, of a whole national literary culture and tradition. Here they were, sitting at lunch, symbols, so we thought, of the reunion of that understanding which almost a hundred years earlier had existed between Turgenev and James and which seemed to us all, despite the absence of any “profound” discussion, more important than the parleys of politicians.
Frost seemed to feel out of things. Possibly he was only very nervous about his reading that evening. At any rate, after several Russians had much praised Akhmatova, I put in some highly praiseful phrases about Frost, he snapped out angrily, “No more of that, none of that, you cut that out.” I nodded, started to try to explain what I had meant, but he refused to listen. “Cut it out,” he repeated.
Pressed to say a poem, he declined, immediately deferring to Akhmatova….
F.D. Reeve was a professor of Russian in the College of Letters at Wesleyan University. Reeve is the author of dozens of translations and books of literary criticism, including Concrete Music (Pyncheon House, 1992), and most recently Moon & Other Failures (Michigan State University Press, 1999). He is the recipient of the Golden Rose for lifelong poetic achievement.
"He was a grand writer, a wonderful translator, a generous man, and a loyal friend of Zephyr. He will be sadly missed, and lovingly remembered." J. Kates, ed. [NYTimes obituary]
Robert Frost in Russia, by F.D. Reeve
Robert Frost in Russia
ISBN 0-939010-63-1 (paper)
5½ x 7½
Besides Frost’s lucid—and sometimes curmudgeonly—critiques of American and Russian society in the midst of the Cold War, Reeve’s memoir contains intimate portrayals of Russian poets such as Yevgeny Yevtushenko, Andrei Voznesensky, and Anna Akhmatova, as well as Frost’s infamous conversation with Premier Khrushchev. Robert Frost in Russia is both a fascinating document of the Cold War era, and an essential fragment of Frost’s personal and poetic biography.
Poet and translator Reeve provides a new introduction, new photos, and very useful endnotes to his account of Robert Frost’s 1962 goodwill trip to the Soviet Union…. [Originally] published in 1964, a year after the poet’s death, Reeve’s day-by-day account nevertheless captures the essence of the good, grumbly man-of-letters: cantankerous, insightful, highly self-conscious of public scrutiny. Reeve, at the time a young college professor brought along to translate, remains unobtrusive throughout as Frost encounters writers as voluble as the showy Yevtushenko and as a reticent as the tragic Akhmatova. Kirkus admired Reeve’s understated tone and wondered at the dissonance between public perception of the Soviet terror and this bubbly chronicle, ‘upbeat in spirit and notational in approach.’ A must, in any case, for Frost fans.
—Kirkus Reviews, June 15, 2001