FROST, ROBERT (1874-1963, American poet)
AUTOGRAPH MANUSCRIPT OF HIS POEM 'HAPPINESS MAKES UP IN HEIGHT FOR WHAT IT LACKS IN LENGTH', SIGNED ('Robert Frost'), 24 lines, inscribed to Stanley Swartley and dated May 1938, written on a free end-paper of a fine copy of A Further Range, 1936, 1 page, octavo, the book in dark red buckram, dust-jacket with small tears at head and foot of spine, dated May 1938
Happiness makes up in height for what it lacks in length
O stormy stormy world,
The days you were not swirled
Around with mist and cloud,
Or wrapped as in a shroud...
...I verily believe
My fair impression may
Be all from that one day
No shadow crossed but ours
As through its blazing flowers
We went from house to wood
For change of solitude.
The title of this poem is one of Frost's most quoted and puzzled over lines. It brings together his love of paradox, the epigram and aphorism, and the title is perhaps a supreme example, despite its length, of what he claimed was necessary for a poem to be remembered: 'Catchiness has a lot to do with it.' The poem is also a fine example of what Frost later described as happening 'In a Poem':
The sentencing goes blithely on its way
And takes the playfully objected rhyme
As surely as it keeps the stroke and time
In having its undeniable say.
The poem was first published in Atlantic Monthly in September 1938 and first collected in A Witness Tree, 1943, though it was written in 1936. Frost sent an early version to Sidney Cox on 29 March 1936 and mentioned to Bernard de Voto in December 1937 that he had written it 'in those stormy days at Harvard' [in 1936]. The present manuscript pre-dates its publication by five months.
While signed copies of books by Frost are common and those with poems or often extracts of poems written in them are not difficult to find, only occasionally does any significant poem occur in this or any other form or context. The present poem is among the best of them. No other complete manuscript of 'Happiness' has been sold at auction; a copy of A Further Range with only 16 lines of the poem written out in it was sold in 2002 ($6,900 plus premium). Stanley Simpson Swartley was an English Professor at Allegheny College, Meadville, Pennsylvania, who wrote The Life and Poetry of John Cutts, 1917, Aids to Good English, 1933 and A Study of the Areopagitica of John Milton, 1909. Frost read at the college in the 1920s and it was doubtless at the exhibition of his work there in 1938 that he wrote out 'Happiness' for Professor Swartley.
PROVENANCE: Stanley Swartley; David Lowenherz.
REFERENCES: Edward Connery Latham, Interviews with Robert Frost, 1967; Selected Letters, edited by Lawrence Thompson, 1965; Letters, manuscripts, and inscribed books by Robert Frost from the Collection of David H. Lowenherz, 1999; Joan St. C. Crane, Robert Frost, A Descriptive Catalogue of Books and Manuscripts in the Clifton Waller Barrett Library University of Virginia, 1974; Jay Parini, Robert Frost: A Life, 1999.