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The Man Who Is and Is Not There

The Man Who Is and Is Not There: The Poetry and Prose of Robert Francis

Andrew Stambuk
Copyright Date: 2011
Pages: 184
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  • Book Info
    The Man Who Is and Is Not There
    Book Description:

    Robert Francis (1901–1987), the author of eight volumes of poetry, an autobiography, a book of fiction, essays on poetry, and a reminiscence of Robert Frost, lived for most of his career on the outskirts of Amherst, Massachusetts, devoting himself to Yankee simplicity and selfrenunciation derived from his reading of Thoreau. His preference for solitude and disinclination to write about or promote himself account for the elusiveness of his persona in his prose and poetry. This book charts how Francis developed and elaborated this persona through distanced selfportraits in prose and through poems that both reveal and conceal the self of the poet. Folded into the study are discussions of Francis’s pastoralism, his affinities with Emerson and Thoreau, his experimentation with new poetic forms, his protest against the Vietnam War and environmental despoliation, his homoeroticism, and a comparison of his poetry with that of Robert Frost. The book also explores Francis’s characteristic attitude, figured as “hovering,” where his speaker is both subject and object, writing about himself while inhabiting the role of detached observer. Complementing the emphasis on Francis’s elusiveness, Andrew Stambuk offers readings of his poems attentive to aesthetic qualities that give them their particular reticence. Stambuk’s sensitive evaluations underscore that Francis is a craftsman of intricate precisions whose work speaks to contemporary political and global concerns.

    eISBN: 978-1-61376-009-3
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Works by Robert Francis
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-6)

    This study centers on a critical discussion of the prose and poetry of the American writer Robert Francis. Intrigued by the elusiveness of his persona as he displays it in different genres—essays, fiction, autobiography—I tease out the correspondences, continuities, and parallels among these works to demonstrate that they offer several examples of distanced self-portraiture in prose and foreshadow the ways his poetry reveals and hides the self of the poet. Among the topics that inform my discussion of his writing are his affinities to precursors such as Emerson and Thoreau, his emphasis on the regional landscape as a...

  6. 1 A Cautious Distance
    (pp. 7-25)

    Elusiveness is a hallmark of Robert Francis, a trait that also inhabits the poetry and prose he carefully crafted. In a valedictory issue of thePainted Bride Quarterly(1988) devoted to critical discussion of the poet and his work, Robert Bradley speaks of a late Francis poem composed entirely of compound nouns: “The details Francis attends to are here, but paradoxically, he is invisible” (75). To David Graham, a contributor to the same issue, Francis, if not quite invisible, is a bystander, reserved and wary, through whom “everyone and everything is seen from a cautious distance” (81). To Mary Fell,...

  7. 2 Inhabiting Juniper
    (pp. 26-48)

    Between 1931 and 1987 Robert Francis wrote seven volumes of poetry and two books of essays on poetry, in addition to a reminiscence of Robert Frost and prose works in different genres. Apart from critical essays devoted to individual lyrics, and in spite of thoughtful reviews of theCollected Poems(1976), only one comprehensive study of his poetry has been undertaken.¹ The reason lies not only in his preference for solitude and his avoidance of self-promotion but also in his dedication to living along Thoreauvian lines. InTravelling in Amhersthe declared: “Whenever a man cuts himself off partially or...

  8. 3 Dwelling in Uncertainties and Straddling Extremes
    (pp. 49-72)

    As the title of his fourth book suggests,The Face Against the Glass(1950) presents Francis as an observer, alone and cut off. Indeed, it was written during what the poet called “a period of crisis,” when he often spent evenings in his house hiding from people. After 1944, the nearly complete rejection of his work by publishers and the feelings of failure it summoned caused him to withdraw, turn inward, and doubt seriously his ability to continue as a poet.¹ “I wanted to crawl into a corner out of sight,” he recalled in his autobiography, “partly because I had...

  9. 4 Experiments with Form and the Poetry of Protest
    (pp. 73-98)

    The poem that provided the title for Francis’s sixth volume appears inThe Orb Weaver, offering a sharp contrast in mood to the work at the end of that collection. Inspired by his anticipation of the advent of spring, it begins with a directive to the reader to “Come out into the sun” (205), and concludes in a buoyant chant:

    Soon the small snake will slip her skin

    And the gray moth in an old ritual

    Unseal her silk cocoon.

    Come shed, shed now, your winter-varnished shell

    In the deep diathermy of high noon.

    The sun, the sun, come out...

  10. 5 Learning to Hover
    (pp. 99-118)

    In Robert Francis’s reminiscence of Robert Frost,A Time to Talk, the entry dated April 4, 1932, contains a poem published the day before in a newspaper in nearby Springfield. Francis wrote the poem to commemorate Frost’s arrival at Amherst. Here are its final stanzas:

    Best of all—you’ve heard?—he comes to stay.

    This is his home now. He is here for good.

    To leave us now would be running away.

    (I too would stay forever if I could.)

    While he stays, life that breathless fugitive,

    Will stay. While he lives, some things here won’t die.

    And we, breathing...

  11. 6 The Teasing Paradox
    (pp. 119-136)

    Robert Francis once remarked in an interview that he was careful to keep his distance from people who “might interrupt my thought, misunderstand me, make me feel inferior, or even impose their wills on me” (qtd. in Tetreault and Karcher 9). It is thus surprising that inThe Trouble With Francisso guarded a man would reveal his homosexuality in an era when it was regarded as perverse, criminal, and a form of mental illness. Risky at the time, his disclosure removed a barrier of protection against intrusion into his private life and threatened to expose him to calumny, if...

  12. Epilogue
    (pp. 137-148)

    Robert Francis was a private man. Despite Having written in various genres—eight books of poetry, a journal, a memoir of his talks with Frost, essays on poetry, and an autobiography—he was very careful not to reveal too much about himself. This characteristic reserve was fostered as much by self-consciousness as an avoidance of self-promotion. Although his work drew high praise from Marianne Moore, Robert Frost, Richard Wilbur, and Donald Hall, he did not actively court their approval.¹ The many acts of reticence—his inclination to withhold his feelings and details about his personal life, his reluctance to speak...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 149-164)
  14. Works Cited
    (pp. 165-170)
  15. Index
    (pp. 171-176)
  16. Back Matter
    (pp. 177-178)