"Having lived here the years that are my best,I call it home. I am content to stay. I have no bird's desire to fly away. I envy neither north, east, south, nor west."
Robert Churchill Francis was an American poet and essayist, born in Upland, Pennsylvania on August 2, 1901. Francis attended Harvard College where he received his Bachelor’s Degree in literature in 1923. After receiving his degree and teaching English in the prep school of the American University in Beirut, Lebanon, he returned to Harvard in 1923 to study for a Master’s Degree in Education. In 1926 he moved to Amherst to teach English at Amherst High School. After serving in the Army in 1944, he started working for a short time at Mount Holyoke College, but then shifted his focus entirely to writing. In the summer of 1940, Francis bought a half-acre of land on Market Hill Road where he built the house that currently stands on the site. During his time in Amherst, he became an associate of Robert Frost as well as a friend of many other writers. His writing was recognized, winning him the Rome Prize of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and the position of Phi Beta Kappa poet for both Tufts and Harvard universities. Robert Francis died in Amherst in July 1987.
Francis published his first book of poems, Stand With Me Here, in 1936 and his second volume, Valhalla and Other Poems, in 1938. His volumes of poetry are represented in Collected Poems, 1936-1976. In addition to contributing to a regular column, “Country Comment,” to Forum Magazine, among other things that Francis published are the novel We Fly Away in 1948, more volumes of poems including Face Against the Glass from 1950, an autobiography entitled The Trouble with Francis in 1971, and a final volume of poetry called Late Fire, Late Snow. Francis’ poems vary widely in subjects and themes, however there is a unifying gentle tone to all of his work.
Robert Frost, one of Francis’ poetic mentors, said that Francis was “of all the great neglected poets, the greatest.” Francis received numerous awards including the Shelly Memorial Award and the Golden Rose of the New England Poetry Club. In Amherst, he was regularly called upon to give readings of his work at the Jones Library and on several occasions, he was featured on “Poems to a Listener,” a program on the Five College radio station, WFCR. Nationally, the Academy of American Poets recognized Francis with its award for “distinguished poetic achievement” in April 1984. The Juniper Prize in Poetry, established by the UMass Press in 1975, is named in honor of Francis’ North Amherst home.
Francis built his small house on Market Hill Road in 1940 and called it “Fort Juniper” in honor of the infallibility of the common pasture juniper. The entire cost of his 20’ by 22’ house was $1,500 and every tiny detail from the construction ledger he kept is recorded in his autobiography. Today the Robert Francis Trust offers the house as residence to poets and writers seeking a quiet place to concentrate on their work. The house is built of hurricane pine, including the framework, floors and inner walls, except for the ceiling, which is of plywood.
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