On April 26, 1957, Robert Frost gave a talk at Bowdoin and read some of his poems, including “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” and “The Road Not Taken.” That visit, according to library records, was likely the fifth and final time the poet spoke at campus. In his warm voice, weathered by age — he was 83 then — he shared his thoughts about a range of subjects, including his belief that students learn ideas mainly to help them form their own ideas.
Over time, the lecture and reading faded from memory, and the college kept no recording of the event. Recently, however, the son of an alumnus contacted Richard Lindemann, director of Bowdoin’s George J. Mitchell Department of Special Collections & Archives, to tell him he had uncovered a tape from that night.
Philip Jurgens, of Ottawa, Canada, said his late father, Emile Jurgens ’60, had recorded Frost delivering the Annie Talbot Cole Lecture in 1957. Emile Jurgens, who was from the Netherlands, was at Bowdoin for one year with a now defunct study abroad program called the Bowdoin Plan. Once the tape was found, Philip Jurgens wanted to give it to Bowdoin. “I am a retired librarian and would like the recording to be made available in the public domain,” he wrote in an email.
Although copyright law prohibits the College from providing the wide public distribution that Philip Jurgens desired, the CD is now available in Bowdoin’s library for private listening. For those who can’t make it to the library, below is a small sample of Frost’s statements from the night.
“I came here first at the invitation of Prof. Roy Elliott 35 or so years ago, early in Pres. Sills’ administration. I’ve been here a good many times, and tonight I’m thinking of old friendships here and having outlived some of them, outlived the friends, not the friendships.”
“We go on with our education — we don’t know where we come — learning thoughts, learning ideas. And the emphasis is so much on learning ideas that I sometimes think that we forget why we learn ideas. They should be good, they should be high, they should be great, great thoughts, thoughts lasting to the end, but we learn them chiefly, learn the ideas, in order to learn how to have the ideas and thoughts.”
“That brings up the little matter of how you can tell when you have an idea. That’s the whole business in my approach to teaching. There are many ways of talking about it, many ways of marking about it, many ways of punishing and so on, and rewarding, all toward that one thing, that glimmer of someone having an idea. And whenever anyone had one in my class, any time in the year, he got an A for the year.”
“I sometimes think that I know what the secret is, and I don’t, where the turn comes [from learning ideas to having ideas]. I think for me — we’ll leave it at that tonight, anyway — for me, it’s when I have an analogy, a metaphor, a parallel of putting two things rather startlingly fresh together.”