Amherst College recently received the donation of a small, fascinating collection of correspondence and other materials related to Robert Frost and the now lesser-known poet (Nicholas) Vachel Lindsay. Vachel Lindsay styled himself as a twentieth-century troubadour. He traveled around the Midwest performing his poetry, which he chanted or sang, sometimes in costume. Few recordings of Lindsay exist, but there are several short clips online at the PennSound project. Lindsay originally trained as a visual artist, and often sold or traded illustrated pamphlets of his poetry in exchange for food and lodging.
This collection of material belonged to Lawrence H. Conrad, and was donated to Amherst by Conrad’s granddaughter, Angela Conrad. Lawrence Conrad was an undergraduate at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, when Robert Frost held the position of poet-in-residence at the University. During the same time period, Lindsay gave a reading at the University. Conrad served as an assistant to the poets and helped with their arrangements while in Michigan. In a May 9, 1928 letter from Conrad to Lindsay, he writes, “You probably remember that I was a sort of pet of Robert Frost when he was here [at the University of Michigan].” Conrad later became president of the Michigan Author’s Association and arranged further Michigan appearances for Frost and Lindsay. Conrad corresponded with both men and appears to have become a personal friend of both, who were also friends with each other. He continued corresponding with Lindsay’s widow, Elizabeth Connor Lindsay after Vachel Lindsay committed suicide in 1931.
Among the papers in this collection is a two-page document which will be of particular interest to Vachel Lindsay and Robert Frost scholars: an apparently collaborative poem composed by the two men. The poem is written in Lindsay’s handwriting and entitled, “The Maelstrom Flower Blooms.” The second page is an illustration of the poem, also by Lindsay. At the bottom of the page of text are both Frost’s and Lindsay’s signatures: “Robert Frost and Nicholas Vachel Lindsay to Lawrence Conrad.” The poem is undated, but given the dates of the rest of the correspondence, it was likely written between 1928 and 1930.
A transcript of the poem, along with images of the text and illustration, are below. Tell us what you think!
The Maelstrom-Flower Blooms
The maelstrom flower blooms
On soft waves round the ship
The flame-petals leap and
The bird[?]-petals skip—
And the nine looking down in their ease through the sea
Think the flower is a friend—and is free—
But a voice from the ocean-bed
Calls to the flower,
And it turns to the
Maelstrom of fate in an hour.