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Robert Pack manuscripts

Identifier: C-10
Box 1 contains a finding list of the folders and their contents in Boxes 1 & 2, which are drafts of the poems in Home From the Cemetery and Nothing But Light. Box 3 contains a finding list for the folders within, as well as the spring bound folder of the poems comprising Keeping Watch, and a folder containing a review from Shenandoah. Box 4 contains a finding list for the contents, which are the poems comprising Waking to My Name. Box 5 contains drafts of Faces in a Single Tree. Box 6 contains rough drafts and finished drafts for the first 19 poems in Clayfield Rejoices, Clayfield Laments, as well as complete copies of the book manuscript and drafts of three poems that did not appear in the finished book. Box 7 contains the remaining 21 poems that appear in Clayfield Rejoices, Clayfield Laments in draft form. Box 8 contains two paginated typescripts of Before It Vanishes, as well as 31 folders containing drafts of the poems individually, in the order of the published book. Box 9 contains 21 folders, in order, of the poems comprising Inheritance. Box 10 contains 7 folders of drafts for poems appearing in Fathering the Map, 11 folders of drafts for poems appearing in Minding the Sun, 12 folders of drafts of poems (undated) that have not been published.


  • 1969 - 1996

Conditions Governing Access

Open for research without restrictions.

Conditions Governing Use

For permission to publish materials, contact: Special Collections & Archives Middlebury College Phone: (802) 443-2387 Email:


10 Boxes ; 4 Linear Feet


The Pack Manuscripts document the creative genesis of one of a major American poet long-associated with Middlebury College. Harold Bloom described Robert Pack as a “humane and eloquent poet who follows Robert Frost and Edwin Arlington Robinson in a major American tradition.” Pack was also a highly regarded teacher of American literature at Middlebury College who served as Director of the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference from 1972 to 1995. His poems take inspiration from the landscape of Vermont, yet display broader interests including Darwinian evolution and Freudian psychoanalysis. This collection of manuscripts presents thirty years’ worth of poetry in all stages of composition, from early scribbles to revised drafts to final printed book manuscripts, for ten of Pack’s books, as well as unpublished poetry.

Biographical / Historical

Robert Pack was born on May 19, 1929, in New York City to Carl and Henrietta Pack. Carl Pack was a New York Assemblyman under Gov. Franklin D. Roosevelt. He became a State Senator, but died at the age of 46, when his son, Robert, was but 16. His mother sent Robert and his sister Marian to the Fieldston Ethical Culture School in Riverdale, NY, where he made friends with Richard Rubin and Woody Klein. Friendship is a major theme in his poetry from 1955 (The Irony of Joy) to the present. As a youth he played both baseball and football, and believes that there is an instructive connection between sports and poetry: inspiration within restrictions.

Pack attended Dartmouth College, where he immersed himself in Robert Frost. When Frost came to his campus, they took long walks and had long talks on the craft of poetry. Pack has written many essays on Frost’s work (Belief and Uncertainty, 2006). Dartmouth awarded Pack a medal for “Outstanding Leadership and Achievement.” In graduate school at Columbia University, Pack became very interested in Wallace Stevens and in 1958 published Wallace Stevens, His Poetry and Thought. He continued to write about Stevens in such essays as “Place and Nothingness.” Pack cites Stevens’ display of “the gaiety of language,” which enhanced Pack’s love of alliterative and sonorous effects. Pack earned an M.A. from Columbia University.

In 1957, Pack was awarded a Fulbright Fellowship to travel to Italy to translate poetry. While there, he travelled extensively, attended opera and later published translations of Mozart libretti. Mozart, as well as other special heroes—Darwin, Freud, Einstein—appear throughout Pack’s poetry.

In 1960, Robert Pack married Patricia Powell, a master’s student studying economics at Columbia University. They had two sons and a daughter. (A much earlier marriage ended after eight years.) Pack was Professor of English at Middlebury College (1964-1988); Julian W. Abernethy Professor of American Literature, from 1971-1988; Director of the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, 1972-1995; Donald Axinn Professor, 1988-92; College Professor, 1992-96; Professor Emeritus, 1996. In 1996, Pack retired to Montana. Following his retirement to Montana, Pack, became Distinguished Senior Professor to at the University of Montana Honors College, where he introduced a seminar called “Ways of Knowing,” which was subsequently adopted as the sole requirement for all Honors College students. In 2006, University of Montana awarded Robert Pack the presidential medal “for distinguished accomplishment that lends luster to the University of Montana.”

Robert Pack has published twenty volumes of poetry and five books of criticism. The Vermont landscape as a “metaphor for inner moods and emotions” has inspired many of his lyrical poems, notably Waking to my Name: New and Selected Poems (1980). In 1984, Faces in a Single Tree was a venture into narrative poetry. Before It Vanishes (l989) is a sequence of meditations inspired by quotations from and is dedicated to Prof. Heinz Pagels, a theoretical physicist. In 1986 he published Clayfield Rejoices, Clayfield Laments, a comic epic. Rounding It Out, a collection of “sonnetelles” –a new form of his own invention, combining tightly rhymed aspects of the sonnet and the repeating line of the villanelle, appeared in 1998. Laughter Before Sleep (2011) “weighs the nature of endings from the perspective of old age” and includes comedy as well as musings on absence, history, family and the power of anecdote to shape a life in retrospect, and is “filled with charm and wit…with philosophical melancholy.”


The manuscripts are arranged chronologically by book into eleven series. Series I: Home From the Cemetery (1969), Series II: Nothing But Light (1972), Series III: Keeping Watch (1984), Series IV: Waking to My Name (1980), Series V: Faces in a Single Tree: A Cycle of Poems (1984), Series VI: Clayfield Rejoices, Clayfield Laments (1987), Series VII: Before It Vanishes (1989), Series VIII: Inheritance (1992), Series IX: Fathering the Map (1993), Series X: Minding the Sun (1996), Series XI: Unpublished Poems.

Other Finding Aids

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Gift of Robert Pack to the Abernethy Collection of American Literature, Special Collections, Middlebury College.

Processing Information

Finding Aid compiled, 2011, by M. Robbins. Finding Aid reviewed, August 2012.

Repository Details

Part of the Middlebury College Special Collections & Archives Repository

Middlebury College
Davis Family Library
110 Storrs Avenue
Middlebury Vermont 05753 United States