On October 8, 1958, the Academy awarded the first Emerson-Thoreau Medal to poet and Fellow Robert Frost. The program was simple and informal at his request. Frost delivered an address titled “On Emerson”. He explained that he had long been inspired by Emerson’s use of language and structure: “Some of my first thinking about my own language was certainly Emersonian. ‘Cut these sentences and they bleed,’ he says. I am not submissive enough to want to be a follower, but he had me there. I never got over that.”
Left to right: Kirtley F. Mather, Academy President; Robert Frost; Kenneth B. Murdock, member of the Emerson-Thoreau Committee
The award's bronze medal is engraved on one side with the seal of the Academy and on the other with two quotations, one from Emerson: “Art is the path of the creator to his work”; and one from Thoreau: “I have several times shown the proprietor the shortest way out of his wood-lot.”
Bronze, 3 1/4" x 1/4"; ca. 1958
Upon accepting the Medal on October 21, 1959, T.S. Eliot spoke on ‘The Influence of Landscape upon the Poet’: “This is the Emerson Thoreau Award: it brings to mind Concord in particular and New England in general. Then I reflected that my honoured predecessor…was Robert Frost, distinctly in the mind of everyone a New England poet. I then asked myself whether I had any title to be a New England poet, as is my elder contemporary Robert Frost, and as is my junior contemporary, Robert Lowell: and I think I have.”
See a pdf of the full typescript here.
On April 9, 1969, the Academy awarded the Emerson-Thoreau Medal to author and Fellow Hannah Arendt. On accepting the Medal she said: “For this great humanist [Emerson], the humanities were simply those disciplines that dealt with language, and that doesn’t mean with linguistics. And in the center of all his thought about language, he found the poet, the name of ‘language-maker,’ as he said.”
Left to right: Talcott Parsons, Academy President; Hannah Arendt; Lionel Trilling, Emerson-Thoreau Committee Chair