An essay I turned in this morning for English 113.
For the Love of Frost
One of my wishes is that those dark trees,
So old and firm they scarcely show the breeze,
Were not, as ’twere, the merest mask of gloom,
But stretched away unto the edge of doom. (Frost, “Into My Own”)
With these words in 1913, an awkward, gangling farm boy inexpertly expressed his interest in the most popular girl in school, the one all the poets wanted. Robert Frost had made written acquaintance with the American public some years prior but it was not until he moved to England that we took notice of our would-be suitor. His adolescent flirting would rapidly mature to the lingering kisses of a timeless affaire d’amour. Though there were some lovers’ quarrels through the years, his voice still whispers the little nothings we love to hear as we think back on relaxing in those peaceful moments of intimate connection. Our relationship with Frost began as an awkward courtship, tarried in sensual consummation, and now drifts restfully in the memories of half-conscious pillow talk.
Though his initial overture was unpolished and inelegant, our débutante’s attention was captured and our interest piqued. We had previously been courted by a boy named Edgar, but he was a bit too brooding for our collective taste. Edgar was fine enough to sigh over but not much fun to date, and we were looking for someone new with whom to share our evenings. We commented in our diary about our new beau, “Mr. Frost’s [A Boy’s Will] is a little raw, and has in it a number of infelicities; underneath them it has the tang of the New Hampshire woods, and it has just this utter sincerity” (Pound – emphasis in the original). Ezra Pound perfectly captured the country’s enchantment with Robert Frost. What set Frost apart from other poets was his skillful use of modest language to talk about everyday life. Grand pronouncements on cosmic-scale themes he left for other poets, and it was exactly those sincere infelicities that won America’s heart and soul.
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Frost’s intimations to the American public would quickly become more fluid, more polished with each published work, yet never lost that grounding in the everyday that was his signature. We were utterly captivated by his charm by the second date (Mountain Interval), and by the third (New Hampshire: A Poem with Notes and Grace Notes) we slipped into his bed appareled in the lingerie of the first of four Pulitzer Prizes. America would spend the next twenty-five years exchanging intimate kisses and moments of pleasure with Robert Frost, a continuous lovemaking that elicited audible sighs and whimpers in 1947 with the publication of Steeple Bush. Gladys Campbell would verbalize our escalating desire in her review of that collection. “Through text-books and anthologies some of his poems are so well-known to school-boys that they are amazed to find that Frost is a living poet. He belongs with Tennyson, Wordsworth, Longfellow – all those who are to be read before examinations” (Campbell 200). We were hopelessly lost in the throes of ecstasy.
By the time the 1950s were over, our romance with Robert Frost had become a torrid, sizzling affair, and in 1961 we reached our little death and invited him to speak at the Kennedy inauguration.
It was in the following years of denouement however, that Frost secured our undying affection, caressing us like a favored lover, indulging us with observations about his day, his random thoughts, and his private contemplations about life as it is and as it should be. This is the poetry that enchanted America from the beginning and continued as the idle pillow talk of an extraordinary man to his most cherished companion. Years slipped by unnoticed as he shared those seemingly minor ruminations, candid speculations about whatever subject popped up. The honesties and casual confidences were so genuine that they still bring out our own unguarded confessions.
You don’t take someone or something in without changing yourself in ways that you can’t know ahead of time. Out of that unknowing, that ignorance, he writes his best poems. And if we read them listening as critically as he listens to himself, willing to double back on our own assumptions, to be honest about our own vanities, fears and longings, then he can be one of our necessary poets, both asking of us and giving to us far more than the Robert Frost of public performance; the Frost we only imagine confirms our unearned assumptions of togetherness. (Wallace 231)
Throughout this affair, Frost shared many of these with us; a few moments along the road home in “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening,” his reminiscences about the course of his life in “The Road Not Taken,” and his musings about the changes of the world in “Some Science Fiction.”
The chance is the remotest
Of its going much longer unnoticed
That I’m not keeping pace
With the headlong human race.
And some of them may mind
My staying back behind
To take life at a walk
In philosophic talk; (Frost, “Some Science Fiction”)
These are not the grandiose proclamations of a famous poet on life, the universe, and everything, but rather the chit-chat of a man to a significant other while lying in bed chasing the fleeting thoughts that stray on by. It is for these tokens that we whisper our undying love, for these sweet little nothings that we pledge our eternal devotion. They are at once small and large, important meaninglessnesses that are shared by cuddling people under a jumbled sheet. These conversations dwell not on kings and gods and social commentary, but rather on what happened on the road to home, the people he bumped into, the flowers that caught his eye. He shares his dreams of life with us, and even when he shares his thoughts on death, he talks not about the judgment of humanity at large, but rather what he’d like to see written on his own tombstone.
I hold your doctrine of Memento Mori.
And were an epitaph to be my story
I’d have a short one ready for my own.
I would have written of me on my stone:
I had a lover’s quarrel with the world. (Frost, “The Lesson for Today”)
Despite his death in 1963, we still gaze wistfully back over the course of our time with Frost as only a lover estranged by death might, remembering the quiet moments with pleasant fondness. The words that still linger on our minds are the simple little murmurings that he shared only with us from the day we met him until the day he died.
Campbell, Gladys. “A World Torn Loose Went by Me.” Poetry, Vol LXXI, No. 3. Dec. 1947: 145 – 149. Rpt. in Poetry Criticism. Ed. Robyn V. Young. Vol. 1. Detroit, 1991. 200 – 201.
Frost, Robert. The Poetry of Robert Frost. Ed. Edward Connery Lathem. 1st ed. New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 1969.
Pound, Ezra. “Review of A Boy’s Will.” Poetry, Vol. II, No. 2. May 1913: 72 – 74. Rpt. in Poetry Criticism. Ed. Robyn V. Young. Vol. 1. Detroit, 1991. 192.
Wallace, Patricia. “Separateness and Solitude in Frost.” The Kenyon Review, Vol. 6, No. 1. Winter 1984: 1 – 12. Rpt. in Poetry Criticism. Ed. Robyn V. Young. Vol 1. Detroit, 1991. 226 – 231.