In honor of National Poetry month, I thought I'd write a bit about one of my favorite poets, Robert Frost.
To be honest, I have a love-hate relationship with much of Frost's poetry. Sometimes nothing else will do, and I need Robert to remind me about the road less travelled and being acquainted with the night and other, quiet countries of the heart. Other times (usually about three a.m. on a bad night) I want to drop into the office shredder every book I have with his name on it.
Like Blake, Byron and Keats, Frost has always been both a godsend and a thorn in my side. As a teenager I wanted to love him, but he was a bit too sharp-eyed and all-seeing to allow me in. The few times I did get a foot or shoulder in the door, he smacked me down with some simple, throwaway line that should have just been lyrical and pastoral and wasn't. For me Frost is subtle but temporal; he slips into the brain like a polite guest hiding a jackhammer behind his back. Then, when you're not looking, he goes to work.
My introduction to Robert Frost was his poem Fire and Ice, which I read as a teenager and (even then) knew I was in trouble. He assured me of everything I suspected but didn't want to believe about human beings. He even tried to give me some fairly shrewd and even prophetic advice with Choose Something Like a Star, but as a youngster I was too wild and head-strong to climb that stairway to heaven. I turned my back on him and buried myself in the Romantics and the Experimenters, and every time one of his verses would come back to haunt me I'd chase it off with some Rilke or Browning or Rosetti.
Age and experience made a uncertain peace between me and Frost; I finally accepted that what I wanted to believe about people mostly belonged in fiction, not real life. He helped me get past my grandmother's death without tromping on my grief. He left me alone by those deep, dark and lovely woods on a snowy evening, but he wrapped me up before he rode on. The second time he asked of me a certain height, I still stayed on the ground, but I was better able to appreciate how much he himself must have wanted to attain that safe distance. I think now he fought for it his entire life.
Only a handful of his poems are still taught to children in school, but that's probably enough. I don't think they'd sleep too well after reading Ghost House or even Paul's Wife. I certainly didn't. As for Fire and Ice, I don't think I'll ever make peace with that particular poem. I want to believe, as my grandmother did, that faith in mankind is not misplaced, even when you're basically betting on them to be too petty and selfish to do the unthinkable.
Robert Frost was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry four times, and he deserved every one of them. His poetry is very accessible, benign on the surface, and deeper than the abyss. Like explosives, handle with care.
Choose Something Like a Star
Fire and Ice
Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening