Thursday, April 15, 2010

Fire and Ice

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

Ghost House

Paul's Wife

Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening


  1. Adore Frost.
    Always have.
    "The Road Not Taken" and "Stopping By Woods" were always my favorites. "Ghost House" gave me delicious chills.
    Thank you for reminding me of an old love.

  2. Anonymous12:53 AM

    I spend a lot of time on the go or being banned from the house computer, so i have found that both gdocs and my writing nook are godsends when i have an idea i need to jot down for my writing. I have both on my phone. The great thing is that when i can sit down at a computer, all my information is synced from my phone to the web in easy to access files. :)

    Of course, I also have several spiral bound notebooks and 3 ring binders with ideas and "what ifs" overflowing the pages too. :p

  3. Fire & Ice was the first poem I ever memorized - it still fascinates me.

  4. Savannah, I think you meant your comment for the Neat Writer Stuff giveaway post, so I'm going to post a copy over there.

  5. Love Frost's poetry. Anybody who can lure and sucker-punch with words has me, but he does it so beautifully.

  6. Thank you for this. I have always seen Frost as a stealth poet. The punch in the gut just waiting for you to look away.

    Mending Wall was my first introduction to Frost, and to the subversive streak running through so much of his work.

    Happy poetry month!

  7. In high school chorus we sang Randall Thompson arrangements of four of Frost's pieces. My favorite, and still my favorite Frost poem, is "Choose Something Like a Star". It's one of the few poems I still remember from my high school days.

  8. Stopping By the Woods On a Snowy Evening was the first poem I can ever remember memorizing in its entirety, and I can still recite it perfectly. I remember being absolutely fascinated by the rhyming scheme (which I'm sure has a technical term), discovering that words in a poem didn't have to rhyme in paired lines. Frost is directly responsible for my appreciating for poetry because as complex as his work can be, I find it very accessible. You can find deep meaning in what he writes but you can also simply appreciate the way he turns words into music.

    I'm also very partial to Nothing Gold Can Stay (find it here:

    Thanks for sharing - I especially liked Paul's Wife.

  9. Oh, I love Frost. Even in his most provoking, I somehow find something comforting in his poetry...

  10. Liz B1:17 PM

    The Outsiders by S.E. Henton was the book that really got me into reading, so the poem "Nothing Gold Can Stay" has a special place in my heart.

  11. I, too, love to read Frost though my favorite poet is Yeats. Most of all though I look to Faulkner for faith in humankind.

  12. His woods are indeed dark and deep.

  13. I love this post. And of course Robert Frost too. :) My favorite is definitely The Road Not Taken.

    Happy Poetry Month!!


  14. Frost and Whitman are the two poets I most enjoy, and enjoy consistently; poetry in general doesn't do much for me otherwise. I remember being quite apathetic in poetry units in high school English classes until we flipped the page and got to "Fire and Ice." It immediately made me take notice. Perhaps I was more jaded then, but even now that poem speaks to me about the darker sides of human emotions, of our capabilities for destruction through passion or apathy. Especially apathy.

    Thanks for the links and your thoughts on the poet.

  15. Frost is the stealth bomber of poets. You think he's all Stopping By Woods and then kaboom! Acquainted with the Night slams you in the mid-section and sends you flying. Also highly recommended: Theodore Roethke.


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