Thursday, March 26, 2015

Robert Frost: The Possibilities Of Roads And Snowy Evenings

Robert Frost in 1951

When I think of Robert Frost three memories come to mind. First, there is the poetry that was likely introduced into my elementary school classroom through The Road Not Taken, Stopping By Woods On A Snowy Evening, and Mending Wall. The vivid imagery in a small package was enough to catch even a young student's attention. The second memory is that of an old, long-faced man standing tall and capped with a mound of white hair. It's an appropriate image as Frost would have been well into his seventies by 1950. Despite his age he was quite a public figure in his later years. I remember seeing him on television many times. Finally, there is the old man standing at the Capitol on a bitter January day in 1961 attempting to read a poem written on the occasion of the presidential inauguration of John F. Kennedy. One could say his inability to complete the reading was an appropriate ending for a man who had led such a difficult life. In two years both Frost and Kennedy would be gone. 

The Academy of American Poets has this to say about Frost:

Though his work is principally associated with the life and landscape of New England—and though he was a poet of traditional verse forms and metrics who remained steadfastly aloof from the poetic movements and fashions of his time—Frost is anything but merely a regional poet. The author of searching and often dark meditations on universal themes, he is a quintessentially modern poet in his adherence to language as it is actually spoken, in the psychological complexity of his portraits, and in the degree to which his work is infused with layers of ambiguity and irony.

The full article is available  here.

It's difficult for me to believe that a poet I remember has been gone so long that several of his works are in the public domain. One of them is The Road Not Taken written in 1916.

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,

And sorry I could not travel both

And be one traveler, long I stood

And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less travelled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Frost reading at John F. Kennedy inauguration in 1961

Top photo, Fred Palumbo, World Telegram staff photographer - Library of Congress. New York World-Telegram & Sun Collection.
Bottom photo, B. Anthony Stewart/National Geographic/Getty

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