|Robert Frost before he became "the old man."|
Disclaimer: I have read many books by the writer, both poetry and fiction, and I have nothing against her as a person--never met her and am not suffering from any negative feelings toward her. In fact, I am the sort of person who rarely gets angry at people in real life, so I'm not too likely to have bad feelings about people I don't even know.
- For me, it is wrong to take selective bits of a living or once-living person's life and write a story about them in order for the author to grind an axe. This portrayal feels too personal and too governed by the desire to mock and to debase for the author's own purposes. (Here I should admit that I have written one fictional piece based on--based on, not professing to be the truth--events associated with a once-living person. I wrote it because I was fascinated and intrigued and felt sympathy for how the man's nature clashed with his time and place. I did not use his name. It is forthcoming. I also used the Puritan figure of Edward Taylor as a minor figure in one of my novels and in a story, though only a tiny number of readers recognized him. I believe no axes were ground in any of those tales.)
- I happen to believe that it is always a mistake to write a story from a stance of lovelessness. It is probably a mistake to write anything or even say anything from that stance. "Love one another" is pretty good advice for human beings and hey, even for writers. What's the point of a character you despise and upon whom you visit no mercy?
- Desire to transgress with the unwitting help of the dead seems to me . . . necrophiliac.
- If you have no sympathy with Robert Frost's instinctual grasp of structure, sound, and metrical variation, fine. (In that case, I probably won't be thinking all that highly of your understanding of poetry, even if you have published a good deal of poetry, but you in turn won't be thinking highly of mine, so we come out even.)
- Side note: Robert Frost has been out of fashion for a good long time--not that I give one little whit or hoot about fashion. Attacking him is both ostensibly transgressive (he's sexist! he's racist! etcetera) and yet weirdly easy. Let's topple somebody who's out of fashion! It's about like cow-tipping. Now Poe was brave when he attacked W. W. Lord, a poetry power in the realm at that time (and, oddly enough, once rector here at Christ Church in Cooperstown.) But attacking Frost is about like attacking Longfellow these days. (Both deserve not to be forgotten.) Here I note that Frost's attacker is given a Longfellow name, Evangeline. Longfellow's poem of the same name was enormously popular.
- The fact is that Modernism stripped away many of the elements of poetry, not just sound and form, and that the richness and sentiment and color and abundance of a poet like Frost now look fairly strange to many of those who came after. That's okay. The thing we are now--post-post-post-Modernism or what have you--will also pass away (if it hasn't already) and look strange in its turn. People will wonder how so much of our poetry became so thin and drab and pedestrian and unpleasing to the ear. People will not wonder why we lost our audience.
- There is no progress in poetry. There is only alternation and flux and the occasional achievement of beauty and power. To think that there is progress gives a person the strange idea that one might just be a better person and poet than an accomplished writer who lived in an earlier time. This is a false way to think. Because he lived long ago, Andrew Marvell is not less than, say, Mary Oliver. As a writer, he might even be better. I don't care about whether he's better or not better in any other way. It's not my business or my interest.
- People who lived in the past are not exactly the same as people who live now. It is a category error to think that people in the past were just like us and felt and believed exactly as we do. (That's why we have so many historical novels that sound like contemporary people are wearing fancy dress and pretending. And it's why we can sometimes feel so very self-righteous in scolding the great men and women of the past.)
- I do not care about Robert Frost's failings as a human being, or about how he evinced any traces of his time and culture. Robert Frost is done with all earthly repentance and grief and attempts to be a better person. We the living are the ones who must struggle in that way now.
- What I care about in the case of Robert Frost is something very different. I care that he gave over much of his life to the making of wonderful little constructions of beauty and power out of words and "a mouthful of air," as Yeats said. I care about the costly-to-him, free-to-us gift that he left behind for me and anybody who wishes to pick it up. That is no little thing.
Then for the house that is no more a house,
But only a belilaced cellar hole,
Now slowly closing like a dent in dough.
This was no playhouse but a house in earnest.
Your destination and your destiny's
A brook that was the water of the house,
Cold as a spring as yet so near its source,
Too lofty and original to rage.
(We know the valley streams that when aroused
Will leave their tatters hung on barb and thorn.)
I have kept hidden in the instep arch
Of an old cedar at the waterside
A broken drinking goblet like the Grail
Under a spell so the wrong ones can't find it,
So can't get saved, as Saint Mark says they mustn't.
(I stole the goblet from the children's playhouse.)
Here are your waters and your watering place.
Drink and be whole again beyond confusion.