I spent the month of October reading the Complete Poems of Robert Frost (Holt, Rinehart and Winston). It is tempting for a reader to afford someone like Robert Frost (1874-1963) the kind of deferential lens that, when applied to other writers, forces us to appreciate Proust. Once writers become Laureates we feel compelled to laud them. However, a month is long enough to allow a modicum of objectivity to emerge. At the end of the experience, I genuinely like Frost. Here’s why:
Frost knew how to make the most of his walks.
When I walk through the woods, I am usually looking forward to looking back on the experience. But I imagine that Robert Frost lived to walk in the woods. He strikes me as the kind of guy who found forlorn flannel-honoring significance in every crunch beneath his feet. Every smell — even the nice ones — evoked memories of nebulous loss and walls in ruins.
Today is a rainy day in November, which reminds me of his “My November Guest.” This is Frost at the height of being Frost. You can almost see the raindrops splashing into his coffee as he writes …
My Sorrow, when she’s here with me,
Thinks these dark days of autumn rain
Are beautiful as days can be;
She loves the bare, the withered tree;
She walked the sodden pasture lane.
Her pleasure will not let me stay.
She talks and I am fain to list:
She’s glad the birds are gone away,
She’s glad her simple worsted gray
Is silver now with clinging mist.
The desolate, deserted trees,
The faded earth, the heavy sky,
The beauties she so truly sees,
She thinks I have no eye for these,
And vexes me for reason why.
Not yesterday I learned to know
The love of bare November days
Before the coming of the snow,
But it were vain to tell her so,
And they are better for her praise.
See? His point of view is deliciously melancholy. He is actually trying to appease Sorrow. In a way, I get that. I understand the need to let sorrow do its work, to let drizzle have its day. Yet, in reading Frost I could not help but long for the “And yet …” of Scripture. There is a hope that throws Sorrow into stark relief. Christ in His glory casts light into my contemplation. Try though I might, I cannot become incurably sullen. The Rising Son of Righteousness makes Sorrow squint and reconsider.
I think I’ll bump up the thermostat and think on this for a time.