An appreciation of Robert Frost on his death

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Isabel Dubert, Contributing Writer

“He will not see me stopping here

To watch his woods fill up with snow.”

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It is snowing. The endless snowflakes cloud my vision of this semi-rural Indiana landscape as I gaze through the glass outside. While this snowstorm blows without, I am knitting up a storm here within with my needles and alpaca yarn. Across this expansive white wilderness, all we have had this festive holiday, it seems, is flakes, and more flakes. The vast plains of Indiana are covered with that white blanket which shrouds the countryside after a great snowfall.

And somehow, snow tends to remind me of Robert Frost. Either it is his fortunate name, or there is something undeniably snowy about his poems . . . perhaps that distinct New England air (which it would be heretical to disown, being so intrinsic to our nation’s character).

Incidentally, my book of Frost poems lies beside me on the couch, for, at the end of the day, what is Christmas break without our dear old Robert? Ever since I was very young, and quite little, I have known this poet’s name. I have heard it spoken of with tenderness and reverence; I have read it on the wooden bookshelf, beside my mother’s copies of Lewis, Tolkien and Chesterton.

The one Frost book I remember her having, naturally, was an illustrated edition of Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening. It is a delightful book, a beautiful rendition. Each page is graced by a full-length painting, paired with a line or two from the poem. The whole book carries on in this way, enveloping the reader in the whiteness of its snowy pages and in the embrace of its soothing words.

I believe that no American poet, or very few, can quite compare with the vivid undertones of Frost’s poetic imagery, and with his direct understanding of the New England scenes that he creatively depicts. As the book’s illustrator, Susan Jeffers, points out, “There is only one thing more majestic than a Robert Frost poem about snow – a snowstorm itself.” And I am fortunate enough to have both at once, together. I cannot look at the pictures or hear the poem read without being drawn back into the days of my childhood imagination.

For that is how I first became acquainted with our poet, as I envisioned the snows and glaciers of northern-hemispheric lands around Christmastime and languished among the palm trees of the humid southern climes of Mozambique. At first I thought he must have written for children, because my only connection to his poetry was inherently linked to the illustrations. But before long, I realized that his writings held more depth and meaning than I could then understand as a mere child, and of a different kind than is typically portrayed through pictures.

You will read this essay on January 29th, the 50th anniversary of the death of Robert Frost. I thought that a humble literary tribute to the great poet would not be out of line. There is a distinct and dignified beauty and simplicity in a Frost poem, not easily matched. And so I urge you, in the midst of your cares and abstractions, your woolgathering and philosophizing, before you have quite lost your sensibility of Nature and of Love – read a little bit of Frost, remember who you are, remember that a man such as Frost once lived and walked the world most wide, and that he kept his thoughts written down in a book for you to read some 50 years later.

Read your Frost, and expel the frost of forgetfulness from your heart, even if you are not blessed with a snowstorm as well. Do what you must to remember yourself, to be drawn back into your childhood, before it blows away entirely.

If you are an inveterate Frost lover, then find your way back through the trenches of history and peruse anew all of your favorites; revisit again those old haunts and memories of aforetime. If not, then, gentle reader, let me recommend to you these treasures, these poems, three or four of them rather ‘snowy,’ for you to probe and discover their value, some of which are particularly beloved of me: “Into My Own,” “A Patch of Old Snow,” “Dust of Snow,” “Good Hours” and “Birches.”

Peter Edgerly Firchow, in his book on the oft under-read Anglo-American poet W.H. Auden, notes “a sentence in Auden’s essay on Frost, where ‘Frost’s tone of voice’ is described as being ‘even in his dramatic pieces … that of a man talking to himself, thinking aloud and hardly aware of an audience.’” And further, “In Auden’s view, Frost was to be esteemed because he was … a poet who aimed for truth rather than beauty and ‘knew that they are not identical.’ Frost was for Auden . . . the archetypal modern American poet.”

Indeed, to quote our exceptional editor, Daniel Orazio: “Frost is so very American. What I like about him is his earthiness, whereas Stevens is too ethereal, Eliot the poet of the obscure footnote.”

So, get down to your daily dose of earthiness. And to you all, happy Frosting!

 

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