STOPPING BY THE WOODS – Part 10

winter-scene(John stands, takes off his coat.)

 

I never met Robert Frost, but I did meet John Updike once and discussed with him this account he wrote for the New Yorker of seeing the poet perform in Sanders Theater at Harvard

 

(John pulls a New Yorker off the table and reads.)

 

Robert Frost was relentless in the number of public readings he gave. In Allen Ginsberg’s words, “He created an audience for poetry readings… He was the first voyager, a kind of pioneer, the original entrepreneur of poetry.“

 

I remember Frost shambled about on the stage as if he had been prodded from a sound winter’s sleep; he “said”—as he put it—his poems rather rapidly, minimizing their music in his haste to get on with his spoken commentary on whatever came to his mind. In the front rows sat the flower of the English faculty, most conspicuously Archibald MacLeish, the Boylston Professor of Rhetoric and Oratory. Compared to these exemplars of civilized letters, Frost was an untamed beast, a man who had wriggled or quarreled his way out of every academic post he had had, though his appetite for instructing others was powerful. As a literary artist, he was, we all knew, the real thing, the one man in the hall—and, for that matter, in all of safe, sane Cambridge—who had staked his whole soul on poetry and had gained the ultimate prize.”

 

Shortly after his trip to Russia, Frost was admitted to the Peter Bent Brigham Hospital in Cambridge on December 3, 1962. An examination showed that his prostrate was abnormally large and his bladder was infected. The surgery that took place a week later revealed even worse problems. He recovered but was obviously in bad shape. On top of everything, his heart had been damaged.

There was one bright spot in his older age however.  After the death of his wife, Frost became strongly attracted to Kathleen (Kay) Morrison, married to Theodore Morrison. Frost employed her from 1938 as his secretary and adviser, but over time also became his lover. Frost bought a small, wood-frame farmhouse on 150 acres at Bread Loaf—a writing conference Ted Morrison ran at which Frost was a regular presenter. A few minutes’ walk uphill, on the edge of the woods, was a self-contained cabin with a stone fireplace and pleasant screened-in porch offering a dramatic view across a meadow. The Morrisons occupied the farmhouse. Kay would phone Frost and he would come down for meals which the three of them would eat together. Every morning she would go up to the cabin and work with him on his letters and arrangements. Kay was beautiful, charming and sophisticated in a way Frost had rarely seen in a woman. He liked her independence and she…provided order and grace to his later years.

Out through the fields and the woods

     And over the walls I have wended;

I have climbed the hills of view

     And looked at the world, and descended:

I have come by the highway home,

     And lo, it is ended.

 

Frost wrote these lines in his poem “Reluctance” which ends prophetically,

 

            Ah, when to the heart of man

                 Was it ever less than a treason

            To go with the drift of things,

                 To yield with a grace to reason,

            And bow and accept the end

                 Of a love or a season?

           

 

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6 thoughts on “STOPPING BY THE WOODS – Part 10

  1. Just to let you know that I’m following along…and enjoying it. Makes me wish I could have met old man Frost….I just made myself laugh…

    1. Thanks, Susan. He probably was one of those people who are easy to admire from a distance, but we have all his poems and they are as alive as ever. John

  2. You are probably right. But knowing about the man makes his poetry that much more interesting.. This is what seeped out of him. Just think what was really there.

  3. Thank you yet again for this wonderful website. I don’t want to go back to college, but I do want to keep on learning. This is the place for lovers of literature!

    I just hope Robert is able to appreciate his legacy from wherever he is now.

  4. Thanks to Joan Cannon, I found you and these wonderful poems by my favorite poet.
    I love the commentary that goes along with each as I read them all again.

    I was in the audience when Robert Frost read at a woman’s college in Georgia. It must have been around 1961 or 62. He was an old man at that time, his shock of gray hair was impressive, and I’ll never forget his presence on the stage. He did just what you’ve said here, put down his poems as “just a ride through the woods” or something like that.
    But his voice rings in my ears today just as it did then and I still love his poetry. When I am asked about my favorite Frost poem, it is impossible for me to decide. I love Birches, Death of the Hired Man and all the others we still read and talk about.
    Thank you for this look back at Frost.

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