(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?