January 10th, 2014

Robert Frost on “the science is settled”

No, the poet Robert Frost didn’t write anything about the believers versus the deniers of anthropogenic global warming. After all, he died in 1963.

When I started this blog (lo about nine long years ago!), I had some idea of things that were important to me that I planned to write about: politics, poetry, and dance, and whatever else might happen to strike my fancy. But those were the big three. As part of that idea, when I moved my blog to WordPress just a couple of years later, the photo I took and placed at the top of the page featured a carefully-arranged still life of a biography of Churchill, a volume of Frost’s collected works, and one of my old pointe shoes.

Frost has long been my favorite poet. He wrote an enormous number of poems that I (and most critics) would call masterpieces, many of them of great complexity and mystery, a feat he achieves while appearing to be easily accessible. But the poem I’m going to highlight here is not one of them; it’s a decidedly minor poem. When you read it, though, I think you’ll see why I find it an interesting example of Frost’s thought.

When I started the blog I was familiar with most of Frost’s major poems, and at least some of his minor work as well. But I knew very little about his thought—except what I could glean from the poems I had read. I hadn’t encountered what I would now call his “political” poems, although he wrote quite a few; they tend to be the lesser poems. But recently I’ve started reading about his politics—or rather, his philosophy of politics—and his views on eduction and a host of other things that turn out in some ways to be political, and I have to say I have been exceedingly impressed. He was a deep and important thinker in addition to a deep and important poet, and although that makes a certain amount of sense it’s certainly not something I’ve noticed in most other poets whose work I admire.

Some day I plan to write more on Frost’s ideas. But it’s a big topic to tackle, so for now I’ll just offer what I hope will be a tantalizing glimpse, the sonnet “The Broken Drought,” which was written in 1947:

THE BROKEN DROUGHT

The prophet of disaster ceased to shout
Something was going right outside the hall.
A rain, though stingy, had begun to fall
That rather hurt his theory of the drought
And all the great convention was about.
A cheer went up that shook the mottoed wall.
He did as Shakespeare says, you may recall,
Good orators will do when they are out.
Yet in his heart he was unshaken sure
The drought was one no spit of rain could cure.
It was the drought of deserts. Earth would soon
Be uninhabitable as the moon.
What for that matter had it ever been?
Who advised man to come and live therein?

Does he not have the AGW prophets’ number, including the idea somehow that man is a blight upon the earth?

Frost is often thought of as a quaint and homey New England bard, he of the silver mane and the Yankee accent. It was an image he carefully cultivated, and it wasn’t really a lie. But it was a great oversimplification. Frost was, among other things, an erudite and extremely well-read man who knew Greek and Latin and was deeply versed not only in the ancient classics in those languages but in the Bible, Shakespeare, science, philosophy, you-name-it.

If you’re interested in learning more about Frost’s thought, his notebooks were published a few years ago and are well worth looking at. Here are excerpts from several reviews of the book:

The notebooks bring Frost alive as a person and poet, showing him in the process of thinking through, rethinking, and formulating many of his most important beliefs, ideas, observations, and epigrams…They show a remarkable intelligence at work and provide access to the (typically concealed) processes underlying Frost’s performances, as well as a catalog of his most important concerns. Also important are Frost’s more general observations on human nature and behavior and on social and governmental organization (these often struck me as remarkably prescient of contemporary scientific and philosophical views.)

This work deserves a place with other editions of major writers such as Emerson, Thoreau, and Twain. One measure of the importance of this edition is that it demonstrates that Frost belongs in the company of America’s greatest writers, whose significance grows with our access to their complete works.

Since Frost used his notebooks to think through his poems, his essays and his teaching, they reveal only his working mind–and that’s revelation aplenty… By now, nobody buys Frost’s old image as a rustic autodidact or a versifying Andy Rooney. He read as widely and deeply as any American poet–the notebooks allude to the likes of Dryden, Marx, Nietzsche, Freud, Einstein, Santayana and Maria Montessori–and funny as he was, he could still outbleak T. S. Eliot. He was also American poetry’s biggest ham (at least until Allen Ginsberg), and his poems were performances: not just in his well-known public readings but on the page.

What also surfaces is the immense erudition of Frost, who was better versed in the classics than Pound, and hugely read in the Bible and English poetry as well…Truth be told, it’s hard to think of another American poet who knows as much about what little we can safely apprehend as Robert Frost.

More than 40 years after his death, Robert Frost remains America’s quintessential poet and perhaps its least understood…What can be found is intellect in action, as Frost explores literature, history, philosophy, and religion. The voice is similar to that in his verse–clear, authoritative, sometimes sharp or funny–but the currents flowing through these pages predate those in the poetry, meaning that the water is colder and deeper, not a warm, easy dip.

But a rewarding one.

32 Responses to “Robert Frost on “the science is settled””

  1. MissJean Says:

    funny you should mention this. I always loved the poems about the learnéd philosopher, the skeleton in the attic (which escaped from the basement), and the one about the boy cutting his hand off with an ax. I had to memorize that last one for my high school speech class; our teachers insisted we commit some poetry to memory.

    Just a month or so ago, I was invited to a Toastmasters’ meeting to see a friend do a speech. The woman ahead of her recited/performed the Frost poem about the fellow who uses insurance money on a burned barn to buy a telescope. And so I’ve been reading Frost again.

    PS I think that Lake Woebegone is populated by gross caricatures of Frost’s people.

  2. neo-neocon Says:

    MissJean:

    If you haven’t seen it before, I think you’ll enjoy this post of mine.

  3. mizpants Says:

    Joyce Carol Oates published a very crude story misusing Frost as a character in a recent issue of the Atlantic. I haven’t read it, but the excerpts I’ve read are shockingly bad.

  4. Matt_SE Says:

    Robert Frost. Didn’t he, like, date a Kardashian or something?

  5. neo-neocon Says:

    mizpants:

    Frost has long been a target, for a variety of reasons. His first biographer (Lawrance Thompson) hated his guts and ended up writing a hit piece on him. See this fascinating discussion of how and why it happened, and what the effects were.

    IMHO one of the reasons for the general targeting of Frost was political; he was perceived as too conservative by poets and critics of the left. There were other reasons, too. Frost was not a perfect human being, of course, but there is hardly any question in my mind that most of the terrible stuff written about him is unfair and untrue.

    I read about Oates’ recent piece on him. She apparently had earlier criticized Thompson’s biography, but then went ahead and did the same to Frost in fiction. I seem to recall her defense was that it was fiction. My response is: then use a fictional character.

    I have never found Oates’ work of any interest. Can’t get through it.

  6. Gringo Says:

    Frost is often thought of as a quaint and homey New England bard, he of the silver mane and the Yankee accent. It was an image he carefully cultivated, and it wasn’t really a lie. But it was a great oversimplification. Frost was, among other things, an erudite and extremely well-read man who knew Greek and Latin and was deeply versed not only in the ancient classics in those languages but in the Bible, Shakespeare, science, philosophy, you-name-it.

    Don’t underestimate them old Yankee farmer types .I am reminded of the old Yankee in my hometown who was a dairy farmer, on land his family had owned since before the Revolutionary War. He was also a Middlebury graduate.

    Because old Yankees were laconic by nature, or by cultural norms, it was easy to underestimate them.

  7. parker Says:

    Frost was a deep thinker with a close connection to the stuff of everyday life. Unlike much of the self-labeled intelligensia he was not pretentious and arrogant. “Don’t ever take down a fence until you know why it was put up.” — RF We have plenty of ‘fences’ being torn down with no thought about why the fence was put up in the first place.

  8. davisbr Says:

    Lazing about the vine-enclosed deck.
    Late weekday evenings in summer.
    The quite spectacular sunsets
    illuminating the quiet suburban mountains.
    .
    .
    Just killing time.
    Sipping merlot. Reading Frost
    by candlelight. Out loud.
    …to each other.
    .
    .
    Oh! The lively discussions after.

  9. vanderleun Says:

    “and placed at the top of the page featured a carefully-arranged still life of a biography of Churchill, a volume of Frost’s collected works, and one of my old pointe shoes.”

    And we treasure every pixel.

  10. Artfldgr Says:

    One thing i cant understand is how academia is better called doomedemia… seems to be a disease of intelligence. At least when i do doom, its just that the way of life will change, like in different and not liked, not like different and everything dead…

    everything leads to disaster…

    are these the people we really want making policy, rules, laws, and so on? has everyone not realized that the people with whatever education that separates them, myself, and the better edumacated past, are afraid of the implication of everything?

    they dont like the free market, thats chaos and cant be good… dont like guns… dont like kids thinking of guns… dont like religion, maybe god dont like them… dont like nature, its going to kill them.. dont like living, it will also be the death of them… dont like food, its all toxic… dont like sex, too boring without perversion… and on it goes…

    in Frosts day, such “sickness” was not norm nor normed, it was a sickness that other educated people looked at and said poor fellow, and thought fondly of their classes going over Tulip mania.

    if frost was prescient, how about Rebecca Emberley?

    ok.. maybe not as polished as Frost, but certainly a literary giant in her own write, quoted much more often than anything Frost ever wrote, and usually not credited or remembered.

    -=-=-=-=-=–=-=-=-=-=-

    but witches, gypsies, charlatans, fakirs, oracles, with names as varied as the methods… throwing bones, reading tea, scrying mirrors, and so on..

    here is the thing… everyone looks at those and says they would not be fooled by that, but a contemporary version of the same, they would go to – and not think themselves foolish. how bout little bloodletting to feel better? there once was a consensus on that too.

    at least i clearly remember when the first ideas of such came out it was not sourced in main science, and it smelt of the kind of thing countries do to each others people for advantage. even more so knowing that the papers pointing out that oil replenishes (think the experiment which made biological chemistry in a jar, and the new process that almost directly converts algea), and what happened with that?

    after all… who has drilled the deepest hole? see Kola Superdeep Borehole

    SG-3, reached 12,262 metres (40,230 ft) (2.21 leagues) in 1989, and is the deepest hole ever drilled, and the deepest artificial point on Earth..

    The Kola borehole penetrated about a third of the way through the Baltic continental crust, estimated to be around 35 kilometres (22 mi) deep, reaching rocks of Archaean age (greater than 2.5 billion years old) at the bottom…

    Another unexpected discovery was the large quantity of hydrogen gas; the mud that flowed out of the hole was described as “boiling” with hydrogen

    ok chemists, what are the chemicals as a group called?

    In organic chemistry, a hydrocarbon is an organic compound consisting entirely of hydrogen and carbon.

    also part of Kola is Sakhalin…

    in January, oil crews drilled the world’s longest and deepest extended-reach well, 7.7 miles down into the ground and 7.1 miles out under the ocean. Seven of the 10 longest oil wells on Earth have been drilled there since Exxon Mobil launched its Sakhalin-1 project in 2003.

    now.. someone tell me HOW the dinosaurs ended 7.7 miles down hanging out around archaean rock?

    and when will someone explain to the smarty scientists that the reason a green house works is that glass traps infrared. to infrared, clear window glass is like a mirror…

    second thing.. if there is so much backradiation, how do infrared goggles work without a constant haze?

    third… what do you think you ‘see’ when you point a liquid nitrogen heat camera at the sky?

    and if that science was right, how would this be possible?

    Deep 2 micron imaging of the sky – Evidence for a new extragalactic population

    the survey was done in 1988 at the Steward Observatory

    Steward Observatory is the research arm of the Department of Astronomy at the University of Arizona. (Pima County, AZ 85634)

    wait a second… if there is so much backradiation warming the planet, then why do a infrared survey of 2um wavelength of distant faint galaxies? (in 1988)

    “the array was operated at 77k and provided good response to wafelengths up to 2.5um. the array is bonded to a 4 phase ccd which is used as a readout” (snip) “for this survey we used the steward observatory 1.54 m telescope at f/45.”

    and if you want you can go here to see some really cool images and science… but do make the distinction between satellite images and terrestrial…

    go here..
    http://www.ipac.caltech.edu/outreach/Edu/importance.html
    and you can read a lot about the frequencies and what makes it to earth, and so on.. (and remember, infrared hitting things changes frequency when re-emitted again (usually))

    sigh

  11. Artfldgr Says:

    vanderleun
    wasnt pixel the cat who walked through walls? :)

  12. reader Says:

    “He did as Shakespeare says, you may recall,
    Good orators will do when they are out.”

    What’s this alluding to, anyone know?

  13. J.J. Says:

    I have read some Frost and find his poems, as you say, “many of them of great complexity and mystery.” My taste in poetry runs more toward Robert Service or Max Erhmann. Easier to grasp for a simple-minded man.

    Frost’s poem about the drought is accessible to my simple mind and does, as you point out, ” have the AGW prophets’ number, including the idea somehow that man is a blight upon the earth.” Going a tad deeper, it seems to me he is also illuminating the difficulty of many humans to let go of an idea held deeply in their hearts that is oblivious to proof or lack thereof. In other words, blind faith. It seems to me that blind faith in many things (AGW, Big Government, anti-poverty programs, Obamacare, etc.) is the bane of our existence these days.

  14. bof Says:

    Never ask for money spent
    Where the spender thinks it went.
    Nobody was ever meant
    To remember or invent
    What he did with every cent.

  15. Tonawanda Says:

    Lovely post.

    That book on top of Manchester’s has always challenged me, and now I know what it is. It may be the years tricking me but since seeing it (in your photo) I thought I knew what it was, having seen it before, and could just not remember it, but I was wrong.

    Whatever it was being remembered, it was not about Frost. It was about something, and I have seen it before, I mean something which looked strikingly like it, maybe a book of mathematics.

    Now to ride my hobby horse.

    There are two types of people. People who divide people into two types, and people who don’t.

    For near a couple centuries, world-wide, there have been Leftists and non-Leftists.

    Yes, the ancient social split has been between the rich and the poor against the middle, innovative, rising, creative.

    That would seem to be three types. But the rich and the poor are the Left, stuck, defensive, beset by epistemic closure, self-conscious of their specialness because they think of themselves as rich or poor.

    The non-Left is transcendent, alike in that they are so unalike.

  16. vanderleun Says:

    I love the name for a series on strange children’s TV: “Pixel, the Cat Who Walks Through Walls”

  17. Bob Says:

    Ironically, I am reading the “Last Lion” this very night. Mr. Manchester is one of my favorite authors. His autobiography “Goodbye Darkness” is an excellent read. i look forward to reading Robert Frost.

  18. A_Nonny_Mouse Says:

    “Very good orators, when they are out, they will spit; and for lovers, lacking–God warn us!–matter, the cleanliest shift is to kiss. (Quote by – William Shakespeare) ”

    Found the above cite at

    http://www.dumb.com/quotes/oratory-quotes/

    — but though the words are English, I have no idea what The Bard is trying to communicate to me!

  19. Caedmon Says:

    Good orators. when they are exhausted, spit, and lovers when they run out of things to say -and they do! – cover up with a kiss.

  20. Richard Aubrey Says:

    Said it before, I think.
    The Road Less Traveled is a warning to check out the roads. One way or another. Because you’ll know why you didn’t take the one instead of the other, instead of wondering what you missed, years too late.
    Or to riff off the warning about not taking down a fence, there’s a reason the road is less traveled. You need to know the reason.
    Maybe nobody takes the road because the bridge is down. But you…you run a construction company. You might be in a position to make a bid. Or there was a landslide blocking it and nobody wants to climb over it, but you’re a geologist working for a mining company and….
    Or you didn’t check it out and, forty years later, are wondering what wonders might have been there.

  21. Cornhead Says:

    Thank you for that poem!
    The Doomsday Prophet has always been with us and – those who have the long view – know that they are wrong.

    What drives me *wild* is that government uses tax money for this scam and then denies us the choice to purchase the cheapest and preferred light bulbs.

    The government-green-academy-corporate square is pernicious.

  22. waitforit Says:

    I regard Frost with awe. I hate how the repugnant academy tries to pigeonhole him as a “colloquial” Yankee poet. To get his profundity you have to go to the masters because Frost is a master and his poetry is universal.

    The progressive academy wants to hide him:

    http://www.heritage.org/events/2007/10/the-road-less-traveled-the-conservative-politics-and-philosophy-of-robert-frost

  23. waitforit Says:

    Frost, in his dedication to the truth and opening a pathway of ascent, was one performing the duty of priests. His complexity mirrors Talmud greats as does his longevity and scholarship.

  24. waitforit Says:

    There was a beast who heard
    a chord that pleased his Lord.
    That beast slain with a Sword
    became a healing Word.

    Other beast, gratified,
    sought others to provide
    a fence around his hide.
    He was not justified.

  25. neo-neocon Says:

    waitforit:

    That’s an interesting comparison, to “Talmud greats.” You may be right about that. He certainly was a deep and complex thinker, and not just in poetry.

    That link from Heritage that you offered features Peter Stanlis, who has written a book on the subject that I have read lengthy excerpts from (he’s also written articles). Here’s the book, in case you haven’t seen it and are interested.

  26. Ray Says:

    ” infrared hitting things changes frequency when re-emitted again”
    Minor point. When a photon is absorbed it ceases to exist so it cannot be re-emitted. A new photon is emitted. Anything above absolute zero emits radiation. This greatly puzzled the radio astronomers at first.

  27. waitforit Says:

    What was poetry at first?

    I’m not sure I know. I can guess. (Thank you; love to.)

    One guess is that it was structured lines for story telling, a means to aid the memory. But the Illiad and Odyssey are intricate; can the effect be said to be planned. Something Divine has happened. Oh poetry!

    And there’s the Hebrew poetry of same timeline: a mental poetry using techniques of parallelism, symbol, and layered meaning. The purpose not to tell a story but a meaning, in fact, several meanings.

    Then there are, of course, the chants, the hypnotic and lyrical songs which soothe and calm the mind. Worship, for want of a better word.

    Poetry has no modern form; it is bound by ancient roots, roots which Frost found not stultifying but necessary. Poetry cannot be politics because politics does not tell a story; it prescribes the story. Yet the story has prophetic power because as a great poet stated, there is nothing new under the sun.

    Tell the story, with Greek form (rhyme and meter and add more if you can), and Hebrew intelligence. That is my supposition of what poetry is. And yet that is not it at all.

  28. neo-neocon Says:

    waitforit:

    See this.

    And also this.

  29. waitforit Says:

    I find the dark Frost lovely because he is truthful. Not gothic, yet catholic, his shadowed glances assure rather than horrify. With him I know darkness imparts meaning and power because out of worms and earth grow food and flower.

    Fantastic is the dark more often than beauty; our modern poets know this but have forgotten that it is their task to even the score because while that truth cannot be gainsaid, our eyes should be set and our souls made to find what we seek and look upon. You are what you behold. And yet, the underbelly should not be denied either.

    Frost sees the dominance of the dark, but like light creates a boundary, so he supported the ever and ongoing fight of life.

  30. waitforit Says:

    The poet I most identify with Frost is Donne.

    Particularly two poems: “Design” and “Death be not proud.”

    Design by Robert Frost

    I found a dimpled spider, fat and white,
    On a white heal-all, holding up a moth
    Like a white piece of rigid satin cloth –
    Assorted characters of death and blight
    Mixed ready to begin the morning right,
    Like the ingredients of a witches’ broth –
    A snow-drop spider, a flower like a froth,
    And dead wings carried like a paper kite.

    What had that flower to do with being white,
    The wayside blue and innocent heal-all?
    What brought the kindred spider to that height,
    Then steered the white moth thither in the night?
    What but design of darkness to appall?–
    If design govern in a thing so small.

    I equate it with this one from Donne:

    Death be not proud, though some have called thee.

    Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so,

    For those whom thou think’st thou dost overthrow,

    Die not, poor death, nor yet canst thou kill me.

    From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be,

    Much pleasure, then from thee, much more must flow,

    And soonest our best men with thee do go,

    Rest of their bones, and soul’s delivery.

    Thou art slave to Fate, Chance, kings, and desperate men,

    And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell,

    And poppy, or charms can make us sleep as well,

    And better than thy stroke; why swell’st thou then?

    One short sleep past, we wake eternally,

    And death shall be no more; death, thou shalt die.

  31. MissJean Says:

    Thanks for the link to your older post, Neo! It’s true. I used to remember bits of poetry when I was walking to classes at college (unable to afford a Walkman like my classmates had). I was told by a Spanish gentleman that English- and French-speakers seem to be the ones who no longer like poetry. I wonder if that’s true. It seems like all the adults when I was a kid knew some poetry.

  32. Sorta Blogless Sunday Pinup » Pirate's Cove Says:

    [...] neo-neocon discusses the science being settled [...]

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About Me

Previously a lifelong Democrat, born in New York and living in New England, surrounded by liberals on all sides, I've found myself slowly but surely leaving the fold and becoming that dread thing: a neocon.
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