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.