January 27th, 2014

Robert Frost: a living voice

The following passage is from the book Robert Frost: A Living Voice, edited by Reginald L. Cook. It’s from a talk Frost gave at Bread Loaf in July 27, 1960, when he was in his 80s. He starts by describing a conversation he had with Julian Huxley about evolution:

…I said, “We’ve come up?” He said: “Yes, up! up!” He thought “up.” He thought we’d come up, not down. I just wanted to know. And I said: “What do you suppose steered us up?” He was very vague about that. Then, in that kind of corner, just sort of out of indignation, patient indignation, I just said: “Wouldn’t it have been possible to say that it was passionate preference—preference—passionate preference?” This didn’t seem to make a hit with him particularly. He seemed to think it was some sort of an upward uplifting, I guess, that was accidentally upward. No God in it at all. Nothing but spirit. I would think it would be something like that—that everything has a tendency to prefer—even teachers. That’s one of the things we’ve tried to throw away in teaching and give everybody the same mark. But we’ve decided we’ve got to do something about hat.

My anger at that made me say that we were going to so homogenize society that the cream would never rise again. And that’s the way some people are talking about education—so homogenized it that now they’re looking for cream again. Beat the Russians. They’re creaming, why shouldn’t we cream? That’s where a good deal comes from—that kind of pressure that you’re cornered and you’re bothered. There’s a certain debate in your life that you don’t ever feel you’ve got the best of, that there’s still something unsettled. If He’s a God of mercy, is He also a God of justice? Naturally there’s a constant natural conflict between justice and mercy. The big joke is that somebody on earth ought to balance them up. Probably God does. It could be assumed. That is the most Godlike thing: to balance them—mercy for justice or a just mercy. But there’s something there that’s almost too hard for a mortal man to get.

The Democratic Party and the Republican Party are having quite a time about it right now. They both want to sound merciful enough, and they both want to sound just enough. They’re going to outdo each other in getting that right. The nice way is to choose the Democrats for being too merciful. Somebody calculated that the mercies that they promised the world were going to cost us about fifty billion dollars a year—if they did all they had in their program. The Republicans have got to sort of match that somewhere if they don’t get broke.

So, Frost seems to have been an amalgam of Cassandra, Will Rogers, and Thomas Sowell, in the guise of a rumpled old New England poet. Of course, he didn’t foresee the actual numbers; they’ve become too large for most people to have imagined. Even in the 30s, Frost was a strong opponent of the New Deal, by the way; not because he was unmerciful, but because he knew where the trend was headed.

3 Responses to “Robert Frost: a living voice”

  1. waitforit Says:

    In 1960 no less!

    Can you imagine being his student! That such people used to walk the earth and were available?

    And he was recognized, but today, how would he be marginalized?

    In a 1932 letter to Sydney Cox, Frost explained his conception of poetry: “The objective idea is all I ever cared about. Most of my ideas occur in verse…. To be too subjective with what an artist has managed to make objective is to come on him presumptuously and render ungraceful what he in pain of his life had faith he had made graceful.”

    I suppose, Y, that supports your rather clunky description of an artist?

  2. neo-neocon Says:


    The left fought tooth and nail to marginalize Frost ever since the 30s, when they began to pan his poetry. Fortunately, their campaign didn’t really take, although it made inroads.

    He’s still one of the most popular American poets ever, I think, although people are less familiar with his political thought.

  3. Trimegistus Says:

    Because he read a poem at JFK’s inauguration, Frost has been more or less annexed by the Kennedy industry. They cherrypick his works to find things which support their current obsessions, and consign contradictory material to the memory hole.

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