I’ve been reading another book about Robert Frost, and I keep coming across fascinating tidbits.
For example, the following is taken from a letter Frost wrote to the Amherst student newspaper in 1935, and it gives some perspective:
…you will often hear it said that the age of the world we live in is particularly bad. I am impatient of such talk. We have no way of knowing that this age is one of the worst in the world’s history. [Matthew] Arnold claimed the honor for the age before this. Wordsworth claimed it for the last but one…I say they claimed the honor for their ages. They claimed it rather for themselves. It is immodest of a man to think of himself as going down before the worst forces ever mobilized by God…Whatever progress may be taken to mean, it can’t mean making the world any easier a place in which to save your soul—or if you dislike hearing your soul mentioned in open meeting, say your decency, your integrity.
That’s what I mean about the complexity of Frost’s thought.
Frost, as I’ve written before, was a student of many disciplines in addition to literature and poetry: ancient history, botany, science, and philosophy, to name just a few. Early in his life he had read the works of William James and they remained of importance in his own thinking. The Frost book that gives the above quote from Frost also presents this one by James, from an essay entitled “Is Life Worth Living?” in a book called The Will to Believe:
If you surrender to the nightmare view and crown the evil edifice by your own suicide, you have indeed made a picture totally black. Pessimism, completed by your act, is true beyond a doubt, as far as your world goes…But suppose, on the other hand, that instead of giving way to the nightmare view you cling to it that this world is not the ultimatum…Suppose, however thickly evils crowd upon you, that your unconquerable subjectivity proves to be their match, and that you find a more wonderful joy than any passive pleasure can bring in trusting ever in the larger whole. Have you not now made life worth living on these terms? What sort of a thing would life really be with your qualities ready for a tussle with it, if it only brought fair weather and gave these higher faculties of yours no scope?
Frost wrestled with depression for much of his very long life, and his life contained enough objective sorrow to have felled any man. But he resisted mightily, and I think on balance he won his war against it.