I don’t recall memorizing, reciting or reading Robert Frost’s poems in school, while growing up in Southern California. That may seem unusual for anyone my age or older, because he was the nation’s poet laureate and all the rage in the early ’60s. He wrote a poem for John F. Kennedy’s inauguration, which bound him inextricably to the times and events that many baby-boomers cling to as their coming of age.
I had, in the words of one Richard Baxter biographer, a defective and desultory education. I think it was more my fault than any deficiencies in the educational system or my teachers. Later in life, I developed an interest in the English language, grammar, and composition. But, I had no relish of poetry and wouldn’t even know where to start, if I wanted to develop even the slightest interest.
I did, however, have Backyard Books in Nevada City, which opened up across the street from my Post Office back in the ’80s. I bought a lot of very good used books over there. I’d heard of Robert Frost and found the little New England Pocket Anthology of Robert Frost’s Poems there for about a buck. I bought it, put it on my bed stand and began reading it each night while falling asleep.
Frost’s observations of life in rural New England resonated with me and I began having stirrings, which would move Denise and I to immigrate to Maine in 1993 with the intent of living out the rest of our days there. The little book also introduced me to the commentary and work of Louis Untermeyer, as well as some very cool mid-century illustration of John O’Hara Cosgrave II.
I became somewhat of a fanboy, visiting Robert Frost’s home in Franconia Notch NH on a vacation to New England, before moving there. I picked up a few of his other works, as well as a biography of Frost. I came to learn Frost had some pretty disagreeable qualities, but that only made his poetry ring with even greater clarity and truth, in the form of mountain maxims and regional proverbs. I still read Frost a lot these days.
I have about a dozen favorite poems, but I’ll close with this one:
Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.
My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.
He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound’s the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.
The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.