Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Robert Frost stops by woods on a snowy evening in June


First there is this from The Writer's Almanac:

Robert Frost's poem "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening" was published in The New Republic magazine on this day in 1923. He called it, "My best bid for remembrance." It is one of the best known and loved poems in all of American literature.

Right before he wrote it, Frost stayed up all night working on a different poem called "New Hampshire." He'd never worked all night on a poem before, and he was feeling pretty good about that, and so he went outside to watch the sun rise. It was the middle of June and there was no snow in sight.

He suddenly got an idea there, and rushed back in and wrote "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening," almost without lifting his pen from the page. He said of the experience, "It was as if I'd had a hallucination."

Frost said poetry could make you "remember what you didn't know you knew."

"Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening" ends:
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.

* * * * *

And there is this personal postscript:

Robert Frost is quickly becoming one of my favorite poets (nearly pushing Emily Dickinson out her first-place position on my list of favorites); I've been slowly reading (without commenting upon) his poems in the highly recommended Library of America edition of his works. 

Frost, to my mind, is one of the great American voices; his technical mastery and his genius at giving voice to the ineffable impress me. Reading Frost's poetry is a great balm my curmudgeonly, Swiss-cheese mind, and I recommend Frost as a remedy for whatever might ail you.

But all of this leads me to ask you a question: Who is your favorite American poet?




17 comments:

  1. i like what Frost said about his "hallucination" creation... i used to get that when i was intensely into creating Haiku; sometime it was like someone else was doing it and i was just holding the pencil...

    favorite poet... American.... well, he said, Longfellow and Whittier are both good, but Frost is better, i think... good question... i'm looking forward to what others think...

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    1. Mudpuddle, I guess few would mention Longfellow and Whittier. Yes, both are good, but their shelf-life seems to expired in the view of too many readers in recent generations. It is strange the ways "tastes" change over time.

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  2. I've always liked Frost's poetry immensely, Tim. And this is one of those I like best. I like Sylvia Plath, too, very much.

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    1. Margo, I nearly weep whenever I think of what ended her life.

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  3. I have not read much American poetry. Mary Oliver's "Wild Geese" is a favorite of mine, and I suspect I would adore Wendell Berry's verse if I read more of it. I'm presently taken up with his fiction and essays, though.

    By the way, I recently stumbled across an article that I thought might spark your interest given your intentions of reading into the New England poets. It is a rebuke of the New England literary scene which (the author claims) attempted to present its literature as "American" literature, and ignore or mispresent other regional literature.

    https://www.abbevilleinstitute.org/blog/new-england-against-america/

    A quote from the article:

    'Anyone who will look at what passed for mainstream literary history and criticism in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, for instance, will find a host of second and third-rate New England writers (Longfellow, Lowell, Whittier, Bancroft, Motley, and many others now justly forgotten) shamelessly celebrated as the perihelion of American letters, with only an occasional slighting reference to Poe or Melville. When Hawthorne appears it is in an interpretation sanitized to please New England schoolmarms of both sexes. It is little known but true, that the present stature of Poe and Melville and understanding of Hawthorne (all of whom were outside the New England canon) rests upon the heroic efforts of a few scholars and critics in this century to connect, in part, the incredibly mean-spirited and petty Bostonian warp that was imposed on the evaluation of American literature after the Civil War."

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    1. Thanks, Stephen, for such an interesting link. There's much to read and ponder at the site. Very compelling stuff. Love it!

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    2. I stumbled upon it while looking for lectures on southern literature -- quite the happy accident!

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    3. I just read your excerpt, Stephen. The writer is a little harsh, it seems to me.

      But to answer your question, Tim. I love Auden but I guess he doesn't count since he was originally from England. T.S. Eliot, I like, but he seems more English since he went to the UK and became a citizen there.

      Hmm.... I do love Dickinson and Frost because of the imagery they provoke with their language. That's why I like any poetry.

      Which is why I am currently having a difficult time slogging through the ancient Greek poems. I still like them, though. :)

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    4. Better you than me when it comes to the Greeks.

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  4. I have not read enough American Poetry to really have a favorite. If I had to pick name it might be Frost for all the reasons that reasons that you mentioned. In addition I find that his verse is so very poignant.

    Walt Whitman would also be a strong contender.

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    1. Brian, Whitman is the darling in English departments these days. However, I'm not a fan. Frost, by the way, was not impressed by free verse poets like Whitman; he preferred structure and form.

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    2. I forgot about Whitman. I really enjoyed Leaves of Grass. Now I've heard there's two versions. I don't know which one I read. The young years or the deathbed on. I'd like to compare.

      Also, I enjoy Langston Hughes. His writing is poignant and beautiful.

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  5. Tim,

    Favorite American Poet? Frost, no question in my mind.

    Frost said once, when asked about free verse, that writing free verse is like playing tennis without the net. Love it!

    And yes, unfortunately Whitman is the darling of English departments today--just why escapes me.

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    1. Fred, the reason for Whitman being the cat's meow in English departments is simple. But I dare not explain. How is that for cryptic and evasive. The truth is to be found in PC culture and eliminating conservative value canonical authors.

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    2. Tim,

      "the cat's meow" love it. It's almost as good as my aunt's cat's pajamas.


      Ah yes, how could I forget--the "freedom" of free verse from the chains of form and structure, which, unfortunately, in Whitman's case so often ends in infinite expressions of egotism and and endless interminable shopping lists.

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  6. I fly away and return, and you have already started another blog!

    Among the earliest American poets: Anne Dudley Bradstreet and Edward Taylor. A bit later on: Bryant, Dickinson. And I like Whitman and disagree about his lack of form. He's very influenced in form by the KJB, particularly in the matter of types of parallelism. Frost, definitely. Auden, since he chose us for a time. Some Stevens. I have some contemporaries I like but avoid getting into that in print!

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    1. Yes, Marly, mutatis mutandis is my whirligig fancy! Perhaps shrinks could unravel the mystery, but I have my doubts. Feckless old fool that I am, I stop and start more erratically than a hummingbird in a over-stuffed greenhouse. I am hovering now between poets: Dickinson and Frost, but not Whitman, are vying for my attentions. I know not where I will find nourishment next. Welcome back!

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