Out through the fields and the woods
And over the walls I have wended;
I have climbed the hills of view
And looked at the world, and descended;
I have come by the highway home,
And lo, it is ended.
The leaves are all dead on the ground,
Save those that the oak is keeping
To ravel them one by one
And let them go scraping and creeping
Out over the crusted snow,
When others are sleeping.
And the dead leaves lie huddled and still,
No longer blown hither and thither;
The last long aster is gone;
The flowers of the witch-hazel wither;
The heart is still aching to seek,
But the feet question ‘Whither?’
Ah, when to the heart of man
Was it ever less than a treason
To go with the drift of things,
To yield with a grace to reason,
And bow and accept the end
Of a love or a season?
Reluctance by Robert Frost.
The photograph was taken several days ago, on the road leading from my family’s ranch.
Below are excerpts from Frosts’s 1960 interview with the Paris Review. In it, the 85-year-old Frost reflects on the methodology of writing and coolly relates some personal anecdotes, including an instance where he was subdued in a Paris restaurant by a jujitsu-wielding Ezra Pound. At the end of the interview, there’s also a cryptic mention of a poet out of California who has recently sent him a manuscript entitled Howl. We cannot know whether Frost had read the work, or whether it was even Ginsberg’s famed freshman collection, but it’s interesting to speculate what the weathered man of letters would have thought of the obscenity-laced work of the soon-to-be Beatnik icon.
Interviewer: When you started to write poetry, was there any poet that you admired very much?
Frost: I was the enemy of that theory, that idea of Stevenson’s that you should play the sedulous ape to anybody. That did more harm to American education than anything ever got out.
Did you ever feel any affinity between your work and any other poet’s?
I’ll leave that for somebody else to tell me. I wouldn’t know.
You’ve never, I take it then, been aware of any particular line of preference in your reading?
Oh, I read ‘em all. One of my points of departure is an anthology. I find a poet I admire, and I think, well, there must be a lot to that. Some old one—Shirley, for instance, “The glories of our blood and state”—that sort of splendid poem. I go looking for more. Nothing. Just a couple like that and that’s all. I remember certain boys took an interest in certain poems with me in old times. I remember Brower one day in somebody else’s class when he was a student at Amherst—Reuben Brower, afterwards the Master of Adams House at Harvard. I remember I said, “Anyone want to read that poem to me?” It was “In going to my naked bed as one that would have slept,” Edwards’s old poem. He read it so well I said, “I give you A for life.” And that’s the way we joke with each other. I never had him regularly in a class of mine. I visited other classes up at Amherst and noticed him very early. Goodness sake, the way his voice fell into those lines, the natural way he did that very difficult poem with that old quotation—“The falling out of faithful friends is the renewing of love.” I’m very catholic, that’s about all you can say. I’ve hunted. I’m not thorough like the people educated in Germany in the old days. I’ve none of that. I hate the idea that you ought to read the whole of anybody. But I’ve done a lot of looking sometimes, read quite a lot.
When you were in England did you find yourself reading the kind of poetry Pound was reading?
No. Pound was reading the troubadours.
Was there much bohemia to see at that time?
More than I had ever seen. I’d never had any. He’d take me to restaurants and things. Showed me jujitsu in a restaurant. Threw me over his head.
Did he do that?
Wasn’t ready for him at all. I was just as strong as he was. He said, “I’ll show you, I’ll show you. Stand up.” So I stood up, gave him my hand. He grabbed my wrist, tipped over backwards and threw me over his head.
How did you like that?
Oh, it was all right. Everybody in the restaurant stood up.
Did you feel when you left London to go live on a farm in Gloucestershire that you were making a choice against the kind of literary society you’d found in the city?
No, my choices had been not connected with my going to England even. My choice was almost unconscious in those days. I didn’t know whether I had any position in the world at all, and I wasn’t choosing positions. You see, my instinct was not to belong to any gang, and my instinct was against being confused with the—what do you call them?—they called themselves Georgians, Edwardians, something like that, the people Edward Marsh was interested in. I understand that he speaks of me in his book, but I never saw him.
Was there much of a gang feeling among the literary people you knew in London?
Yes. Oh, yes. Funny over there. I suppose it’s the same over here. I don’t know. I don’t “belong” here. But they’d say, “Oh, he’s that fellow that writes about homely things for that crowd, for those people. Have you anybody like that in America?” As if it were set, you know. Like Masefield—they didn’t know Masefield in this gang, but, “Oh, he’s that fellow that does this thing, I believe, for that crowd.”
Didn’t you teach Latin at one time?
Yes. When I came back to college after running away, I thought I could stand it if I stuck to Greek and Latin and philosophy. That’s all I did those years.
Did you read much in the Romantic poets? Wordsworth, in particular?
No, you couldn’t pin me there. Oh, I read all sorts of things. I said to some Catholic priests the other day when they asked me about reading, I said, “If you understand the word ‘catholic,’ I was very catholic in my taste.”
How old were you then?
Oh, just after I’d run away from Dartmouth, along there in ’93, ’4, twenty years old. Every time I’d get sick of the city I’d go out for the springtime and take school for one term. I did that I think two or three times, that same school. Little school with twelve children, about a dozen children, all barefooted. I did newspaper work in Lawrence, too. I followed my father and mother in that, you know. I didn’t know what I wanted to do with myself to earn a living. Taught a little, worked on a paper a little, worked on farms a little, that was my own departure. But I just followed my parents in newspaper work. I edited a paper a while—a weekly paper—and then I was on a regular paper. I see its name still up there in Lawrence.
While we’re thinking about science and literature, I wonder if you have any reaction to the fact that Massachusetts Institute of Technology is beginning to offer a number of courses in literature?
I think they’d better tend to their higher mathematics and higher science. Pure science. They know I think that. I don’t mean to criticize them too much. But you see it’s like this: the greatest adventure of man is science, the adventure of penetrating into matter, into the material universe. But the adventure is our property, a human property, and the best description of us is the humanities. Maybe the scientists wanted to remind their students that the humanities describe you who are adventuring into science, and science adds very little to that description of you, a little tiny bit. Maybe in psychology, or in something like that, but it’s awful little. And so, the scientists to remind their students of all this give them half their time over there in the humanities now. And that seems a little unnecessary. They’re worried about us and the pure sciences all the time. They’d better get as far as they can into their own subject. I was over there at the beginning of this and expressed my little doubts about it. I was there with Compton [Karl Compton, president of MIT, 1930-1948] one night—he was sitting on the platform beside me. “We’ve been short”—I turned to him before the audience—”we’ve been a little short in pure science, haven’t we?” He said, “Perhaps—I’m afraid we may have been.” I said, “I think that better be tended to.” That’s years ago.