From a photograph by Solomon D. Butcher of four daughters of rancher Joseph M. Chrisman, at their sod house in Custer County, Nebraska. From left to right, Harriet, Elizabeth, Lucie, and Ruth. Photographed in 1886.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Robert Frost, Cranky?

And What I Think About It... History and Old Stuff...



After reading two anecdotes and a revealing excerpt of poetry about Robert Frost on Michael Leddy's Orange Crate Art, I will never read a Frost poem casually again. A suspicion that Robert Frost may have been a sour little man will always be at the back of my mind, and I'll be sensitive to traces of bitterness underlying his words.

I have never read a biography of Robert Frost (March 26, 1874 – January 29, 1963) or anything about his personal life, and I've never taken a class where Frost poetry was taught, but I'm curious now.

Robert Frost recited a poem at the John F. Kennedy inauguration (January 20, 1961.) He was an old man then, and I was ten years old. I have read that he began to read the poem and his eyes failed him, so he recited it. We didn't have television at that time, so I didn't see it personally. I didn't know who Robert Frost was, but I remember my mother commenting about a poet at the inauguration. As I recall, she thought the Kennedys were trying to be artsy and it wasn't necessary.

Schlesinger [Arthur M. Schlesinger, the historian and close Kennedy associate] continues with the observation that J.F.K. understood and was extremely sympathetic to his wife's leanings. His own tastes ran to architecture and literature and he asked Robert Frost to read a poem at his inauguration. He also requested that leading artists and writers be invited to the inauguration, which rankled the Inauguration Committee a bit. Kennedy won that battle and about 57 writers, composers and painters were present in the audience, including Robert Lowell, W.H. Auden and John Steinbeck, who remarked "What a joy that literacy is no longer prima facie evidence of treason." The stage was set for a new frontier in the arts as well as politics with the ascent of the Kennedys to the American Presidency.

Source: "Jacqueline Kennedy: The White House Years" by Michele Leight in The City Review


I have an image in my mind of a little white haired man in a black overcoat at the inauguration. It may be based on a Life Magazine photo. Life Magazine and the National Geographic were the main magazines in which I saw photographs as a child. I looked at each issue so many times that I commited most of the photographs to memory.

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2 comments:

threecollie said...

I remember that! I was always rather taken with Frost's poetry after that. I like your blog BTW;saw you on Thoughts From the Middle of Nowhere and stopped by.

Genevieve said...

I'm really glad you came to visit, threecollie. Thanks for leaving a note.

The first Frost poem I remember reading was in high school -- Stopping by Woods on A Snowy Evening. I appropriated the last stanza of it and have been abusing its phrases ever since:

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.

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CONTENTMENT: Keep your heart free from hate, your mind from worry, live simply, expect little, give much, sing often, pray always, forget self, think of others and their feelings, fill your heart with love, scatter sunshine. These are the tried links in the golden chain of contentment.
(Author unknown)

IT IS STILL BEST to be honest and truthful; to make the most of what we have; to be happy with simple pleasure; and to be cheerful and have courage when things go wrong.
(Laura Ingalls Wilder, 1867-1957)

Thanks for reading.