On Attitudes and Ideas
Bread Loaf School of English, 4 July 1960
Typed transcript, 41 p. Abernethy Manuscripts [Frost] / Tape Transcriptions. Transcribed by India Tressault '80.

Reginald Cook: …recording of Robert Frost made at Bread Loaf, Monday evening, July 4.

Robert Frost: Too many [laughter]. That's the complaint everywhere. Too many at all the universities, all the education. Just see these crowds who want to get educated. Eh. Can't get into college and so they come here [laughter].

All right, do the best we can. I get my education from taxi men in New York partly. They're famous, you know, for knowing everything down there. But I get a little in Boston, too. I pursue it. The, the, uh, I say, I began like this with one, uh, began, uh, like this in New York with one.

I said, uh, "Who tips you better, men or women?" And, he, he said, "Men, of course. The money's theirs. Women have to be careful how they spend any they get." And then he says, I said, "Drunk or sober?" And he said, "A drunk might give you all he has and it might be nothing he has." [Laughter] And then he, he said, "But you and I aren't thinking of money all the time." See. "I just put a man out of this car without taking any fare from him for taking the Lord's name in vain three times. I wouldn't listen to him." I said, "Holy Name Society?" He said, "Yes sir." [Laughter] Then we came to, uh, we came to a, my publisher's big building, and Madison Avenue. He got out, took my bag out, took me clear to my elevator and shook hands with me and said, "Good bye." See. Nice fellow. And, uh, Italian, you see.

Now in Boston [laughter] I said to a fellow who was driving me, "You in college?" He looked about like that, looked as if he was crowding in for education. He said, "Yes." I said, "What you gonna do?" He said, "You question whether there's anything to do in a wor—time like this." I said, "Ohhh." Sounds like Boston, you know [laughter]. He says, "But Emerson says that no man should leave the world unless it's the better for his having been in it." He says, "But on the other hand, Voltaire says [laughter] mind your own garden. Mind your own business." I said, "That leaves you hung up somewhere." [Laughter] He said, "Yes." And, I said, of course, "Never give a child a choice." See, uh, that was my wisdom to him. And he said, "There's something to that." And.

Well, you can't write poetry and talk poetry and be around where it is without being pursued for, the way I pursue the taxi man. People pursue me that way. And I, I sometimes wonder what they want to know. They want to know, I think the ultimate thing must be they want to know what my attitude is toward what you can't know, What my attitude is toward it. See. Do I deny that there is such a thing? Do I mock at it? Do I play with the idea, or do I accept it? Do I, am I an atheist? Am I an agnostic or what am I? How deep do I go? See. And the question is one of depth all the time, I suppose. Sounds that way, the way the cr—people talk, talk about it. And seems as if I'm interested in just simple question of, uh, why I made the mistake in that meter in the first line of, uh, uh, "The Death of the Hired Man." It's wrong, you know, you know [laughter]. It's just a mistake. I didn't do it on purpose. There are five feet, five feet in it, uh, six feet instead of five. And, well, that's simple question.

And, I was saying the other day that all this thing that you're, you're studying, this, these ideas of, that, you know, the [unclear] in their depth and their shallowness, uh, that make us what we are, and our western civilization, that you're all busy with this su—this summer. I can, I hear about it, echoes of it come down my way. And, the, uh, but I get a little tired of all that at my age. I get, it seems as if it was the same words all the time, same pieces, just like ch—chess, you know, there's a king and a queen and, there's immortality and there's all this sort of thing. And they just push 'em round. And they push 'em round too seriously. I can push them round for the hell of it, for the fun of it and make, make mischief out of it. I like to do that. And, but you get no further. Freudian ideas, you know, all that. Look, I've written a whole book without the word "sex" in it [laughter]. Just think of that [laughter and applause]. And, and that doesn't mean that I have left everything out [laughter].

And, uh, this, this question comes up all the time. Uh, do you want any meaning got out of what you write that you didn't put in? They think that's funny. And that it's a joke on the professor, and that I'm taking sides against the professor. And of course that's terrible nonsense because I'm one of them. The, I, uh, look, I'm always hinting, intimating, and always on the verge of something I don't quite like to say, out of sheer delicacy. And I better, I'd, the only thing I have against my friends the teachers is that, uh, some of them are indelicate. They won't leave it where I left it. They want to go on with it. They want to take both my hands and pull me across, uh, the line of delicacy.

I don't complain of, I do—I have complained of turning, translating what I write into other and worse English. And I've complained of people who sit by me when I've made a—cracked a joke, and, and say, "He means…" [Laughter] That, that's in bad taste, isn't it? This is a matter of taste, just how far you'll go. And, when you say, uh, talk about, uh, uh, if you mention an apple, I, I am, I am annoyed [unclear] immediately take, carries it, everybody's carried away by the apple, uh, to the Garden of Eden. No, uh, there are so many apples, you know, why go to the Garden of Eden [laughter]? Uh, ther—lot of Mackintosh apples round the valley. And there're all sorts of mythological ones, four or five of them I can think of, famous apples. And, so why, always I find that if I mention an apple they're—everybody's in the Garden of Eden at once. And everybody's fallen, [laughter] falling for it. But that's all, there's something goes wrong there.

But just, all the same, you're always, having, doubling your meaning, you know, you're always on the verge of something you don't want to quite, don't want to say quite, you know [unclear]. But you, if, yo—and you're often annoyed that somebody wants to go a little further with it. But that, know, that's a matter of, that's a personal matter. I can't, uh, I—I, I can't be too annoyed at them, unless it's made ridiculous and made ugly.

Now, now, uh, I, I said to somebody today that vis—visited me, um, from out west, that I, uh, I've grown to hate the word "symbol," and yet I ought not to. Symbol is always in everything that way. The thing I'm saying is, uh, is, got another thing behind it, you know. All sorts of analogies, many, it's a symbol of many things. I said, "I wish we could cha—change the, uh, the subject little, and say, uh, 'typify.'" Typification or something like that, that I, that I describe a character, uh, a—as, as an oddity, an interesting person. But he wouldn't be interesting to anybody else unless he were rather typical, see. The Dickinsonian way. They're exaggerated a little; you enjoy the excess of it, but there's something typical in, in it.

Now I, I have a poem that I'll read you about a, a typical refo—uh, a typical idealist. He's unscrupulous. And, some people don't get that [laughter], uh, and I don't want to carry that too far, uh [laughter], but, uh, to, let me tell you t—two stories of it. One—one is about myself. I re—I had a clipping sent to me from a magazine that we won't name in which my name was used as having sent a box of apples—sprayed apples, sprayed with chemicals, you know—a—and they were rotten when they got to my friend and so my friend threw them onto the compost heap and it ruined the compost heap that year. See, the chemicals in it. See this was an organic f—or—or—organic magazine. Now there were three lies in that. I never sprayed an apple in my life. I never boxed an apple in my life. And I never gave any apples to anybody [laughter]. Three lies in one. And, that was just all in the interests of organic farming. They told three lies, see. That's what I call unscrupulous. It's idealistic, though, you see [unclear] do that.

Uh, uh, now I'm gonna read you one. When I was very young, w—one of the first books I ser—books, outside of fiction and poetry that I ever read, was called Our Place Among the Infinities. It was by an astronomer, an English astronomer, Proctor. The last century; one of those, in that, one of the great astronomers. And, uh, in, uh, uh, in this poem I'm going to read you, I have a farmer who want—got to wondering about our place among the infinities. See, he didn't know about this book. I stole the expression. I use it in the poem, I stole it. And, he wanted to know about our place among the infinities and he thought everybody ought to want to know, And he couldn't afford a telescope. And he thought the best way to get some money was to burn his farm down so, in such a way that the insurance company would be deceived and get the money for that and buy a telescope and go into the ideal business, eh. Unscrupulous idealist. Typical [laughter]. Now, the, the, uh, that's all I w—want to say. I might as well use that as to take—to the take-off to go on and read to you some.

You see these ultimates, that, people who wonder how much you play with, how much you deal in. See, I play with them more than I deal in 'em. Uh, and, I don't like to be asked [unclear] by anybody to tell what mine are, how far I dare go, or how far I—and how deep I am. I, I talked here once on the subject, "How deep is deep?" What do you call deep?

And, how, when, when are you the wickedest and when are you the, when are you the most ideally wicked, and so on. There's a lot to it. And, see, people, I can see why people think that, uh, Longfellow probably, you'd have to hunt rather far to get feeling that he was deeply into, into the, into things. I, I feel wonder at them not thinking Tennyson went very deep, thing, thing like, say like, "And freedom broadens slowly down from precedent to precedent."

Now that's a very, very deep, subtle thing, the change tha—from precedent to precedent, always talking precedents, but always slipping a punctuation mark or something, you know, and slidin' along, freedom getting further and further down. That's the very name of Cardoza's book almost, on, on, uh, the, the growth of the law, uh, how freedom broadens slowly down from precedent to precedent. Always talking precedent, sticking to the precedent but slipping a cog, you know, [Unclear] the world to freedom carrying it, see, and, thing like, uh, "Lest one good custom should corrupt the world." And, thing like that. Tho—those are deep things. And [unclear] some of the poems seem very shallow. Uh, "Let the darkness keep her raven gloss." He says, you know, [unclear] "Let darkness keep her raven gloss." That's a great, that's a great line. And, uh, that's in the, in the "In Memorium." [Unclear] nothing darker than that: "raven gloss."

And, then Browning. They, they quote him in sort of shallow cheerio kind of way when he says, "Grow old along with me!/The best is yet to be." That may be so, maybe it ain't. And [laughter], [unclear] but he says that and that's used, you know, constantly, and "God's in his heaven—/All's [well] with the world." And, and yet there's this Brown—that's just one of Browning's, but there's [unclear] this Browning. He says, it's, it's lo—in "Love Among the Ruins," about love. But he speaks first of, of, uh, he speaks in it, uh, leading up to what's best in the world, love, he says. Not, not love in the sense that Archie MacLeish means but in the other se—[unclear] in the sense that Freud means—the other kind of love. Uh, and, uh, he, he, he says, l—love is best. Forget it all, says forget fame, forget glory, forget everything. See, and says love is best. That's "Love Among the Ruins," Very pretty thing [unclear]. But in it he had this description of life:Lust of glory plucked their hearts up
Dread of shame struck them tame
And the glory and the shame alike, the gold
Bought and sold.
Glory and shame [unclear] for sale. That's all he says life is. He writes very different from the other. Lust of glory plucked their hearts up
Dread of shame struck them tame
And the glory and the shame alike, the gold
Bought and sold.

And then he says, forget that. Love is best. You better say that, you know. The chief reason for, the chief thing in favor of love, it's our best chance to keep staying on the world. Very practical. [Unclear] that's the sense he, that sense he, he doesn't mean it in. He means it in a romantic sense, not a Freudian.

All right. [Unclear] I still [unclear] still go on with my subject. Let's begin with this, this, uh, this criminal from Vermont. I had it marked and I've gone and lost it. Talking too much. No… 'scuse me… [unclear]… [unclear] … [unclear] have to look it up. I've lost it [unclear].

RC?: [Unclear] Isn't the index there, Robert?

RF: [Unclear] You know where it is?

RC?: Want me to get it?

[RF and voice in background, both inaudible]

RF: That's it, It's right beside that [unclear]. This is the astronomical one.

[Reads "The Star-Splitter"]

I, I ought to say one more case like that, you know. There was a fellow name, Bob Ingersoll. And he was long traduced in the pulpits of America as a man who brought a ch—a son up in atheism, and the son had gone t—gone 'lad, and the [unclear] ended up in the prison and in the insane asylum, both, I believe, at once probably, down in St. Elizabeth's or something like that. And, and, uh, Robert Ingersoll took no notice of it for years, and finally did one day in a public speech. He said, "The trouble with that is, uh, I, my son, I, I never had a son go crazy or go bad. In fact was, I never had a son. That's all the matter with that story." Just all for the cause, for the good cause, you see. They had to tell it that way. Save the Church.

I ought to say a nice thing about the Church so to offset that [laughter]. Uh, you know one of the worst things in the world is people who belittle glory. There's been a tendency lately to say, say that there's no glory in the, in s—our recent wars. That's an old-fashioned thing. Military glory's all vainglory. And, the, uh, but just the word "glory." I sometimes I think there's nothing but glory. Nothing but glory. Let's see if I can say some of that thing. "Glorius…" Let's see.

[Reads an excerpt from "A Song to David"]

Those are the three parts of a deed. "Determined, dared, and done." Somebody [unclear] it's the kind of thing you miss in the, [unclear]. That's carries it far away from Robert Ingersoll's skepticism. No, it's something else. I didn't mean that. That's a great poem; you know it, I suppose.

Uh, th—thinking of Tennyson again. You know, he helped make the most, most of a gem of a little book of poetry the world's ever seen. Lyric poetry. The Palgrave's Golden Treasury. It was his choices, a good part of it. It's beautiful. It's the best of poe—the very top of the fear of English literature, isn't it? Always be reprinted [tape noise; microphone fell over] [Unclear] Doesn't want me to do that,

RC: What was that? Was that Kit Smart?

RF: [Unclear] I won't gesticulate. Uh, uh, that, that's another thing to think about Tennyson: that he had a hand in the making of that beautiful old book. But one thing again, you know everything has it's, what it's, uh, some lack, lack. It hasn't any mention of the, of that great poem. No, there's no even part of it. That great poem that I quoted from has been more and more in every anthology ever made. Somebody began by putting in a few stanzas, and the next one put in a few more and finally they got the whole business in. Christopher Smart.

RF: …Tennyson didn't see, think of that. Funny [unclear] couldn't miss it.

Now I, I look this book over and sometimes I feel as if I, always I have another book before I get through reading anywhere. Uh, [unclear] see these people I have peop—somebody said, uh, uh, this today, this visitor said, "I understand you were many years deciding how to end 'The Death of the Hired Man.' " [Unclear] She said that's in a book. Ooohhh [laughter]. How could anyone? You, uh, you know how stories get corrupted. The story is this: that there's, I had, there was a, a book I never read and a teacher I never had that did more for me than anybody else in the world. The book I never read was Piers Plowman and the teacher I never had was William James. And, the, they both, both of those acted on me, and the—the Piers Plowman acted on me this way.

I always wanted to do something about the kind of American hired man, you know, that I'd lived with and worked with and, and been. See. And, and, uh, just how to get it! And, I didn't think, have any definite idea about it, it was just a lingering, sort of a lingering sense about it. And I thought that might be what Piers Plowman was and so I better let that alone for fear it would s—take the wind out of my sails. And I let it alone until I'd written "The Death of the Hired Man." And then I had a look at it and I needn't have worried [laughter]. It's another thing entirely, just, you know, satire and all that.

Shall I just be old-fashioned and read "The Death of the Hired Man" to you? Or do you, or something else. I don't want to say "Birches" tonight [laughter]. Will you excuse that? Or shall I read the, well, now I've just come from seeing an, a birch tree. And, uh, the birch tree, [unclear] and there's a little poem like, 'nother po—poem of mine. Let's see [unclear].

RC: Read "A Young Birch."

RF: What?

RC: Read "A Young Birch,"

RF: Yeah. Where is that? Can you find that for me?

I've got a young birch starting beside my house. [Unclear] There it is, yes. Now, now the thing about the young birch ri—right by my door, a very young birch, is it's just in the state, just a little bit, uh, back of this, not quite up to what this poem is about. "A Young Birch." The birch begins to crack its outer sheath
Of baby green and show the white beneath,
White just showing [unclear],
The birch begins to crack its outer sheath
Of baby green and show the white beneath,
As whoso[ ] likes the young and slight
May well have noticed.
Soon entirely white
To double day and cut in half the dark
It will stand forth, entirely white in bark,
And nothing but [its] top a leafy green—
The only native tree that dares to lean,
Relying on its beauty, to the air.
(Less brave perhaps than trusting are the fair.)
And someone reminiscent will recall
How once in cutting brush along the wall
He spared it from the number of the slain,
At first to be [no more than, uh,] no bigger than a cane,
And then no bigger than a fishing pole,
[And then no bigger than a, than a, uh, than a—]
[Unclear] I said that wrong. At first to be no bigger than a cane,
And then no bigger than a fishing pole,
But now at last so obvious a bole
The most efficient help you ever hired
Would know that it was there to be admired,
And zeal would not be thanked that cut it down
When you were reading books or out of town.
It was a thing of beauty [and,] and was sent [ ] live its life out as an ornament.
Shall I read that again? I didn't read it very well. It's new enough to blun—to stumble over, isn't it? The birch begins to crack its outer sheath
Of baby green and show the white beneath,
As whoso[ ] likes tie young and slight
May well have noticed.
Soon entirely white
To double day and cut in half the dark
It will stand forth, entirely white in bark,
[And,] And nothing but the top a leafy green—
The only native tree that dares to lean,
Relying on its beauty to the air.
(Less brave perhaps than trusting are the fair.) And someone reminiscent will recall
How once in cutting brush along the wall He spared it from the number of the slain, At first no bigger than a cane,
And then no bigger than a fishing pole, But now at last so obvious a bole
The most efficient help you ever hired
Would know that it was there to be admired,
And zeal would not be thanked that cut it down
When you were reading books or out of town.
It was a thing of beauty and was sent
To live its life out as an ornament.
See, that's another kind of poem. Let's skip around a little bit. [Unclear] Let's, now some of these [unclear]. Driven to this question of how far down into the terribleness of things you go, no, I've been, been right, been aware of it lately. Uh, I've made some couplets in my defense. See, this is my re—sort of religious one.

[Reads "Forgive, O Lord"]

[Laughter] And then the question of good and evil. It is from having stood contrasted
That good and bad so long have lasted.
That makes, that's ultimate, too, you see. Uh, and that, uh, that, that comes from thinking about Emerson a great deal. Emerson thought that they, uh, [unclear] they weren't equal, equal members of the, of the thing. They stand up, they support each other just the same as two playing cards do, you know, when you stand them up just right. They're very delicately stood there. I'm afraid sometimes they'll al—both fall down. Good and evil. Lose them both.

And then, uh, th—then the same sort of doubleness comes into this older one of mine, This is a couplet that isn't a couplet. This in free—uh, my—a free verse couplet.

[Reads "From Iron"]

That's, uh, on a lump of iron, of purest iron, the purest iron in the world, iron ore, uh, and this was about that. Th—pure as it looks, it's a two si—it's a double thing, you see, it's good and evil. It's, or its two things anyway, it's so—it's tools and weapons.

And then, here's one that somebody said he often quoted, I never quoted it at all, uh. Uh, i—"In Divés' Dive," this is called. "In Divés' Dive," see. That's a, I n—never had to say that out loud before. But you know who Divés was. And this is his dive.

[Reads "In Divés' Dive"]

[Starts to read "The Onset"]

No, I don't want that one [laughter]. This's my trouble, this, to get something I haven't read at all before.

Here's one. And this, this way back, see this in the thickness of the book if you look at it, it's way, way early. This is one that went to the Atlantic Monthly many years ago, and came back with a stamp right on the middle of it saying the date when it came in, [unclear] for the stamp, and it—my—the money I'd sent to, stamp I'd sent for returning it pinned right into the poem. [Unclear] I, uh, ought to kept that as a trophy [laughter]. Uh, uh, uh, "Bond and Free." And this, Love has earth to which she clings
With hills and circling arms about—
I think I'm not seeing very well, that's what's the matter, [unclear]. Forget that I've got glasses. Love has earth to which she clings
With hills and circling arms about—
Wall within wall to shut fear out.
But Thought has need of no such things,
[For,] For Thought has a pair of dauntless wings.
This is all about science, you see. On snow and sand and turf, I see
Where Love has left a printed trace
With straining in the world's embrace.
And such is Love and glad to be.
But Thought has shaken his ankles free.
Thought cleaves the interstellar gloom
And sits in Sirius' disc all night,
Till day makes him [retur—]retrace his flight,
[Uh,] With smell of burning on every plume,
Back past the sun to an earthly room.
His gains in heaven are what they are.
Yet some say Love by being thrall
And simply staying possesses all
In several beauty that Thought fares far
To find fused in another star.
See, that's all the, the difference there is. That's the science of it. There is a singer everyone has heard,
Loud, a mid-summer and a mid-wood bird,
[That] makes the solid tree trunks sound again.
He says that leaves are old and that for flowers
Mid-summer is to spring as one to ten.
He says the early petal-fall is past,
When pear and cherry bloom went down in showers
On sunny days a moment overcast;
And comes that other fall we name the fall,
He says the highway dust is over all.
The bird would cease and be as other birds
But that he knows in singing not to sing.
The question that he frames in all but words
Is what to make of a diminished thing.

A little poem that might go with that, uh, "Nothing Gold Can Stay." Uh, I won't read that. [Unclear]

Then… [unclear]… I'm going to read this one to you. I haven't read this since it was new, I read this thirty years ago, some. Haven't read it since. It's called "A Hundred Collars," "Hundred Collars." Lancaster bore him—such a little town,
Such a great man. It doesn't see him often
Of late years, though [, uh,] he keeps the old homestead
And sends the children there with their mother
To run wild in the summer—a little wild,
Sometimes he joins them for a day or two
And sees old friends he somehow can't get near,
[Uh,] They meet him in the general store at night,
Preoccupied with formidable mail,
Rifling a printed letter as he talks.
They seem afraid. He wouldn't have it so:
Though a great scholar, he's a democrat,
[I—]If not at heart, at least on principle.
Lately when coming up to Lancaster,
His train being late, [he,] he missed another train
And had four hours to wait [in] [Woodville] Junction—Woodsville Junction,
After eleven o'clock at night. Too tired
To think of sitting such an ordeal out,
He turned to the hotel to find a [r—a] bed.
"No room," the [ ] clerk said. "Unless—"
[Uh,] Woodsville's a place of shrieks and wandering lamps
And cars that shock and rattle—and one hotel.
[Uh,] "You say 'unless.' " "Unless you wouldn't mind Sharing a room with someone else." "Who is it?" [Uh,] "A man." "So I should hope. What kind of man?" "I know him: he's all right. A man's a man.
Separate beds, of course, you understand."
[Uh,] The night clerk blinked his eyes and dared him on.
"Who's that man sleeping in the office chair?
[Uh,] Has he had the refusal of my chance?"
[Uh,] "He was afraid of being robbed or murdered.
What do you say?"
"I'll have to have a bed."

The night clerk led him up three flights of stairs [And,] And down a narrow passage full of doors, At the last one of which he knocked and entered. "Lafe, here's a fellow wants to share your room." "Show him this way. I'm not afraid of him.
I'm not so drunk I can't take care of myself."
[Uh,] The night clerk clapped a bedstead on the [foo—]foot.
"This will be yours. Good-night," he said, and went.
[Uh,] "Lafe was the name, I think?" "Yes, Layfayette. You got it the first time. And yours?" "Magoon. Doctor Magoon." [Uh, uh,] "A Doctor?" "Well, a teacher." "Professor Square-the-circle-[by-the-]till-you-retired?
Hold on, there's something I don't think of now
That I had on my mind to ask the first
Man that knew anything I happened in with.
I'll ask you later—don't let me forget it."
The Doctor looked at Lafe and looked away.
A man? A brute. Naked above the waist,
He sat there creased and shining in the light,
[Uh,] Fumbling the buttons [on a, on] a well-starched shirt.
"I'm moving into a size-larger shirt.
I've felt mean lately; mean's no name for it.
I just found what the matter [was,] was tonight; I've been a-choking like a nursery tree When it outgrows the wire band of its name tag. I blamed it on the hot spell we've been having, 'Twas nothing but my foolish hanging back,
[Not,] Not liking to own up [I'd, I'd,] I'd grown a size.
Number eighteen [that] is. What size do you wear?"
The Doctor caught his throat convulsively.
"Oh—ah—[f—]fourteen—fourteen."
"Fourteen! You say so!
I can remember when I wore fourteen.
And come to think [I—I must some, have back at ho—some back—]
No. I must have back at home
More than a hundred collars, size fourteen.
[Tape noise; gap in tape] …way, then.
'My man' is it? [You,] You talk like a professor. Speaking of who's afraid of who, however,
I'm thinking I have more to lose than you
If anything should happen to be wrong.
[Uh,] Who wants to cut your number fourteen throat!
[Laughter] Let's have a showdown [on—]as an evidence
Of good faith. There is ninety dollars.
Come, if you're not afraid."
"I'm not afraid. There's five: that's all I [have]." "I can search you?
[Uh,] Where are you moving over to? Stay still.
You'd better [tu—]tuck your money under you
[And, uh, and,] And sleep on it, the way I always do
When I'm with people I don't trust at night,"
"Will you believe me if I put it there
Right on the counterpane—that I do trust you?"
"You'd say so, Mister Man.—I'm a collector.
My ninety isn't mine—[you, you,]
you won't think that. I pick it up a dollar at a time
All round the country for the Weekly News,
Published in Bow. [Y—uh,] You know the Weekly News?"
[Uh,] "Know[ ] it since I was young." "Then you know me.
[Uh,] Now we are getting on together—talking.
[I,] I'm sort of
Something for it at the front.
My business is to [find out what people,] find out what people want:
They pay for it, and so they ought to have it.
Fairbanks, he says to me—he's editor—
'Feel out the public sentiment'—he says.
A good deal comes on me when all is said.
The only trouble is we disagree.
In politics: I'm a Vermont Democrat—
You know what that is, sort of double-dyed;
The News has always been Republican.
Fairbanks, he says to me, 'Help us this year,'
Meaning by us their ticket. 'No,' I says,
'I can't and won't. You've been in long enough:
It's time you turned around and boosted us.
You'll have to pay me more [than, uh,] than ten a week
If I'm expected to elect Bill Taft.
I doubt if I could do it anyway.'"
[Y—]"You seem to shape the paper's policy." [Uh,] "You see I'm in with everybody, [I] know 'em all
I almost know their farms as well as they do,"
"You drive around? It must be pleasant work." "It's business, but I can't say it's not fun.
What I like best's the lay of different farms, Coming out on them from a stretch of woods,
[Uh,] Or over a hill [or,] or round a sudden corner.
I like to find folks getting out in spring,
Raking the dooryard, working near the house.
Later they get out [in th—in,] further in the fields.
Everything's shut sometimes except the barn;
The family's all away in some back meadow.
There's a hay load a-coming—when it comes.
And later still they all get driven in:
The fields are stripped to lawn, [the,] the garden [, uh, the garden] patches
Stripped to bare ground, the maple trees
To whips and poles. There's nobody about.
The chimney, though, keeps up a good brisk smoking.
And I lie back and ride [t—ride]. I take the reins
[0—]Only when [somebody's] coming, and the mare
Stops when [she,] she likes: I tell her when to go.
I've spoiled Jemima in [so—]more ways than one.
She's got so she turns in at every house
As if she had some sort of curvature,
[No matter if I have no
No matter if I have no errand there.
[She s—]She thinks I'm sociable. I maybe am.
[Uh,] It's seldom I get down except for meals, though.
Folks entertain me from the kitchen doorstep, [A—]All in a family [now…]"
"One would suppose they might not be [so] glad
To see you [unclear] as you are to see them."
[ ] [Because I,]"Because I want their dollar? [Oh, I,] I don't want
Anything they've not got. I never dun.
I'm there, and they can pay me if they like.
I go nowhere on purpose: I happen by.—
Sorry there is no cup to give you a drink.
I drink out of the bottle—not your style.
[Maybe—]Mayn't I offer you—?"
[Uh,] "No, no, no, thanks you." [Uh,] "Just as you say. Here's looking at you, then.—
And now I'm [, uh,] leaving you a little while.
[Uh,] You'll rest easier when I'm gone, perhaps—
Lie down—let yourself go [and,] and get some sleep.
[Uh,] But first—let's see—what was I going to ask you?
[These] collars—who shall I address them to,
Suppose you aren't awake when I come back?"
[Uh,] "Really, friend, [I,] I can't let you. [You, you,] You—may need them." "Not till I shrink, [whe—]when they'll be out of style." "But really I—I have so many collars." "I don't know who [I'd] rather would [, uh, should] have have them.
[Uh,] They're only turning yellow where they are.
But you're the doctor, as the saying is.
I'll put the light out. Don't you wait for me: [I've just, uh,] I've just begun the night…
[Unclear] … You get some sleep.
I'll knock so-fashion and peep round the door When I come back, so you'll know who it is.
There's nothing I'm afraid of like scared people.
I don't want you should shoot me in the head.—
[Uh,] What am I doing carrying off this bottle?—
There now, you get some sleep."
He shut the door. The Doctor slid [down the bed a little].

That's an old-timer.

Now I'm gonna do some of the short ones that I know, and…

[Reads "The Night Light," "Dust of Snow" and "Away"]

You see, uh, sometimes I—one ought to talk about—I'm talking a good deal tonight. I feel like it to get away from some of them, the poems. You know the, the thing is these pieces that we push around about the soul and the body and the [unclear] spirit and matter and, and immortality and transmigration and all those damn old tiresome things, and too much God and, and God's name taken too many times in vain, and, [unclear] that you, you wonder what you—how you escape it all. Y—my great interest I think is to be among those things, you get among 'em, once you're among 'em, and then you, you don't, you play with them. You play them like pieces. You play them this way, uh, you… [unclear] way to tell what I mean.

Sometimes I'm always trying harder to tell what I mean. You… the little first stanza that you make, see, is a commitment and it, it's always very strict, you know. You can only have certain meter. The meter, we're very limited in meter. I have never had any-meter except, except strict and loose iambic. That is, I've never had more than two short syllables between the long ones. I've never had three between the long ones, never in my life. And most people haven't. There are only a few cases of more than two anywhere in poetry, on, see, short—shorts, long. So there you are with five, never m—uh, very seldom more than five beats in a line. You have two, three, four, five, once in a great while six, but very rarely.

So that's all very settled. So that's as rigid as a tennis court, about, and as rigid as a, rigid as a, uh, as a shuh, kind of place you put on the pavement to play hopscotch. You know how to play hopscotch. Uh, and then you go, then you come on this little thing, you lay out the little thing again and again. It's a conventional thing. It's laid out for you or you lay it out. And then you come on to it, you step on to it, and step a figure in it, see. You s—in the rigid figure of the, that you put on the fl—pla—floor, you s—you, you wa—step off, a [unclear] figure…

…see somebody like, begin a poem like this, a boy began a poem like this [unclear] he stole it, I guess, from Horace, or somewhere, didn't he? [Unclear] boy, he was, he was fifteen years old, I think, wasn't he? Something [unclear] not much more than that, [unclear], uh. Happy the man whose wish and care
A few paternal acres found
Content to breathe his native air
In his own ground.
Now you see what a pretty little stanza that is. "Happy the man whose wish and care," "Happy the man whose wish and care." Four beats. "A few paternal acres found/Content to breathe his native air," and then this, those, those are, those are four beats al—then all of a sudden ends the stanza, "In his own ground." Uh, then he says, [Whose,] Whose herds with milk
Whose fields with bread
[Who—] Whose—
Let's see. Whose flocks supply him with attire
Whose trees […] in summer yield him shade
In winter, fire.
Now, now he's kept that pretty stanza again and sometimes you wonder at that. The fellow gets committed to a s—gets into a little stanza, is free and happy, you know, just like sketching that—he does that, he sketches on the ground for himself. That way, uh, the, the, the, the little poet that he makes like s—hopscotch. Now he's got to, got to step into that again and again, and, and make pretty figures out of his sentences, see. [Unclear]

Now that's, that's what I like people to be interested in when I do. They—I'd like them to see how pretty I can lay a sentence. I, I—the first stanza's a, is a risky thing. I can make that always, uh, I'm very free. Quite, uh, not so free as you might be but I can make, make in myself. L—look at a stanza like this somebody else makes, quotin' other people, too, so those things I quoted of Smart's. That stanza's kept through fifty stanzas, I guess. Just that one. One of the stanzas goes like this: Strong is the lion—like a coal
His eyeball,—like a bastion's mole
His breast against the foes;
Strong the gier-eagle on his sail;
Strong against the tide the enormous whale
Emerges as he goes.
See that's that, go with those stanzas. I said to you before, but kept all the way through it, once you've made a good one. And sometimes it seems the best stanza anybody writes is the first stanza, the, because there's something about his, uh, you know, he isn't,he isn't as tight as he [unclear] he's gonna be tighter trying to keep that, He's got to look back and see, uh, take, uh, "Fair daffodils, we weep to see/You haste away so soon." There, there are ten lines in that, and some of them only have o—one beat in them, I guess you'd call it one beat. Uh, and the others three and four, But there are ten lines in the stanza, and he has to keep that ten lines in the next stanza. And I, I often look back to see if I think he didn't have a hard time doing that, if he had to count lines and work at it, you know.

Well, uh, uh. If heaven were to do again,
And [at] the pasture bars
I leaned to line the figures in
Between the dotted stars,
I should be tempted to forget,
I fear, the Crown of Rule, The Scales of Trade, the Cross of Faith,
As hardly worth renewal.
[But those,] For [those] have governed in our lives,
And see how men have warred.
The Cross, the Crown, the Scales may all
As well have been the Sword.
Now you see, there, what I'm interested in there is the three stanzas, to see if the sentences fall different ways in them. And I wonder if I get credit for that: see whether I can put a pretty sentence, a different sentence, and lay 'em in, lay 'em in their little, little stanzas. Uh, uh, that one that I said of Pope's, I could've gone on, said it all [unclear] four or five little stanzas. Isn't it wonderful the way the stanz—the sentences are laid in 'em. He, he had that sense of form. Uh, [unclear],

[Reads "A Record Stride"]

Then, shall I say the dog one to you. Call that one [unclear]. I've lectured a good deal tonight about it all. Things on my mind, and, I think I'm trying to escape from reading too many poems to you. I've had so much of it this year. [Unclear] I ought to read you one new thing. See if I got it here. See, I think this would be one of the ultimate things we talk about. I suppose the most ultimate thing that I think of at all is, is that, the fear I have of losing my meaning in the material, that I—in the rhyme or the meter, or the grammar, or the vocabulary, or the, or the shape of the little poem, that I don't carry out my meaning, but this—in, in a long poem, I have a passage like this:

[Reads and discusses "Kitty Hawk"]

But that's rather, interesting idea, that the Bible, the alphabet, what we call philosophy, and science, all of it started at the far end of the Mississ—of the Mediterranean Sea, and [unclear] there, the alphabet, too [unclear], just think of that. And the whole bin, whole business, the whole civilization, everything that counts in the world has been northwest from there. Began there, began [unclear] right there near Moab or somewhere, right in there. And it's strange that the, the the whole business was there. Asia you might as well forget. Africa you might as well forget.

South America you might as well forget. Northwest, all that. Isn't it funny? That's what I'm saying there, anyway. [Unclear] the, the, the plunge into the material, the spiritual plunge into the material has been west-northwest, Terrible risky thing to say, I think. [Unclear]

All right, let's call that all [applause].

Can I say one or two just in another mood from all that. The, uh, the, just for the fun of it. Uh, uh,

[Reads "The Objection to Being Stepped On"]

Let's see what else there is like that. And, uh, then, s—some of them I'm scared of saying, I've said 'em so many times. I'll say this, this one. Say, you want to hear an ugly one? Not a funny one, n—an ugly one, too. Uh, some of my friends say I shouldn't have written this, but, you know, I, my, I've got, they got me into a sort of a self-conscious state about all these things. I don't read any reviews, see, but I get word of 'em [laughter] and it's spoiling me. You see, see me all bothered up [unclear] 'bout it. Uh, this is a terrible one. Let's see wha—you know, the one time the ruler of the United States said to Tobin, Tobin's Teamsters, you know, told him not to worry any more, they'd be taken care of from Washington see, [unclear] unmarked envelopes, see, [unclear] and that kind of thing that. I know that's coming to the world, see, see, I'm re—I'm resigned. That's what I write on my income tax. Not retired. I write "resigned," to everything [laughter]. I'm not going to contend against it, election by election. Every election I expect to be b—submerged, you know, go under.

And, they, uh, I said after that, that speech, you know, I named the speech, I named it I remember to a president of a college who sided with the speech. [Unclear] I said, I'd like to have the naming of that speech, I'd like to tell the president what to call it. I said I'd call it "Every man's home his own poor house." [Laughter] He said, "You have a very biting tongue." But I, this was about all that. [Unclear] Be prepared. See I'm, I g—get in on, go in on [unclear]. Don't worry about that. The hell I am. I'll go down joking anyway.

[Reads "Provide, Provide"]

[Laughter] I never had any life insurance in my life until I was compelled by law to get a little. I better shut [laughter and applause].

I might as well, you know, make it that kind of an evening [unclear] been talking to you, being very personal about it. Sort of s—preaching for you. [Unclear] It's not, not, I had occasion to look up Catiline lately, and I've always known, I began in Latin, uh, in, I had a lot of Latin. And I began to—I was under the dece—the deceiving that went on, abo—uh, that all came from Sallust and Cicero. I mean, yeah, Cicero. They made, they made, uh, Catiline out an altogether bad man. Very prejudiced. And I began to suspect there was something wrong about that when I was young, when I was still reading Cicero. I thought crooked this is. And, then I wondered why Caesar had, Caesar had Cicero killed, [unclear] this lawyer with the great gift of the gab.

And I read some more the other night in the be—actually said in the encyclopedia that we must remember that this is all told by Sallust and, and Cicero so it's prejudiced. See I nev—I didn't know I'd find that in the encyclopedia. Uh, and, y—you know, Caesar took sides with the bad democrats. I—it was a democratic—great democratic movement. See, I'm talking against the democrats now. The great democratic movement was led by Catiline and Caesar, see. There were whole crowds of people that were outside, in, uh, nobody's in the empire, and those two people realized they'd got to be brought in, eh, at any cost. And it took a, took a kind of a Mussolini to do it named Julius Caesar. He succeeded. And he gave those, he, he made a great democracy in, you get more freedom that way, in a tyranny, eh. They don't know that. Very, very fascinating [unclear].

And Caesar, uh, in the, in the rebellion that Caesar encouraged secretly, that Catiline led, in it, some of the, Catiline got the worst of it. He was killed in battle and some of o—his followers were executed, and Caesar never forgave the, the, uh, people that executed his followers. And that's, and it was in their name that he had, he had Cicero kill himself. [Unclear] Funny thing that's been all covered up in history. But you, that's coming, you know, the, I know that on the way again that you, you got to do something for these millions. They've all got to go to college [laughter]. And you've got to have a socialist form of g—socialist form of government do it, that's all. I might as well take, take a back seat. I'm, I'm not on Catiline's side. Good night. [Applause]