Drove up to Homer Noble Farm to take Frost to dinner at the Waybury Inn. We talked for a half hour—Frost insisting—until after seven, then drove down to East Middlebury. He sat for a moment in the car peering ahead and then, as he got out, mentioned the Latin name of the flowering shrub in front of which we had parked a honeysuckle—which he'd been looking at. We had daiquiris, and he ordered a double order of shrimp. I ordered a lobster Newberg. Afterward, although it was 8:45, we drove up to Ripton village and then to Lincoln so he could look off from what he called his "balcony view." We doubled back and saw three deer in fine coats in the road. Probably they had been licking salt. As we drove along the wasteland before reaching the 'balcony view' he said it reminded him of Currier Bell and the Wuthering Heights country in Yorkshire. We agreed we liked the barren, wild moorland scenery. It made one feel a little "morbid." Since the day had been humid with little sunlight, it was a dullish evening but from the "balcony view," Mt. Abraham loomed up, as he said, rather "sullen." we could see its outline veiled in the misty dusk. Soon it was full dark.
Back at his cabin we were greeted by Sheba, the little schnauzer, who barked vigorously. It delighted Frost to find her there awaiting him. She had left the other dogs and somehow crawled into his cabin. It was now about 9:45, and we sat and talked until 12:30. Even then Frost was reluctant to let me go but I thought he shouldn't stay up longer, although he was growing more interested in what he was saying. He picked up a flashlight and accompanied me to the bottom of the lane.
During the evening he ranged widely. We talked about trees, birds, people, poetry, writers, his mid-winter illness, Washington, a new president for Middlebury (he suggested Dr. Frank Piskor of Syracuse), the Elinor Frost scholarship at the English School; a new paperback edition of his works.
Our forests were not ruined by the big lumber industry so much as they were by fire and insects, especially insects. He said it took him a little time to discover the truth of this. He referred to the white pine as "one of the great American trees."
He was positively exuberant when he said of our continental map: "You've got to have a good map and we've got a beauty." "What a beautiful cut to it," and he indicated the three thousand mile sweep from the Atlantic to the Pacific. The ugliest map was the present partition of East and West Germany. "There is one, not two languages," he said. "There is no American language; there is only English."
He didn't think much of Henry James, nor Pound and Eliot leaving their own country. William James he thought greater than Henry.
"You mustn't praise Thoreau to destroy Emerson," he said, thinking of the popularity of the former these days. But he liked Thoreau. "I have been thinking about Thoreau all my life."
Called him "muddle-headed," citing Redburn, Pierre and Billy Budd. Also referred to him as "an unhappy thinker" and "frustrated." "Everything searched for and not found," he said at one point, which indicates Frost believes the ultimates could be realized without Melville's agonizings and uncertainty. Life might be unbearable, he seemed to be saying, but you've got to know what to do about it. He didn't like the symbolism in Melville's books; he did like the picturesque. And he thought Melville's "Mosses" review of Hawthorne's tales a wonderful thing. Of Billy Budd, he said: "I can't bear it, it's too sad. I never finished it."
He retold the episode of Redburn and Launcellot's—Hey, and then, by way of parallel, he told the story of an Upstate New York hey who once, sailing to Russia, wanted to see the Czar, and, although it was said to he impossible, did see him and held out a closed hand to the Czar which worried the guards who thought the boy might have something dangerous in his hand but when he opened it there was an acorn, a future oak for the Czar. And the Czar showed him St. Petersburg. How different this was from Redburn's unpleasant experience in Liverpool, Frost said.
Praised Palgrave's Golden Treasury. This has been one of his mainstays.
He said he had learned something from Vergil's "Eclogues," but didn't say what it was.
"Happy is the man who enters poetry without having had to study it."
He said that no critical commentary he had ever read had helped him in his writing. Sherwood Anderson used to say the same thing.
He told of the girl who had appeared after one of his lectures at Boston College sat down beside him and said, "Now I want to talk to you for a half hour about poetry." "Well, go ahead," he said. "What do you want to know?" "I want to know where the frustration comes in," she said. "If that's what you want to talk about I've nothing to say," and, at that moment, a priest came up and apologized for the girl's appearance. "She shouldn't be here," he said. "But," Frost said to me, "I've never been frustrated. Frustration isn't part of it. I picked up things in my reading." And he quoted a few: from the witches' scenes in "Macbeth"; from "Kublai Khan" ("Whert Alph, the sacred river, ran") which he came upon, he thinks, as an epigraph in one of Rider Haggard's books (probably King Solomon's Mines), and Keats' "magic casements, opening on the foam/ Of perilous seas, in faery lands forlorn."
He praised Robinson's "Mr. Flood's Party" with more enthusiasm than I have heard him show toward other poets for some time. He also said good things of Pound's early poems.
When I mentioned the honors John Kennedy's administration had showered on him, he said that when Longfellow visited the Senate accompanied by Sumner, it recessed and gathered around him. And one mustn't forget how Teddy Roosevelt helped Robinson.
"What's the difference between T.S. Eliot and myself?" he asked, rhetorically. "Eliot's churchly, I'm religious." And he laughed.
Referred to Henry Hayford and then to Philip Booth, now at Syracuse, saved from Wellesley, but he had heard Booth was giving all his attention to student papers and he thought this was a waste of precious time.
Two Things in Life:
He had left a couple of shrimp on his plate. When I called this to his attention, he said: "Get so you can bear to leave something. I'd rather waste it outside than inside."
"A conservative is one who believes in continuing his stock. A conservative breeds true; a radical breeds new."
"I'm not an idealist, I'm a realist."
Said Choate School paid him $1500 for a recent visit. Apparently Paul Mello of Pittsburgh put up the money.
Said he got 20% on each copy sold of In the Clearing. The sale will probably go over 100,000; hence Frost should receive about $80,000, which will be paid him in annual installments by Holt, Rinehart, Winston, his publishers.
Said "Al" Edwards, the Rinehart president, was worth three or four millions.
He let the University of Michigan know they ought to give him a more advanced degree than an M.A.— the first and only one he received. They ought to take it back if they weren't willing to give him another. So lately, in June 1962, the University obliged. While there he heard Robert McNamara, Secretary of Defense, address the students and make the idealistic proposal that if war becomes imminent the big warring nations like the Soviets and the USA should combat by token forces—by 'champions', as it were—a very romantic notion, Frost thought. It's poetic but idealistic. J.F. Kennedy is probably in back of it and suggested it to McNamara. "I thought it sounded familiar," Frost said; "then I remembered it had been done before—in the Bible—in the story of David and Goliath." This illustrates Frost's penetration. His insights come from taking time to think about things; they don't simply glance off his mind.
Had heard since President Harold Taylor left Sarah Lawrence the curriculum had changed. The word now was 'permissive.' Students were permitted, not given free hand in electives.
Said he thought there was a rivalry between the Kennedy wives in their social activities. At the inaugural (1961), Mrs. Robert Kennedy tried to get him to ride in their car but he had promised Stewart Udall he would go with him. Then Mrs. Robert Kennedy invited him out to Hickory Hill, McLean, Virginia, where the Kennedys lived in a lavish place. Mrs. Kennedy took him around the place, and he told her, "This is for the overprivileged." He was glad he hadn't gone to one of the latest parties that turned into a wild one with the Hollywood stars living it up. He referred to this party a couple of times.
Described his recent illness, saying it started as most of his do with 'chagrin'—chagrin at something people had been saying to him about his recent success which they described as due to popularity. It hadn't occurred to them, he said, that I had been successful now for sometime. He was stricken at Agnes Scott College, taken down to Coconut Grove, and nearly died, as he said. The newspapers kept asking: "Is it terminal?" He told of a doctor standing by in consultation, saying, "Pneumonia is an old man's friend." "That's the last I saw of that doctor. The statement was a little indiscreet. But I wouldn't be living if they hadn't shot me full of penicillin. The only thing penicillin is really effective against is the pneumoeuceus."
Frost talked very objectively about death. This time he had thought he would surely die.
Once he mentioned Bernard de Voto's saying to him: "You're a great poet but a bad man." "What did he mean by this statement?" quizzically inquired Frost. He didn't understand it. It had something to do with Kathleen Morrison, he thought, but he didn't explain. I find Frost very self-revealing in this important relationship. Did De Voto think Frost had, in attaching himself to Kathleen Morrison, taken her away from either him or her husband? But why did De Voto think this? What designs had he in the matter? Under the circumstances Frost's reaction is nothing less than astounding. Was he trying to cover up for an illicit relationship, or was he simply ingenuous?
He also said Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. told him: "What I learned from De Voto was what you had taught him."
Said he had been reading Bohme—Jakob Bohme, a 16th century German shoemaker and mystic, who believed in the creative value of the conflict of opposites, which he saw producing a new unity. Frost was interested in the doctrine of contraries, or conflicts, and apparently accepts a dualistic concept of good and evil. "What is evil?" asked Frost. "It is inherent in things." He illustrated that the most evil thing would be by referring to the high priests and the coming of Jesus. They condemned him, not recognizing the advent of a new order. In the failure of the high priests to see the possibilities in Christ's coming he seemed to think there was an element of evil. While in Israel (early in 1961) he had seen a knot of old Jewish priests in the street and he had thought to himself that here were living examples of the kind of people who would not have been in on the change when Jesus Christ appeared on the streets of Jerusalem.
This is a new notion to me of the source of evil: in a failure of insight to be in on the new development, the change, the possibilities in things.
Some people had criticized Frost's statement in A Boy's Will ("Into My Own")—they will not find him changed from him they knew only more sure of his truth. What did he mean by this statement? It only means that he would be true to the things he saw as he experienced life. It didn't mean fixity, that he had made up his mind once for all and would therefore remain inflexible. He said he didn't quite agree with Emerson's consistency doctrine. He remained consistent to some directional feeling but it was hard to explain.