On Teaching Poetry
Bread Loaf School of English, 5 July 1954
Typed transcript, 36 p. Abernethy Manuscripts [Frost] / Tape Transcriptions. Transcribed by India Tressault '80.

Reginald Cook: The following is a recording of a talk and reading given by Robert Frost on July 5, 1954, at the Bread Loaf School of English. He is introduced by Director Cook of the School.

Robert Frost: …it's nice, and, and, twenty-nine for the other. I didn't realize they'd been so close together. Twenty-nine, you say?

RC: Twenty-nine, the last count is [unclear].

RF: Thirty-five, six years, yes.

Well, I ought to say something tonight about both poetry and education, it seems to me, under these circumstances. And I haven't done that regularly. Uh, have I a loudspeaker here? Am I, or is it just this that I'm talking to?

??: Just that.

RF: So I have to be careful of the crowd, yeah. Right. And, uh, I haven't usually talked about either poetry or education. I've talked about everything under the sun. I can remember some of the subjects and they were far from poetry and far from education.

But I've been accused lately of having said something in print, very subversive [laughter]. That's a funny word, isn't it, has other connotations than I mean. But I told a story of my relation, through sixty years, to a particular poem of Emerson's, and, the fellow teacher of mine said the other day, "I see through you." Uh, and I s—he said, "I suppose others have. They don't like to tell you, but I'm going to tell you. That's a very subversive piece of writing. It undermines education," teaching of poetry, and, uh, he said, "I won't, I won't tell anybody else on you," see, and I said to him, "Well, I been telling people on me for the last forty years, so you needn't think you're telling anything special." I've been trying to tell on myself, and I haven't been able to phrase it, I suppose. He seemed surprised to find it in that article, he did, he thought he'd done quite a thing to see it himself, for himself. And, uh, he said, "I see what, uh, I, I, I guess you mean that you don't want your poetry taught in schools. Is that right?" I said, "By the wrong people, yes." [Laughter]

Uh, now it seems to me it's a chance for a little demarcation about these things. Suppose I'm thinking of, of the top of poetry, not my own, but the top of poetry, the, the Oxford Book of Verse, the, the, um, the Palgrave, and begin right there. And suppose I s—I been long puzzled, and you've been puzzled about what to do with that in school.

You're, you're most of you teachers. What would you do with the Palgrave. It was published without a single note, if I'm not mistaken. I have a very early edition of it. And, uh, what is there to say about poetry like that? Me, myself, I read Shakespeare out of my hip pocket when I was working in the mills. I never touched him in reading until then, never really read him through, see. And, some people tried to scare me. They said there are some of the words in that, afterward, some of the words in that that look as if they meant the same as they do now, but they didn't then. There are about fifty of those, and you ought to go to college four years to earn, get those, you [laughter]. And, uh, it's very dan—very terrible threat.

Let's go back. In the, in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, all education, all college education, and some high school education, was pre-pulpit, and pre-parliament, see. All of it was. Everybody was thinking of being either a preacher or a men—or a member of Congress. And they spouted a great deal. It was, and all, much of it, uh, i—something of that spirit still lingers in it, there's something of that. The, uh, the, the spouting has almost disappeared. I wish there were a little of it left, spouting of, uh, uh, uh, reciting, anyway, reciting poetry by heart, things like that, Shakespeare by heart. We have pre-, the word "pre-" with us everywhere now. Pre-, uh, s—medical, pre-science, pre-scientific, and pre-law, I suppose you could say some of it is. But anyway, I think that nearly all poetry that's handled in the high school and colleges today, is pre-graduate school. That's the deadly thing I wanted to say.

Now that's not the least thing subversive, that's not the least thing against the graduate school. It's just that it is, it's pre-graduate school training, not education, see. The college and the high school are, should be k—kept as free as possible from all that. It's hard that it should be so, because nearly all the teachers are out of the graduate school, have doctor's degrees. It's very hard for them to forget the methods that, the methods, the, of, of, the graduate school, the scholarly methods.

But, and most of the students that you have in the high school and college are not going to be scholars, and why should you handle them as if they were going to be scholars? Only s—maybe, but say only so that they shall respect scholars, and remember to respect them when they get down into Wall Street, and send plenty of money up to support them [laughter]. Maybe that's the justification. But something's gone wrong. The graduate school has backed up into the high school, and even—I mean into the college, and even into the high school. There's nothing to be said against, against handling Shakespeare in the scholarly fashion, but the way, the, that's all pre-graduate school, when it's handled that way.

I remember years ago, the head of the educational system in New Hampshire, uh, told me that he came into a, a class in the high school, visiting, in Concord, I think it was, or in Manchester, and he found that, the children reading a, a play of Shakespeare's, translating it word by word into other and worse English, to prove that they understood it [laughter]. And, everything being, gone into in little details, and he said to the teacher, uh, he was, I ought to tell you the kind of man he was. He was a great teaching, educational bully, he ran the whole state of New Hampshire. He once took out his watch and said to me, "I can tell you at this moment what every teacher in New Hampshire is saying." [Laughter] And he s—he said, uh, "That's because they don't, I have to supply what they shall say because they don't know what to say themselves."

And he said, uh, "So I went and found them going on this way, in this school, and, uh, I said to the teacher, 'Now that isn't the way to read a play, you know, this is a play, something you might go to in the evening. And it'd take two or three hours to see it acted.'" And, whe—he said, "When I sit up, uh, uh, of, of a night at home when I'm not too busy I might read a, a play by Marlowe or Webster, or, or Shakespeare, one that I hadn't read before, and I'd read it the whole evening." Said, "I'd read it. It's very readable. It's strangely readable." And, uh, then, he said, "Of course, if you've been swept through it that way once"; said, "you, in school, you might come back to it someday for parts that, uh, you'd like to dwell on, some of the, that had charmed you specially, you know, and, uh, [unclear] this a little difficulties, you know, uh, s—a play'll bear so much, only so much, a little poem will bear only so much of teaching, you know. There's a little bit of things to look into, and, you might do that, you know, you know, anachronisms and such things:"

And, uh, he said, next year he was back there, he said, and looked in on her again. And she said, "Now I'll, uh, I'm going to open up a play, uh, for you," she said, "today." So she turned to the children, said, "We'll read ju—we're gonna, we're gonna read Julius Caesar for rapid reading." [Laughter] And she said that, you know, in just the accent of kant, you know, the, I, I heard that said once. I was crossing the campus. I heard two teachers talking, summer school, and one said to the other, "That's a rapid reading book." Something was a rapid reading book, I guess it was Walden or something like that [laughter]. And, and, uh, then he said—she says, "First we'll read it for rapid reading, and then we'll read it for beauty [laughter], and then we'll tend to things like anachronisms." [Laughter] And he says, "What can you do with anyone like that," you know. That's what's [unclear].

Well, all I say is that, I'd like to come up here some time, another year, maybe, and give five, four or five lectures, talks, to cla—to a class, on what to do, how to treat poems in a high school. I won't bother with a college, that can take care of itself. And, uh, but in the high school. And it doesn't matter who the poet is, uh, taking, taking Chaucer, uh. There's a little, uh, that's, that's what you might call a, a somewhat foreign language. A slightly foreign language, that can be got over very quickly. You know, you, the p—that part of it is study, of course. You're gonna get over that. But the w—i—th—and then the, the acc—uh, the way the words are pronounced, few weeks, and you're in there, just the same as Shakespeare. It's very light reading, some of it. Suitable for rapid reading [laughter].

And, then, but now look. I never ask anybody to write anything down, but I'm gonna, I start the lecture by asking everybody write down one sentence for me, just one sentence. Start four or fi—and I'd make my four or five lectures out of the different words in this sentence, see. And they're these: "Our object," speaking for the poets, "Our object is to entertain you by making play—" it's symbol and metaphor, see, [unclear] "by making play with things we trust you already know." That's the whole b—sentence. "Our object is to entertain you by making play," and that's the height of it, that's the apex, "by making play," never mind the parentheses,"by making play with things we trust you already know."

Now in one of the lectures I'll modify that last just for the fun or it, you know, that you, put it, you, almost know, see, almost entirely know. There's a little something there always. You'll missing w—uh, when you write a poem or read a poem, as I, as I, uh, am tonight, uh, uh, there are parts of it that one person here and another person is missing. Uh, I, I've been often asked in the years, "How do you make children like poetry?" The answer is, you don't. See, you don't do it in that sweeping way. There'll be a lot of them that'll stay, uh, stay indifferent to poetry. I'm, I'm not there to, to whoop it up for, for poetry, uh, uh, uh. I, I said, said my friend was goin—m—uh, uh, [unclear] covered alliance, when he, he's going back, giving up, he's [unclear] to teach Shakespeare again. I said, "What you going to do, going back to exaggerating Shakespeare?" [Laughter]

But that's all, that's what I'm going to do, and it's largely to sort of cleanse the high school of the graduate school approach. Now the great, great, uh, greatest scholarship, see, greatest scholarship, I venerate it, and. I've had good many adventures in education. I remember once hearing Nichols. He, uh, p—he was president of Dartmouth a short time. He was the Nobel Prize man on, on the wake of light, uh, and, uh, very distinguished scholar who was a, not a very successful president. But I remember his saying to a lot of teachers that he wished, he wished, speaking as a scientist, he said, "I wish they'd let science alone in the high school. It's just prophylactic teaching." He says they take the wonder all out of it so there's nothing to astonish them, uh, uh, he might have gone on to say it's almost as bad as the comic strips, you know, it takes all the wonder out of, out of everything. And, uh, he said, "What would I have 'em do in the high school?" [Unclear] he seemed a very, think it as he went. He said, "I'd have 'em, well, there's Latin, they might have four years of Latin. And then there's Greek, they might have four years of Greek. And then," he said, he thought hard, and he says, "and a little mathematics." He said, "And I wish they'd let other things alone." Said, "French and German, uh, you know, equivalent, you can, uh, for your Latin and Greek." But he said, he just wish, wished they'd let all that stuff alone, come up to the other.

That's an extreme way of putting that. But I'd like to see, fo—for the sake of the, of the top level of poetry, can you think of anything to say of, uh, to the, of the res—wh—what research is there for, for the, the lyrics. Uh, for instance, there's a lyric begins, the—in, in the, both those books, ther—they have most of the poems in common, those two I speak of, one that begins, uh,

The glories of our blood and state
Are shadows, not substantial things;
There is no armour against fate;
Death lays [her] icy hand on kings.
Shadow and crown must tumble down
And in the [earth,] earth be equal made
With a poor crooked scythe and spade

Now at the head of that poem, in, in one of the books, it says, "Death the Leveller." And me, myself, you see, I can say that it occurred to me after years of thinking what a beautiful title, I wondered if that was on the poem in Shirley's play where it occurs, you see. And, those things have an interest, you know, to me. I love the scholarship [unclear]. It's, but it's not very, not, not of the first importance for the pure, purity of what they call poesie pure, you know, pure poetry.

That's what I'm speaking for. The plays are like that, they all got a first quality of entertainment, making play with things we can trust you largely to know. And, if I have to say too much to prepare you for the poem, say anything to prepare you for the poem before you read it, it's too bad. If I have to say anything to you while the poem's going on, it's worse, and if I have to say anything after it, well, you, I hope you'll have gone home [laughter]. The, uh, I, I have, I'm gonna read you a poem, for instance, tonight that's got a little of French Canadian dialect in it at which I'm not very good. I never read it before for that reason. I read it once years ago at, uh, at a Phi Beta Kappa place, and, years and years ago. And I've always let it alone [unclear]. But now what's that to say, you know, you, I'm sorry I can't say the French very well. It's ju—it's English-French, American-French. So [unclear] I begin with that.

I can say things like this. I can say that my years of experience reading poems show me, uh, have convinced me that I can entertain people more when I have a person in my poem. Eh. That's odd. But I, I read two poems on the occasion I speak of years ago, and, uh, one of them was sort of not, had no person in it at all, and the other had these French people in it, and, uh, somebody afterward said to me, the editor of the Atlantic said, "We don't like that first one you read, but give us that second one with the Frenchman in it." [Unclear] That's, that is, some—and I've been more and more aware of that, that when I go back to the people, to characters that I can, uh, that I'm more [unclear].

Now let's try this one. Give me a second. [Unclear] Where is it? It's called "The Ax-Helve." "The Ax-Helve." I oughta brought with me tonight a, a paragraph in an eighteenth-century book I just read, uh, with all, uh, ho—a paragraph with ten words in it about what expenses a man is at to harvest a crop of rice, he, in India. And, uh, there are all sorts of expenses. There are ten expenses, all with the strangest names, and I ought to con—I ought to have read 'em to you. I didn't know a si—what a single one of them meant, and you wouldn't know, and there wouldn't be anybody here that would know, I don't care how much—how many graduate schools he's [laughter]. But I wouldn't do that to anybody, you know, naturally, 'cept to high hat them. "The Ax-Helve."

I've known ere now an interfering branch
Of alder catch my lifted ax behind me.
But that was in the woods, to hold my hand
From striking at another alder's roots,
And this was, as I say, an alder branch.
This was a man, Baptiste, who stole one day
Behind me on the snow in my own yard
Where I was working [at the,] at the chopping block,
[A—]And cutting nothing not cut down already.
He caught my ax expertly on the rise,
When all my strength put forth was in his favor,
Held it a moment where it was, [uh,] to calm me,
Then took it from me—and I let him take it.
I didn't know him well enough to know
What it was all about. There might be something
He had in mind to say to a bad neighbor
He might prefer to say to him disarmed.
But all he had to tell me in French-English
Was what he thought of—not me, but my ax,
Me only as I took my ax to heart.
It was the [bac—]bad ax-helve someone had sold me—
"Made on machine," he said, plowing the grain
With a thick thumbnail to show how it ran
Across the handle's long-drawn serpentine,
Like the two strokes across a dollar sign.
"You give her one good crack, she's snap right off.
[Uh,] Den where's your [ax—]hax-ead flying t'rough de hair?"

All I do is get the "h's" in [laughter].

Admitted; and yet, what was that to him?
Come on my house and I put you one in
[Uh,] What's las' awhile—good hick'ry what's grow crooked,
De second growt' [, uh,] I cut myself—tough, tough!"
[Uh,] Something to sell? That wasn't how it sounded.
"Den when you say you come? [It—]It's cost you nothing.
[Uh,] As well tonight as any night.
Beyond an over-warmth of kitchen stove
My welcome differed from no other welcome.
[Bap—]Baptiste knew best why I was where I was.
So long as he would leave enough unsaid,
I shouldn't mind his being overjoyed
(If overjoyed he was) at having got me
[Where I,] Where I must judge if [he was, uh,] if what he knew about an ax [, uh,]
That not everybody else knew was to count
For [s—]nothing in the measure of a neighbor.
Hard if, though cast away for life with Yankees,
A Frenchman couldn't get his human rating!

Mrs. Baptiste came in and rocked a chair
That had as many motions as the world:
One back and forward, in and out of shadow,
That got her nowhere; one more gradual,
Sideways, that would have run her on the stove
In time, had she not realized her danger
And caught herself [up,] up bodily, chair and all,
And set herself back where she started from.
"She ain't spick [much, uh, sh—sh—]She ain't spick too much Henglish—dat's too bad."
[Uh,] I was afraid, in brightening first on me,
Then on Baptiste, as if she understood
What passed between us, she was only feigning.
Baptiste was anxious for her; but no more
Than for himself, so placed he couldn't hope
[To k—]To keep his bargain of the morning with me
In time to keep me from suspecting him
Of really never having meant to keep it.

Needlessly soon he had his [ax-helve out, uh,]ax-helves out,
A quiverful to choose from, since he wished me
To have the best he had, or had to spare—
Not for me to ask which, when what he took
Had beauties he had to point me out at length
To insure their not being wasted on me.

See, that's something, isn't it, uh, something about what I've been talking about, whether [unclear] what the, where the teacher comes in [unclear] that I might, got to be careful about.

To insure their not being wasted on me.
He liked to have it slender as a whipstock,
Free from the least knot, equal to the strain
Of bending like a sword across the knee.
He showed me that the lines of a good helve
Were native to the grain before the knife
[Exp—]Expressed them, and its curves were no false curves
Put on [i—uh, put on] it from without. And there its strength lay
For the hard work. He chafed its long white body
From end to end with his rough hand shut round it.
[Uh,] He tried it at the eyehole in the ax-head.
"Hahn, hahn," he mused, "don't need much taking down."
[Uh,] Baptiste knew how to make a short job long
For love of it, and yet not waste time either.

Do you know, what we talked about was knowledge?
Baptiste on his defense about the children
He kept from school, or did his best to keep—
[Uh,] Whatever school and children and our doubts
Of laid-on education had to do
With the [c—the] curves of his ax-helve [ ] and his having
Used these unscrupulously to [b—]bring me
[To s—]To see for once the inside of his house.
Was I desired in friendship, partly as someone
To leave it to, whether the right to hold
Such doubts of education should depend
Upon the education of those [that had] them?

[Uh,] But now he brushed the shavings from his knee
And stood the ax[-helve] there on its horse's hoof,
Erect, but not without its waves, as when
The snake stood up for evil in the Garden—
Top-heavy with a heaviness [, uh,] his short,
Thick hand made light of, [uh,] steel-blue chin drawn [ ]
[ ] in a little—a French touch in that.
Baptiste drew back and squinted at it, pleased:
[Uh, "See how she cock,] See how she's cock her head!"

Cock 'er 'ead [unclear]. That's all. It's a long time I didn't give it.

Now I'm going to say something to you that, mmm, read some of the others. But now I could, see I could go into a lot about that, and some of you don't perhaps know about an ax, some of you don't know the word "helve." And, uh, but, leave it for you to find out in some other poem. I always look at it that way, too, that the, that, uh, uh, I come on a word like "Smooth-sliding Mincius, crown'd with vocal reeds!" And, uh, and then I come on the word "Mincius" in history. And I come on the word "Mincius" in Napoleon's campaigns. And by the time I've come on it two or three times, I've pretty near know what it, that it's a stream. I don't need very much more than that about it.

All right. Suppose I say some of the short ones. This light seems to hurt my eyes. [Unclear] That's right. I need the light but it's too bright for me. Uh, I wonder if I can't see without that light. I'm gonna read you more, a recent poem, with, with somebody in it [unclear]. Uh, this one is called "One More Brevity."

[Reads "One More Brevity"]

That's my Christmas one, the last one. Then, uh, some of the old ones.

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that, the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

And then, um, you hear the thrushes around here nights now, evenings, I suppose you've noticed the thrushes. The—this is one is about a thrush.

[Reads "Come In"]

And then, uh, let's see, uh, uh, he th—this is c—never mind the name of them, sometimes it doesn't matter 'specially, does it.

[Reads "The Most of It"]

Want to hear that one twice to see if you, see, now, you just look in that. I know one word in that that most people, you know, don't know, one word. Is that any harm in it? Shouldn't have used it, maybe. No, I don't go by that. I use what I have, but I, [unclear] on a percentage basis [laughter]. [Unclear] He, you see, this is a more psychological one, this is a person one.

[Rereads "The Most of It"]

Do, do I have any desire to emphasize it any more than that, you know, yo—you, you'd have the adva—I'd rather you'd see it while I'm wri—reading it, I think, but I, and I have a little desire to force it, impress it a little by reading it twice. But if I lingered over details in it, to make you like it, I'd be ashamed of myself. Uh, you might, you might wonder why I wrote it, you know, what are the, what are the parts [unclear], what's the fascination of writin' it. Certain words, I won—but it wouldn't be for me to tell you what they are. Certain words, that's what a poem is, certain words. Then, uh, some of you haven't heard it before so I'll read, say old ones, too. Very old ones. The, uh,

When I see birches bend to left and right—

Some of you smile that I do this again [laughs], keep, uh, I'm expected to do this one. Did it in Boston, do it everywhere. [Unclear] this, this little note on it before I begin, see, the kind I forbid. I never go down the shoreline to New York without watching the birches to see if they live up to what I say of them in the poem [laughter].

When I see birches bend to left and right
Across the lines of straighter darker trees,
I like to think some boy's been swinging them.
But swinging doesn't bend them down to stay
As ice storms do. Often you must have seen them
Loaded [with ice,] with ice a sunny winter morning
After a rain. They click upon themselves
As the [re—]breeze rises, and turn many-colored
As the stir cracks and crazes their enamel.
Soon the sun's warmth makes them shed crystal shells
Shattering and avalanching on the snow crust—
Such heaps of broken glass to sweep away
You'd think the inner dome of heaven had fallen.
They are dragged to the withered bracken by the load,
And they seem not to break; though once they are bowed
So low for long, they never right themselves:
You may see their trunks arching in the woods
Years afterward[ ], trailing their leaves on the ground
Like girls on hands and knees that throw their hair
Before them over their heads to dry in the sun.
But I was going to say when Truth broke in
With all her matter of fact about the ice storm,
I should prefer to have [had] some boy bend them
As he went out [or] in to fetch the cows—
Some boy too far from town to learn baseball,
Whose only play was what he found himself,
Summer or winter, and could play alone.
One by one he subdued his father's trees
By riding them down over and over again
Until he took the stiffness out of them,
And not one but hung limp, not one was left
For him to conquer. He learned all there was
To learn about not launching out too soon
And so not carrying the tree away
Clear to the ground. He always kept his poise
To the top branches, climbing carefully
With the same pains you use to fill a cup
Up to the brim, and even above the brim.
Then he flung outward, feet first, with a swish,
Kicking his way down through the air to the ground.
So was I once myself a swinger of birches.
And so I dream of going back to be.
It's when I'm weary of considerations,
And life is too much like a pathless wood
Where your face burns and tickles with the cobwebs
Broken across it, and one eye is weeping
From a twig's having lashed across it open.
I'd like to [go] away from earth awhile
And then come back to it and begin over.
May no fate willfully misunderstand me
And half grant what I wish and snatch me away
Not to return. Earth's the right place for love:
I don't know where it's likely to go better.
I'd like to go by climbing a birch tree,
And climb black branches up a snow-white trunk
Toward heaven, till the tree could bear no more,
But dipped its top and set me down again.
That would be good both going and coming back.
One could do worse than be a swinger of birches.

Do you know, uh, uh, as I went by a certain word in that, you know, I ha—uh, having talked the way I have before I began, uh, uh, uh, I came on the word "crazed," see, "cracked and crazes their enamel." Crazed, see, see, see, see. ;It's too bad if you don't get it [laughter]. And, and then you wouldn't know, you know, unless I told you, a—but I would rather write, unless I wrote an after piece to say that the line that probably means the most to me now is just the line, "[I] It's when I'm weary of considerations." Eh. See that's when you get older. I didn't, it didn't mean so much to me when I wrote it as it means now. That's just a personal thing, you see. And I don't know, you know [unclear]. You know, I—I've made some of the worst psychological mistakes in the world, see, so don't listen to anything I say [laughter]. That's true, I just thin—thinking of one, thinking of a terrible one I made. Psycholo—educational one, too, almost fatal to many people, see. Maybe tonight, too.

All right, uh, it's uh, [unclear] suppo—you know there's another thing about little noticings [unclear] what you call scholarly noticings. Uh, you like to come along into that, uh, and in the graduate school, do some of it for yourself, not have everything pointed out to you. It says, uh, it says in Keats, for instance, it says

[Whoe—]Sometimes whoever [walks] abroad may find
Thee sitting careless on a granary floor,
Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind;

See, and Keats, I n—happen to think when I was reading that one day [unclear] my own, see, somebody didn't tell me this. There ought to be a hyphen in there. If you say "winnowing wind" it means it's winnowing her hair. But if you say "winnowing-wind,""it means it's the regular wind that winnows the grain. You see, the hyphen makes all the difference in the world [unclear]. I'm tellin' ya [laughter]. Little things you notice like that. And the same thing happens in, in, uh, same kind of a hyphen as in one of my things here that never got printed in it. Ought to be in it. Uh, uh,

Something there is—

I'll show it to you afterward.

Something there is that doesn't love a wall,
That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it
And spills the upper boulders in the sun,
[So] even two can pass abreast.
The work of hunters is another thing:
I have come after them and made repair
Where they have left not one stone on a stone,
But they would have the rabbit out of hiding,
To please the yelping dogs. The gaps I mean,
No one has seen them made or heard them made,
But at spring mending-time we find them there.
I let my neighbor know beyond the hill;
And on a day we meet to walk the line
We keep the wall between us as we [work]
To each the boulders that have fallen to each.
And some are loaves and some so nearly balls
We have to use a spell to make them balance:
"Stay where you are until our backs are turned!"
We wear our fingers rough with handling them.
Oh, just another kind of outdoor game,
One on a side. It comes to little more:
There where it is we do not need the wall:
He is all pine and I am apple orchard.
My apple trees will never get across
And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him.
He only says, "Good fences make good neighbors."
Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder
If I could put a notion in his head:
"Why do they make good neighbors: Isn't it
Where there are cows? But here there are no cows.
Before I built a wall I'd ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offense.
Something there is that doesn't love a wall,
That wants it down." I could say "Elves" to him,
But it's not elves exactly, and I'd rather
He said it for himself. I see him there,
Bringing a stone grasped firmly by the top
In each hand, like an old-stone savage armed.
He moves in darkness as it seems to me,
Not of woods only and the shade of trees.
He will not go behind his father's saying,
And he likes having thought of it so well
He says again, "Good fences make good neighbors."

Uh, you kn—you know the word in there, uh, that you, uh, uh, I—I don't know how to say it so you be sure to get it. It says, uh, "bringing a stone grasped firmly in the hand, and I can, I see him there," how does that go, "like an olds—like and old-stone savage armed," not an old stone savage, I don't mean that. I mean Paleolithic [laughter]. And, uh, and I want it to be "old-stone" as one word, or else hyphenated, see, so that it's very important, scholarship is [laughter]. You got to notice.

I'm gonna ha—the most noticing man that ever lived, maybe, was, was Thoreau, wasn't he. He noticed some things wrong, they like to point out. But he was a very noticing man. That's why we, we're celebrating, the, pretty soon, celebrating the hundredth anniversary of the publication of Walden, that great, great book, uh, that sacred book, and, to all Thoreausians. And, there, there'll be a word in the dictionary I'm gonna say in the celebration. There'll be that word'll get, is getting in, getting into use, Thoreausian, you know, be in the dictionary, 'long with some other words. I don't think it's in yet. Transcending Transcendentalism [laughter].

This, uh, all right, I don't know, I'm doing too much of me [unclear], uh. Let's see. Take all this matter of any, of anyone's symbols. What did, what'd I hear someone say today, an interesting thing. Symbolic thing. Now, now, uh, uh, everything symbolic has to be true on both planes, see, or else it's no good. And the question was, how true was it on [unclear] it. Uh, I, I have to thank young lady for that, uh. They, uh, two p—two y—young people were walking hand in hand in a thunderstorm. And just, just after they let go their hands and separated a little, the lightning struck the ground right between them, which goes to show that we're bette—safer apart than we are together [laughter]. See, see, it's a nice symbol. Anyway, it's a nice symbol whether it happened or not, you'd say. But it ought to happen, see, and we began to, I bega—I kind of doubt that, but it might be. But it's such a nice symbol, it's too bad it isn't true [laughter]. 'Cause it goes with my doctrine. I'm always talking that, and so it [unclear] too, you know. It's very Thoreausian, that's a very Thoreausian tale. I'm gonna keep it, whenever I want it. The, uh, I go around saying, that, uh, that, uh, the separateness of the parts is at least as important as the connection. But I'm going to say after this it's more important [laughter]. More important. [Unclear] you see if you don't keep, if you don't, if you all keep getting together, you know, it'll end in stateism [laughter], that dreadful word. That's what they mean.

These pools—

Let's save this one. Somebody want to name anything that I ought to say? Do you want to—

??: [Unclear]

RF: Hmm?

??: "Acquainted with the Night." "Acquainted with the Night." "I have been one acquainted with the night..."

RF: Yes. I, I think I know that one [unclear] find it.

[Starts to reads "Acquainted with the Night"]

Huh, something's gone wrong. See, find it for me. Find it for me while I'm saying something else. I ought to know that [unclear]. "I have passed by..." yeah, I can—

??: "Desert Places."

[Reads "Desert Places"]

Y—you know, uh, y—what is there left for the person that listens to a poem if it's if it's nothing, you know, what is it to him if he, it's just his agility, to show his agility in handling of things. It's things he knows, played with, and his agility in keeping up with the little game, that's all there is to it. There's anything that I have to explain about understanding it, it's t—that's absolutely fatal.

[Reads "Aquainted with the Night"]

There's a pun in that one that I meant for a friend of mine, 'specially, it wouldn't be your affair at all [laughter].

But I'll tell you what it was, uh, his name was, uh, his name was George Russell, A.E. And he was always saying, "The time is not right." See. Every little while he'd say to me, "The time is not right." 'Twasn't, it was all right, it got, he g—he helped get Ireland its independence, and, uh. But he was always a rather sad person about even that. He's fallen into neglect after it. "The time is not right." And so I, so I just put that in for his benefit. He saw it. [Unclear]

All right, and then, shall I say one or two of the more ironical ones, he. The, the one about the, science, that I like to say in these days. The, uh, uh

[Reads "Why Wait for Science?"]

The, one of the interesting things about science to me, always, uh, is that it seems to be seeking first things, that's in the larger, in its largest aspect. Seeking first things. And, with all its seeking, through all the ages of first things, it's never got anywhere near 'em, has it? They didn't say that loud [unclear]. Never got in—within millions of miles of first things. Just as far as ever. The interesting thing today, the latest, uh, the l—uh, the nearest they've got today is to say that we can't tell now, substance from form, where we've got. You can't tell this thing that seems to be coming, [unclear] coming in on you, pushing you back, pushing you back, is substance or form. Or is it form-substance or substance-form. But that's not, that's anybody knows that's nothing. They haven't got anywhere yet. But I, s—don't mean that that isn't great fun, pushing back that way. Then, uh, I think I'll read one more, say one more.

[Reads "Spring Pools"]

The, uh, and then, perhaps, the old one, I see it here, uh, "Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening," and then I'm gonna say one more of the other. This w—this one is, uh, uh, this one'd be a companion-piece to the, to the one about the thrush, but in a different tune.

[Reads "Stopping By Woods On A Snowy Evening"]

That one is one that's been, that I've been more bothered with than anybody ever was with any poem, in just the push—pressing it for more than it should be pressed for. It means, means enough without its being pressed. And they, that's all right, you know, I don't say that somebody shouldn't press it, but I don't want to be there [laughter]. [Unclear] I, somebody said I used a very bad figure about it, a friend of mine. I said, I'm, uh, the human body should of course be subject for all sorts of investigation, operation. Operating table and everywhere, you know. And that's all right. I'm not interested in it in that way. She said very bad figure [laughter]. Has some things [unclear] for me.

And then, uh, see I got another one in my pocket here. [Unclear] Turn that on again, I may. This is small print; I'll have to stand the light. [Voices in background] Punch it. Never mind. ;[Unclear] This one is called, this is another Christmas one, "The Cabin in the Clearing." This is in blank verse and two voices speaking. First voice says,

[Reads "The Cabin in the Clearing"]

Doc Cook wants me to say one called "Once by the Pacific." I see all this that I've forbidden, uh, I allow for myself [laughter]. This, uh, I always, "Once by the Pacific," now what am I doing by the Pacific? Well I, I s—I was there once [laughter] [unclear] when I was very young. "Once by the Pacific." [Unclear]

[Reads "Once by the Pacific"]

And then the other one he asked for was, this is one, uh, that somebody said, critically, [unclear] I might tell you that [unclear] carry this [unclear] that he wonders about my believing. "A Soldier."

[Reads "A Soldier"]

And now shall I say the "Departmental" one for a final one [unclear]?

??: "Choose Something Like a Star."

RF: "Choose Something Like a Star." That's an old one. This, uh, footnote on this one, that, uh, that comes first is that this is the one that makes them say, say I must have been reading Horace. And, this has in it, too, I might call your attention to this, allowing myself to do what nob—I allow nobody else to do, uh, it says, uh, "Some mystery becomes the proud." That line was wrung out of me, see, just wrung out of me, you wouldn't know that, wrung out of me by years of not understanding what other people are talking about. See, I have to say "Some mystery becomes the proud." See, that's my forgiveness, uh.

[Reads "Choose Something Like a Star"]

It's just that last part that they mean I stole from Horace. [applause].