On Understanding Poetry
Bread Loaf School of English, 30 June 1955
Typed transcript, 38 p. Abernethy Manuscripts [Frost] / Tape Transcriptions. Transcribed by India Tressault '80.

[Reginald Cook introduces Robert Frost]

Robert Frost: I, uh, been thinking about a good many things lately because I've been at a good many places. Have to say something everywhere I go. Get into a good deal. And, uh, what's been on my mind mostly l—of late [unclear] is the, something that comes 'round, I suppose, to our, how people take a poem, how people take anything written, how they take a poem particularly. I suppose a pos—a poem is a kind of fooling. I just been reading in a sermon by a great Unitarian friend of mine, about the foolishness of God. Quotation. "The foolishness of God." God's fools, you know, and God's fooling.

And I just been reading about the last days of Einstein, the old man, by somebody who knew his science and knew his philosophy. Course he was a great philosopher among great scientists. And the thing about him was that every few minutes it was a burst of laughter about something philosophical or something ab—about God or something about relativity or something about Newton. He had a great laugh over ha—ha—over his little quarrel with Lu—uh, with Newton. He d—he'd once said in print somewhere, in a l—in something we've seen, uh, you know, "Forgive me, Newton." You know, "Forgive me, Newton."

And, uh, of course if it's, if the height of everything is fooling, God's foolishness, then poetry mounts somewhere into a kind of fooling that's hard to under—sometimes hard to get. You have to, it's what you spend a good deal of education on, just gettin', gettin' it right.

I thought if I came up again in the, uh, to the, uh, some evening, I'd like to talk about Puritanism in Greek, Roman, early Roman, New England, and later Roman. And, uh, I l—n —right off the, right out of the head, you know, not, not of my books. I'm one of these people that reads some. But my,you can see how little I depend on books, uh, for anything I do. They're in such disorder that I ca—that I, uh, [unclear] they're very fresh to me whenever I happen on one that I been looking for [laughter]. I have Pleasant Night. I haven't seen that for twenty years and I'll get that down and read it. But it, I can't get a l—a talk out of it; I just come up and talk off the, off the cuff, as they say, about Puritanism and the great, greatest poem that it produced, the, uh, Comus. You thought I was gonna say something else I see [laughter]. [Unclear] And, uh, and the, the, uh, shall I say the, uh, Puritanism didn't repent, you know, it relented a little and became Unitarianism [laughter]. That's the fi—final relenting. I'll come up and talk about that.

But this thing that I brought up before here, says in, that it's, I've quoted it in, I think in a couple of places, it's always coming into my head. That these things are said in parables, so the wrong people can't understand them and so get saved [laughter]. That, it pleases, it says that place in the New T—uh, Testament, and, uh, uh, it seems very harsh and undemocratic, doesn't it. It sounds esoteric. And one of my friends, good friends, uh, went forth from my saying that to say that I was esoteric, that my thinking was esoteric. But not at all because it also says except you become as little children. You know, that meant that, that meant that it's so professors won't understand it [laughter]. And it's, it's so simple and so foolish that only little children can understand it. See, we try too hard. We strike too hard. That's the danger of it. How you take, take God's foolishness is the, is the question.

And, uh, you got to be in an awfully easy mental state. That's the thing you acquired through the years of poetry from Mother Goose on. Easy does it, and you've got to, uh, know that it's being played with and can, it's said and then it, uh, as I say, I can say and you can take it your, a good deal your way. That's con—conversation. You don't have to contradict it. [Unclear] but make it a rule almost. I been saying that over at Dartmouth. Make it a rule almost never to contradict anybody. See, just say let 'em have their say, and then take it your way [laughter].

And, that, that comes to this question of who has a right to do what he pleases with my poetry, the right kind of people. They can take it their way. There's a good deal of, good deal of sway in it. There's a certain defness—definiteness. But it sways at its anchor. It swings at its anchor tow, and of course that's the, that's the fun of it.

Now I, course I go through a good deal about that. And you, uh, there's a common laugh you can get among students about, uh, the right of teachers to go on with a poem and, and, the, carry it their way a little. See, can be wrong, can be utterly wrong. This matter of getting it right and wrong and ri—right, wrong, that's what you grow up in, getting it right and wrong, in and out, trial and error with it, in this, in this spirit of, of the thing.

You, when you, uh, and there's such a thing as throwing dust in the eyes, you know. A person can write so that he's, he's insulting, he's just throwing dust in your eyes. And that's not, that's again, you see, it's, that's just going a little over the edge about this play, this fooling, to be, to tease people is all right, but to insult them is a little, is going too far. And you're always, al—it's always been one of my, [unclear] always one of my concerns.

I say, uh, uh, uh, start saying some of my poems. I thought, saying as I came in that, I ought to bring somebody else's poems. I'll bring Shelley or s—Milton or somebody. Forever me, you know. And it's just because, you know, people want to hear the way I say 'em, and not so they'll know how to say 'em, because they probably know how to say 'em better than I do. They want to see just for curiosity how I say 'em [laughter]. That's all they want, some association with it.

The, uh, see one of the great things about it all, the depth of it all, is where, if you were reading aloud, any t—has to be something rather new. Uh, I been reader aloud f—all my life probably. I was at home. I was the one that did the reading aloud. And, uh, I've read in school and then I got to reading this way, in, more, more and more. See, done a good deal of it. And, uh, the question [unclear] reading at home, a new thing, something si—sitting around with anyone, where do I have to hide it that I'm having almost too hard a time with my emotions? Where do I have to, uh, I never let on, I try to hide it. But what, what, what will move me to, to almost breaking in the voice?

Well, it's nothing ever sad. Never. That's strange thing. You can kill all the babies you want to and it won't make me cry [laughter]. And it isn't about bombs and things, it's nothing like that. It's always magnanimity. The heroism of magnanimity. See. Always that that I can hardly keep my voice right about. Always. And, I, go—my own poetry, of course, is too much a custom with me now. I don't have the [unclear] I had when they're brand new, that way, something very new, uh, something where the largeness, you know, something about, uh, gr—greatness of spirit.

I just s—saw, I been thinking, uh, uh, thinking about Einstein a little. I just saw a very pretty thing about him that almost moved me to tears. I couldn't read it to you, probably couldn't, without having to [clears throat] you know, pretend I was not seeing the page or [unclear] the light wasn't right or something like that. But it, it was about this. Uh, there was a book that a lot of professors in this country, noted liberals, threatened a publisher about, if he didn't stop printing it they wouldn't buy his textbooks anymore. And they were liberals. They were noted liberals. One was a noted Red, you'd almost call him. He used to go to Moscow often, and come back and say they were the only people that knew how to treat a great man like him right [laughter]. But he was supposed to be of the free modern world, and he led this attack on Macmillans. And, for a book. And [unclear] kind of people that talked about burning books, you know, if Hitler burned 'em. But they, they wanted to burn that book.

And, uh, old Einstein just happened to speak of it, casually, you know, and he didn't name the book but you could tell what it was from the description of it. He didn't name the publishing house, and he didn't name the suppressors, and, he just said, "What a charmingly crazy book it was." Just like he might have added, "I, I, it's on the shelf in my library." Right away. It's just as charming as Ignacious Donnelly's Lost Atlantis. That's another wonderful book. And, uh, and, uh, the, the book's about Shakespeare, you know, who didn't write, who, uh, about the, about how Shakespeare didn't write Shakespeare [laughter], you s— you know. What's, what's all this severity about. Back over the years.

But the old man made a laugh about it. "That crazy book," you know, "how charming." And how t—terrible, with passion, he said, how terrible to think of suppressing any book.That's too much for me. [Unclear]

Well, I'll leave that. But you could, you could almost judge yourself by how deep you go into these things, and where you go, deep. What do you call compassion? I think this is c—this is more than compassion. This is magnanimity. Compassion is a—is almost as tiresome a word, critically used nowadays. It's about as w—uh, w—w—threadbare a word as the word "escape" [laughter].

Why do children look at television, I was reading. Why do they look at it? They find that the people, uh, we, you know, this is a classless society, see, supposed to be [laughter]. And, and, and, uh, uh, scientific person in psychology department at one of the great colleges has found out that children of the upper middle class, see, which doesn't exist of course [laughter], don't look at movie—look at movies more if they've been too much disciplined. See, this is a complicated thing, try to get [laughter] it straight. And, and children of the lower middle class [laughs], [laughter] which doesn't exist, they, they look at movies a little more than children of the upper middle class, but they look at it the same whether they've been over disciplined or not [laughter]. That's what I—makes y—that's what you call holy smoke [laughter].

The, uh, uh, course the whole question of escape alway—the word "escape" that I came on [unclear] what made me think of that. The whole question was one of escape. And, I've talked about that here in the old days, it's a long time since I talked about escape and s—and, uh, tr—made it, made it out that life was a pursuit of a pursuit of a pursuit of a pursuit, you know, one person pursuing something else and he pursuing something else, and instead o—uh, the old idea, or the, this modern psychological seems to be that everybody's escaping from somebody, something or somebody, and it's only you're an escape from an escape from an escape from an escape till you get to Hell [laughter].

But this word, the word compassion. Escape, that's rather tiresome critical words. I remember saying to a professor friend of mine fifty years ago, nearly, no forty, no thirty, that I was sick of that word then. And I said, "I don't want to hear it anymore," and he said, "You're gonna have to" [laughter]. And I have.

Well, now take, take one of my poems to begin with, little poem. And I'm not going to dwell on the, on the, what I've been saying beforehand except for one or two poems. Suppose I say, uh, just suppose I was talking about, uh, our Revolutionary War. You know. Was it an escape or a pursuit? Pursuit of nationality, it's as simple as could be. Yeah. Not an escape at all. One person understood it one way, one another. Tom Paine understood it as the beginning of a world revolution. That's wrong, it wasn't that. It was just a pursuit of nationality, wanting to be, feeling that we were something. Had an idea. Tom Paine was one of the first to see that, speak of the continent as something,as a, you know, something with a me—meaning, the, the, the land of it all. But the, this, this one of mine is about the Revolutionary War.

[Reads "The Gift Outright"]

See, that's a whole story of just that, the realization that we got to belong to what belonged to us. That's all. We had to be pa—part of what was ours, just simple statement of that. 'Twas as simple as that. Interesting in it, too, that it was a pursuit, you know, artless, historic, [unclear] vague [unclear], …vaguely realizing westward,
But still unstoried, artless, unenhanced,
all to be storied and enhanced, you see. And a vague aspiration as much as anything that made it. Not an escape from anything. Pursuit. Pursuit. The, that was in, in the nature of the best people in it. Eh, that just, just that thing. Leave that there.

Now, uh, ta—let's take another one where there's, there's nothing very dubious about that one. There's no—not much play you can make with it in the sense that I spoke of first. The, uh, I say, uh, uh, that, this little one, [unclear] I've got to say old ones, fam—familiar ones to some of you. Uh, uh, "Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening." And for what, for what I am willing, what I've heard people make of it.

[Reads "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening"]

Now you see, the first thing about that is to, to take it right between the eyes just as it is. And, that's the, the ability to do that, take it right between the eyes like a, like a little blow. And not, you know, be anything. Take it on, in neuter sort of, let it come, let it.

And then, you know, the next thing is your inclinations with it. Uh, I never read anything in any f—in Latin, say, without a constant expectation of meaning that I'm either getting, uh, uh, getting j—justified in or corrected, see, confirmed in or corrected. I got that up, go—going all the time, a little. Or else I'd be a dead translator. I got, I got to have something that's a little aggressive to it. But that's so with a poem. You right away you begin to take it, take it your way.

And, uh, that, uh, you can almost say in a poem that you see in it the place where it begins to be ulterior, you know, where it goes a little with you, carries you on somewhere. And if you're very strong about it, course it may not be the same day, I know that's the way with me, I, I hear a talk like this, from somebody else, and, I'm—uh, I may not be able to hold my own with it. Not then. I think, I think to myself, "Well, when this is over I'll be—get going again" [laughter] [unclear]. My own stre—my own stream of consciousness will get it going again. I'll be all right be—uh, be all right on Monday [laughter]. And, after hearing it on Sunday. A—and I've often many a time thought that, that this will, this is too put—this is putting it all over me. But I'm a—I'm still here [laughter], you know, uh, I'll resume my thread.

And, no matter what's said to me, I ex—I want to be sure if I disa—uh, uh, differ with it a little that I'm su—uh, that I know what it is, that I'm differing with. [Unclear] And now this little thing is, you see, very simply as I wrote it, uh, more, uh, night, evening, di—night, snow-storm, woods, and, dark, lake, snowfall among the alders and trees, and, and a, with a little poetic exaggerations, you know, see woods fill up with snow. Did they fill up? How high? See, want to know, uh, don't ask me [laughter]. And, uh, I've been asked such things, you know [laughter]. I've had people say, I had somebody who ought to know better quote me as saying that poem, uh, the, the, the coldest evening of the year, see. Now that's getting a thermometer into it [laughter]. And the darkest evening in the year is better, it's more poetical someway. Never mind why, I don't know. It's foolish, more foolish, that's where the foolishness comes in. You got to be a little foolish, or a good deal foolish.

And, uh, but then it goes on, and it says, uh, "The woods are lovely, dark, and deep." And, then I, I, if I were reading it, for so—somebody else, I'd begin to wonder, you know, what he's up to. See not what he means but what he's up to [laughter]. And, uh, There, there are so many things have happened to it that way. People have come to me and asked me, what were the promises [laughter]? I have promises to keep. And I've, I've joined in on that, let them have their say and I took it my way. I remember telling one committee that came to me about that, uh, from a college, committee, uh, students, and, uh, and I said, "The promises may be divided into two kinds: those that I, myself, make for myself, and those my ancestors made for me known as the social contract" [laughter]. But did I think of that when I wrote it? You know better. I just got to say something. Take it back [laughter]. They, they take it their way and I take it my way.

But then, this is the thing that I finally said about it, uh, partly in self-defense. I said the, what is it say there? "The woods are lovely, dark, and deep." That's just as I might say in company any evening at twelve o'clock, "This is all very lovely but I must be getting along" [laughter]. That's all. Just this, that's the nicest way out of it if you got to get out of it [laughter].

And, now tha—now take, take another old one, and then I'll drop this. Uh, wha—w—what's the moral of it? The m—the, the, the aesthetic moral is the, that if you, you can go any poem one better, for all of me, if it, if you do it one better, not one worse. And if you don't just chew it. T—take it all to pieces, just get another poetic something good. One step more poetic. Anywhere. "We that are of purer fire," you know, that I've, come up and talk about. "We that are of purer fire." The best statement of ra— Rout of Comus, of the, of the anti-Puritans, of the unit—of the, uh, Episcopalians is the other one. Uh, there, there, you see. And, we sit up all night, and, that's the gayer way. Uh, [laughter] uh, and, uh, uh, I seem to shock 'em, uh [laughter]. Shock 'em gently [laughter]. Wait till you hear me on the subject. Come up [unclear] really shock you. Begi—going way back to the Greeks. A—and Attis and all that sort of thing.

Then this one, uh, uh, it's about walls. Do—Doc Cook's been telling about. Uh, s—it's about spring occupation in m—in my day in farming, when I was farming seriously, uh, we had to set the wall up again every year. We don't do that anymore, we run a strand of barbed wire along it and that, let it go at that. But we used to set the wall up. If you see a wall well set up you know it's se—it's owned by a lawyer in New York [laughter]. Not a real fa—not a real farmer. And, this is just about that spring occupation, but of course all sorts of things have been done with it. And I've done something with it, uh, myself, in self-defense. I've gone w—gone it one better. More than once. Different ways, just for the [unclear] of it. Foolishness. For the foolishness of—just for the foolishness of it. 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,
And makes gaps 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
And set the wall between us once again.
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!"
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."
And, now you can see the first thing th—first person that ever spoke to me about it, was, uh, bec—was at that time becoming the president of Rollins College, making Rollins College over. And he took both my hands to tell me I had written a true international poem [laughter]. And I, just to tease him, I said, "How do you get that?" [Laughter] You know. And I said, "I thought I'd been fair to both sides, both national and both." "Oh, no," he said, "I can see which side you were on." "Well," I said, "the more I say 'I' the more I always mean somebody else." [Laughter] That's objectivity, I told him. That's the way we talked about it. Kiddin' you. That's you know, that's where the 1—where the fool, the great fooling comes in.

But [unclear] my latest way out of it is to say, of course, you know, wall buildi—man, I've got man there. He's both those people but he's man, both of them. He's a wall builder and a wall toppler. He makes boundaries and he breaks boundaries. That's man. And he's, uh, all human life is cellular, it—outside or inside. In my body, every seven years, I'm made out of different cells. All my cell walls have been changed. I'm cellular within, and life outside is cellular. Even the Communists have cells [laughter]. That's where I've arrived with that.

Well, now we go away from those things. Not take 'em that way. But that's what it's go—what's going on in it. I—I'm always in distressed when I find somebody being ugly about it, making an, making a, uh, outraging the poem, getting s—going someway on some, and especially if it's onsome theory that they're, I can see they're applying to everything. See, this is a loose thing, just as my library is. I don't want it in order. I don—I'm [unclear] I'm not organized that way. And this is a free and loose thing. The association, the beauties of the associations that are, are always something you didn't know you were going to have. You know, [unclear] think of something. You study 'em out, grind 'em out. Nothing much to it.

When it gets so that something, uh, it doesn't come into my head that I never thought of before, uh, you know, in connection with the, in the emergency of the moment, the emergency of reading or talking, it's something I never thought of 'fore when I get that way, than I done. I don't want to go any more. The, those don't, you sit listening to a, a lecture in class, you know, and, and you always ought to be unhappy if it's just being put all over you. Ought to be some unhappiness in it. Just that sort of mood [unclear] I can, I know what t—I'll, I'll, I'm, uh, I'll be, I'll know what to do with it before tomorrow, you know, if it crosses me up.

I talked about that over at Dartmouth, about, about, uh, just to one little item I might mention. You know, you, I remember w—m—when I was very young, I didn't go into the details, when I was very young, my mother, I suppose, was getting somewhat distressed about evolution. Not very much. She was a very faithful Christian, and, and a very, uh, uh, very assure, assured about all that, and, uh, a kind of a, a Presbyterian-Unitarian-Swedenborgian [laughter], heh, and she was all right. But still it bothered her a little about evolution, and, it was supposed to bother me. And I got old enough to say one day to her, "I don't see that this makes any difference at all." I don't know how old, 'bout high, in high school it was. I said, didn't s—I didn't see it make any difference at all. "The old w—your old idea was, God made man out of mud; the new idea is that He'd ma—God made man out of prepared mud." [Laughter] You still got God, you see. Nothing very disturbing about it.

So you got to have something to say to him, that's all, to the Sphinx. That's what the Sphinx is there for. And you don't have to do it with presence of mind. It's nice when you do, when you can sass it right back [laughter]. And, uh, but you got to, uh, you, some of us are slower than others.

I always want about some things, long, long time, about, uh, for instance, about the tendency to smear. What are you going to say to smear? I don't think I ever heard the word until '32 or somewhere like that. I wasn't used to the thought of smearing. And now it's a regular, y—s—so that I'm always, whenever I hear anything about anybody on our side or the other side or any side I always think, "I wonder how much of smear is in that, how much smear that is." And again, saved from it, you know, wi—to tears, by somebody's largeness that takes that out of it, you know. Get's you back to what, what is probably so, you know, wh—and, just, and through that la—always going through it. It's the day's news to me always, some, somebody straightening something out that way or am I doing it for myself.

All right, now I've got to, fu—uh, uh, I've got to read to you a little. And I'm superstitious to this extent. Religion is one thing, you know, and superstition is another. Tha—I a—I always w—wa—uh, uh, read out of my latest book, a little. And, uh, that doesn't give you much hope, because my latest book is just made out of my old books [laughter]. Let's, but I made the selection. See what I got here. I'm gonna read you one that, nice light tonight. Thanks be. This, uh, this is called "Directive." And I'll do it slow and, and you take it straight, but it's all full of dangers ago—sideways off, you know, and all that.

[Reads "Directive"]

Uh, here's another curious little one beside that I see here. Uh, "To An Ancient," a very ancient ancient this is.

[Reads "To An Ancient"]

That's a, archeological one. Doesn't get, doesn't get quoted enough. Um.

Then here's one, uh, more fam—miliar again. "Desert Places."

[Reads "Desert Places"]

Uh, uh, now something else for a change. Let's see what I got, this little book here. Out through the fields and the woods
And over the walls I have [win—]wended;
I have climbed the hills of view
And looked at the world, and descended;
I have come by the highway home,
And lo, it is ended.
The leaves are all dead on the ground,
Save those that the oak is keeping
To ravel them one by one
And let them go scraping and creeping
Out over the crusted snow,
When others are sleeping.
[ ] the dead leaves lie huddled and still,
No longer blown hither and thither;
The last lone aster is gone;
The heart is still aching to seek,
But the feet question "Whither?"
Ah, when to the heart of man
Was it ever less than a treason
To go with the drift of things,
To yield with a grace to reason,
And bow and accept the end
Of a love or a season?
That's one of the early ones.

Then another early one that I w—want to read to you. This is one that I, I think I handed in in English A at Harvard [laughter]. It's called "A Tuft of Flowers," and, and it's about this subject that a—another one that you get awful tired of, the subject of w—of togetherness. Uh, there's a word been coined, hasn't it, togetherness, and it turns up everywhere nowadays. As if everybody hadn't thought about that. Some people say, "You know why that crowd's in a crowd because they ca—because they, because they're lonely," you see, this's lonely question this question, uh, uh, Oppenheimer seems to think he's the only person that was ever lonely because he had deep thoughts. That was what [laughter] one of the things I couldn't stand, uh. Everybody's, you know, so on. But this is where I, uh, this is what I was thinking about in the nineties. This's what I might be thinking about now if I were li—uh, out helping in the haying. I went to turn the grass once after one
Who mowed it in the dew before the sun.
And I might just say there that in the old days we me—mowed by hand a great deal, more than we do now. We do some of that now. There was always a boy or somebody you—some fellow around like me, uh, to toss the grass, open it up, let the sun at it. The mowing was apt to be done in the dew, in the morning, so it, better mowing, and the—but it left the grass wet and it had to be scattered. I, we called it, the word for it was "turning" the grass,

I went to turn the grass once after one
Who mowed it in the dew before the sun.
[The day was gone that made his blade so keen]
The dew was gone that made his blade so keen
Before I came to view the leveled scene.
I looked for him behind an isle of trees;
I listened for his whetstone on the breeze.
But he had gone his way, the grass all mown,
And I must be, as he had been—alone.
"As all must be," I said within my heart,
"Whether they work together or apart."
But as I said it, swift there passed me by
On noiseless wing a bewildered butterfly,
Seeking with memories grown dim o'er night
Some resting flower of yesterday's delight.
And once I marked his flight go round and round,
As where some flower lay withering on the ground.
And then he flew as far as eye could see,
And then on tremulous wing came back to me.
I thought of questions that have no reply,
And would have turned to toss the grass to dry;
But he turned first, and led my eye to look
At a tall tuft of flowers beside a brook,
A leaping tongue of bloom the scythe had spared
Beside a reedy brook the scythe had bared.
The mower in the dew had loved them thus,
By leaving them to flourish, not for us,
[Nor,] Nor yet to draw one thought of ours to him,
But from sheer morning gladness at the brim.
The butterfly and I had lit upon,
Nevertheless, a message from the dawn,
That made me hear the wakening birds around,
And hear his long scythe whispering to the ground,
And feel a spirit kindred to my own;
So that henceforth I worked no more alone;
But glad with him, I worked as with his aid,
And weary, sought at noon with him the shade;
And dreaming, as it were, held brotherly speech
With one whose thought I had not hoped to reach.
"Men work together," I told him from the heart,
"Whether they work together or apart."
See, I said it both ways in the, in the middle nineties. Early in my life I s—I got over with that, but I get into trouble about it today. Some people think I don't believe in togetherness. I don't like the word, Terrible about that.

But then one of the interesting things again is, I, I keep running on to this idea. What's your pose? See, what's your pose? Who do you think you are, see, Now there's a nice way of saying that: "Who the hell do you think you are?" [Laughter] That, that's a nice way to say it. That just means, you know, you put, you d—you aren't so much. And, uh. But when you say wh—what is your pose? Y—Yeats says somewhere you have a choice of seven po—one of seven poses, only seven poses possible. Which is yours? Are you, uh, putting on airs as a don or teacher, you know, are you putting on airs as what? As a farmer or, or as a, or, or as a common man? See, see. That's one of the horrible ones. And, uh, that kind of stuff. And what would you do when, if you've got a choice of poses and you were afraid you'd, weren't, [unclear] seven, you know, What'd you do? The only thing I can see is do nothing, commit suicide or something, you know, get out of it. Wh—isn't it terrible to think that you're, that, uh, that's all it is. And I said that there.

Nor yet to draw— He left them there— The mower in the dew had loved them thus,
By leaving them to flourish, not for us,
To flourish, you see, not for us, these words are all in, in it, f—for me, my life. Not— By leaving them to flourish— Leave something to flourish— …not for us
Nor yet to draw one thought of ours to him,
No self-consciousness about it, But from sheer morning gladness at the brim. See? That's the height of it all. See, there is, that's clear out of the posing. …sheer morning gladness at the brim.
The butterfly and I had lit upon—
There's a poem, you know, too— The butterfly and I had lit upon,
Nevertheless, a message from the dawn,
See, just as if I had seen that all about poetry then, that I'd thought about it all. I hadn't. Seeing it there, it's more, you know more about it before you know it.

All right, let me see what time we're getting to…

…one of the character ones, should I? See the book [unclear] I'm not used to it. There's another—wait a second—[unclear] just a minute. Suppose I do this one, that I haven't read for a good while round here, I think. This is called "Paul's Wife." It's a lumber camp one, and I m—you might be interested to hear that, that I wrote a book called North of Boston and, and I liked the name so—I liked the name so well, the look of the name, that, I got it out of, uh, advertisements in the Boston Globe [laughter] years and years ago. It came back to me by, far from the Boston Globe. I was away off in England, and all of a sudden I just remembered that constantly in the farm advertisements that I used to read with interest. Still do. Uh, uh, this word "North of Boston" kept comin—popped into my head. Just the name. And I had got a dozen poems together, dozen or fifteen I think it was, that hadn't been written toward that name, and hadn't been written toward any particular idea. They'd been scattered among lyrics. They were blank verse things scattered through twenty years. And all of a sudden I had put 'em together with some little dim notion of their belonging together, swept them together. They swept them together, uh, they're not organic, and then I got that name on 'em.

And, well now I, I, just as I didn't do that, just as I didn't write them toward any name or toward any idea, I refused to go on and do some more of 'em, of the same kind, at the time. I was asked to go on and urged to go on. Friends and publishers. But I didn't do it. I refused to have anything to do with that. And then I forgot myself entirely about it, and now lately, looking back I see I did it [laughter]. I went on scattering some more around. And so now I'm going to have for, uh, for my, uh, literary pleasure, I'm s—gonna have a book called North of Boston, uh, and, I guess we'll c—and then subtitle, "Twice Over" [laughter]. A—and then put them all, put in another fifteen, fifteen, fifteen. Like two baskets, you know, on each side of the donkey. Uh, and, uh, this, this is one of those. I went on, I never thought about it until, uh, and it was quite a set of 'em. Little more than fifteen. But I think I'll try to balance it, just have them equal, equal weight. That'll give me a little chance to select. And one of the important ones in it is that "Directive" that I read you, and also the one called "The Witch of Coös" that's too long to go into tonight. And then one, several, quite a number like this:

[Reads "Paul's Wife"]

You see that's, I got that idea in it about a poem, you know, you, you'd, my idea of a poem is any way the world knows how to speak in it, can be offensive. And yet you don't mean that.

Now one, one or two little ones, shall I say? Uh, the,

I brought this up, this new book up, and it's so much smaller print than my other ones, you know. Bothered me a little. I didn't know, I hadn't looked at it very closely. It's nice print but it's a little small for my eyes. Let's see, um,

[Reads "Acquainted with the Night"]

[Reads Choose Something Like a Star"]

I might end with a, a joke, uh, the joke is that it seems very n—very strange that Tom Paine, uh, didn't believe in anything staying, and yet he'd been brought up a manufacturer of stays [laughter and applause]. [Gap in tape] [Applause]

I got another new one here, new book, very small one for a cent. It's never been on the 'market. Uh, and, uh, I guess I'll read that and one little lyric. This one is about a dog. It's called "One More Brevity."

[Reads "One More Brevity"]

That's that. And then I'll say one of the old ones, the, uh, little one, Doc asked me to say.

[Reads "Come In"]


RC: Thanks.

RF: Thanks [laughter]. That's enough, he says.