American Minute with Bill Federer
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 ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I-
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
-Robert Frost, “The Road Not Taken” (1951)
Robert Lee Frost began publishing poems in his high school bulletin.
In 1892, he graduated co-valedictorian with the woman he was to marry, Elinor Miriam White.
He briefly attended Dartmouth, then Harvard, but left to go back to teaching.
When his grandfather, William Prescott Frost, died in 1901, Robert inherited the family farm along with a significant annuity, writing poetry on the side.
He taught at New Hampshire’s Pinkerton Academy, 1906-1911, and New Hampshire Normal School, now Plymouth State University.
Robert Frost was a contemporary of poets, some of whom because of World Wars I wrote in a pensive tone: T.S. Eliot, James Joyce, William Butler Yeats, Wallace Stevens, and Ernest Hemingway.
In 1912, Frost moved to England where he met many literary minds and “war poets.”
Britain entered World War I on August 4, 1914, and in the next four year saw over a million casualties.
While in England, Frost met poets who wrote in a style called “imagism,” most notably: T.E. Hulme; Edward Thomas, who inspired Frost’s poem “The Road Not Taken”; and the controversial expatriate poet, Ezra Pound.
T.E. Hulme wrote in “The Embankment”:
(The fantasia of a fallen gentleman on a cold, bitter night.)
… That warmth’s the very stuff of poesy (poetry).
Oh, God, make small
The old star-eaten blanket of the sky,
That I may fold it round me and in comfort lie.
In 1909, though eccentric and unorthodox, Ezra Pound wrote an old-English style poem titled Ballad of the Goodly Fere (Friend), as an account of disciple Simon Zelotes witnessing the crucifixion.
Angry at modern church leaders for portraying Jesus as weak, Ezra Pound responded by describing Jesus as “a man o’ men was he”:
Ha’ we lost the goodliest fere (friend) o’ all
For the priests and the gallows tree?
Aye lover he was of brawny men,
O’ ships and the open sea.
When they came wi’ a host to take Our Man
His smile was good to see,
“First let these go!” quo’ our Goodly Fere,
“Or I’ll see ye damned,” says he.
Aye he sent us out through the crossed high spears
And the scorn of his laugh rang free,
“Why took ye not me when I walked about
Alone in the town?” says he.
Oh we drank his “Hale” in the good red wine
When we last made company,
No capon (neutered) priest was the Goodly Fere
But a man o’ men was he.
I ha’ seen him drive a hundred men
Wi’ a bundle o’ cords swung free,
That they took the high and holy house
For their pawn and treasury.
They’ll no’ get him a’ in a book I think
Though they write it cunningly;
No mouse of the scrolls was the Goodly Fere
But aye loved the open sea.
If they think they ha’ snared our Goodly Fere
They are fools to the last degree.
“I’ll go to the feast,” quo’ our Goodly Fere,
“Though I go to the gallows tree.”
“Ye ha’ seen me heal the lame and blind,
And wake the dead,” says he,
“Ye shall see one thing to master all:
‘Tis how a brave man dies on the tree.”
A son of God was the Goodly Fere
That bade us his brothers be.
I ha’ seen him cow (awe) a thousand men.
I have seen him upon the tree.
He cried no cry when they drave the nails
And the blood gushed hot and free,
The hounds of the crimson sky gave tongue
But never a cry cried he.
I ha’ seen him cow (awe) a thousand men
On the hills o’ Galilee,
They whined as he walked out calm between,
Wi’ his eyes like the grey o’ the sea,
Like the sea that brooks no voyaging
With the winds unleashed and free,
Like the sea that he cowed at Genseret
Wi’ twey words spoke’ suddently.
A master of men was the Goodly Fere,
A mate of the wind and sea,
If they think they ha’ slain our Goodly Fere
They are fools eternally.
I ha’ seen him eat o’ the honey-comb
Sin’ (before) they nailed him to the tree.
Robert Frost returned to America in 1915, the year after World War I started.
He taught at Amherst College from 1916 to 1920, but resigned because he thought the president, Alexander Meiklejohn, was too morally permissive.
He was on staff at the University of Michigan, where he arranged a poet lecture series with Carl Sandburg, Louis Untermeyer, and Amy Lowell.
In 1923, after Meiklejohn is dismissed, Frost rejoined the teaching staff at Amherst College.
Having several children die prematurely, Frost and his wife struggled with depression. In 1928, they traveled Europe, where they met poet T.S. Eliot.
Robert Frost won four Pulitzer prizes and was awarded over 40 honorary degrees.
In the poem, “Nothing Gold Can Stay,” Robert Frost reflected on the world’s beginning:
Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.
In the poem “Fire and Ice,” Frost reflected on the world’s end:
Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I’ve tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.
Robert Frost wrote in “A Prayer in Spring”:
For this is love and nothing else is love,
The which it is reserved for God above
To sanctify to what far ends He will,
But which it only needs that we fulfill.
“I often say of George Washington that he was one of the few men in the whole history of the world who was not carried away by power.”
In 1950, the U.S. Senate honored Robert Frost with a resolution.
In 1958, President Dwight Eisenhower invited him to the White House.
Robert Frost was a consultant to the Library of Congress and received the Congressional Gold Medal in 1960.
In 1961, Robert Frost read a poem at President John F. Kennedy’s inauguration.
In “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening,” Frost wrote
Whose woods these are I think I know
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.
My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.
He give his harness bell a shake
To ask if there is some mistake,
The only other sound’s the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.
The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
“Freedom lies in being bold.”
In 1961, the Vermont’s State Legislature named Robert Frost “Poet laureate of Vermont.”
Robert Frost died JANUARY 29, 1963.
In a 1956 interview on station WQED, Pittsburgh, Robert Frost stated
“Ultimately, this is what you go before God for: You’ve had bad luck and good luck and all you really want in the end is mercy.”
Self-Educated American Contributing Editor, William J. Federer, is the bestselling author of “Backfired: A Nation Born for Religious Tolerance no Longer Tolerates Religion,” and numerous other books. A frequent radio and television guest, his daily American Minute is broadcast nationally via radio, television, and Internet. Check out all of Bill’s books here.