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Poet of the Week: Robert Frost

As the idea for this Poetry Month blog series emerged, the first poet I knew I wanted to feature was Robert Frost. Frost is one of my favorite authors who has influenced my writing, reading, and home education teaching. For this post, I will focus on the reasons why I chose Frost as an example when teaching poetry to my own children and children in grades kindergarten through eighth grade.

Approachable: Frost’s poetry in theme and style is understandable for all ages. His poem “The Pasture” invites the reader to join him. In his forward for the book You Come, Too, Hyde Cox states, “When he teaches you something, he makes you believe that you thought of it yourself. He makes you feel that you knew it all along.” Reading a Frost poem is like walking through the pastures, stopping by the woods, and searching out the road he himself takes. This sentiment is echoed in Cox’s paraphrase of Frost’s assertion that “the writing of a poem and the reading of it have this in common: they are both little voyages of discovery.” This is one of the reasons that Frost is well-loved by readers of all ages. We want to come, too. We want to come in and be part of the story wherever it takes place.

One of my favorite books is You Come, Too, a book that became part of my personal library some time after September 29, 1988. Sometimes keeping the price tag on a book cover yields valuable information besides the price, which in this case was $3.95. I have the paperback version, but the hardcover has increased in value in the last thirty-three years. This slim volume of poetry, still available at a reasonable price, highlights some of Frost’s best-loved titles–“Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening,” “Birches,” “Mending Wall,” “The Death of the Hired Man,” “The Road Not Taken,” and “After Apple-Picking.”

Applicable: In an era when the Imagists dominated the poetic culture, Frost retained an emphasis on ideas. This distinction is important when understanding early twentieth- century poetry. The more our educational systems have veered away from classical education, the more our children have lost understanding of allusions referring to ancient cultures and myths. Many of the Imagists–as well as Frost–were educated through copying passages by hand, writing down an instructor’s dictation, and reciting well-known texts. While we can continue to expose young people–and reeducate ourselves–by reading ancient and classical literature, we can find direct application from a Frost poem when perhaps it may take more time to do so from a poem by Ezra Pound. That does not mean that a Frost poem cannot be read multiple times and reflect a wholly different interpretation. What it means is that an idea can be applied to more than one image. That image formed by an idea may be one from the early twentieth century or one from the early twenty-first. Although many of my own poems hinge on an image, I agree with the underlying universal truth of Cox’s statement: “Entertaining ideas is almost the heart of education.” As Cox aptly connects with Frost’s invitation to join him on his journeys, writers of today also are encouraged to invite readers to explore with them on their personal adventures.

American: The regional flavor of Frost’s poetry ought not to be missed. He wrote from the viewpoint of his New England roots. He embraced what many poets of his time avoided: rural, colloquial America for all its faith, fervor, and folly. His poetry reflects optimism, but not without cynicism. Like his contemporary T. S. Eliot, he believed “…that the man who suffers and the artist who creates are totally separate.” Frost was not a stranger to suffering, but he also claimed a kinship with nature and people. “Thus, in search for the meaning in the modern world, Frost focuses on those moments when the seen and the unseen, the tangible and the spiritual intersect,” according to his biography on the Poetry Foundation website. There is at the same time within Frost’s poetry a sense of independence and interdependence often reflected in the American way of life. “The Gift Outright,” the poem that Frost read at Kennedy’s inauguration on January 20, 1961, reflects this idea.

Perhaps one of the most distinctive aspects of Frost and his poetry and why he is one of my favorites to read and to teach is that “he is ageless; and as a poet for the ages.” I hope you will come with me this week as I share more about what I have learned from Robert Frost and his poetry.

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