Thursday, November 3, 2011

My Poetry Reading Project, and notes on A Boy’s Will, by Robert Frost

Date originally posted on Facebook: October 6, 2010
Source of Book: I own this

This is the post that started my poetry reading project. It was originally inspired by reading the excellent anthology edited by Robert Pinsky, Essential Pleasures: A New Anthology of Poems to Read Aloud, which reminded me again of my love for poetry. 

I have decided to embark on a tour of my poetry collection, also supplementing with a few books borrowed from the local library.

Those who have been to my house have seen our library, which contains somewhat more than 2000 books, primarily collected at library sales, thrift stores, and used book stores. I have picked up several complete anthologies by favorite poets, and a good number of collections by individual authors as well. While I have browsed from time to time, I never systematically read through any particular work.

To that end, I will be reading through my collection a bit at a time; not reading one author straight through, but finishing a book (as it was originally published) before moving on to the next poet.

I decided to start with Robert Frost. I have been fond of Frost since grade school, and am inclined to consider him my favorite poet. I find more and more depth to his poems the older I get and the more I read them.

Poetry is in the popular mind the language of love and springtime. Frost is the voice of Autumn and Winter and Solitude and Loss.

Despite being known as a “New England Poet”, Frost was actually born in San Francisco. (Similarly, Creedence Clearwater Revival has the reputation as a Southern band – it also originated in San Francisco) His father died when he was 11 – the first of a string of losses which continued throughout his life. Only 2 of his 6 children outlived him.

I own the complete Frost: Poems, Plays, Letters and Essays. I was given this lovely hardback edition by a young lady, whose good taste obviously won me over.

A Boy’s Will was Frost’s first published collection, appearing in 1912. It consists of 30 short poems (the longest is 72 lines). There is a general feeling of cold about the poems: bracing cold, invigorating cold, and sharp cold. Even the poems that allow the warmth of the sun to touch the lines have a nostalgic, melancholy feel; a looking back on pleasure, love, and springtime. And yet, there is sweetness. Perhaps sorrow never felt so sweet as in Frost’s hands.

From a formal point of view, Frost is a traditionalist. Most of his work has a regular meter, and a significant majority follow a rhyme scheme of some sort. A few could even be considered sonnets, if not quite as rigid as those of earlier poets. He also wrote many works in Blank Verse. (He was irritated to hear it confused with Free Verse)

Frost was particularly fond of the 5 line stanza. He rhymed it in a few different ways, typically using a quadrameter or pentameter, though not always iambic.

A great example is the short poem In Neglect

            They leave us so to the way we took,
                        As two in whom they were proved mistaken,
            That we sit sometimes in the wayside nook,
            With mischievous, vagrant, seraphic look,
                        And try if we cannot feel forsaken.

This is one of the many that demands to be read multiple times. The layers peel back.

There are so many more awaiting me in the future. I will comment on each poet and collection as I read them. I welcome suggestions for additions to my list.

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