November 16, 2007

THE PUNDIT BECOMES A HAMPSHIREMAN:

Why Poetry Still Matters (David Shribman, 10/06/07, Real Clear Politics)

[T]he death of the tree on the farm Frost so loved in Derry signifies more than nothing, even if it is not exactly the right tree. It tells us something profound, speaking to the power of Robert Frost and the power of nature, which is so important to Frost and ultimately to us all.

Frost himself once spoke of the importance of the Derry farm, purchased in 1900 for $1,700, to his work and to his identity. "I might say the core of all my writing was probably the five free years I had there on the farm down the road a mile or two from Derry Village toward Lawrence," he wrote. "The only thing we had was time and seclusion. I couldn't have figured on it in advance. I hadn't that kind of foresight. But it turned out right as a doctor's prescription."

Frost moved to Derry with 300 chickens. Eleven years later he sold the place and its 30 acres at a loss of $600. The state of New Hampshire bought the farmhouse and 12.6 acres surrounding it in 1965, adding another 35 acres four years later, then setting out to clean the property and, using photographic and architectural records, restore the farmhouse. Just last month the Senate passed an appropriations bill, pushed by GOP Sen. Judd Gregg of New Hampshire, that includes $300,000 for the Frost farm.

Though Derry may have been important to Frost, we can wonder whether any one tree there was important to him, or even to his poem. The tree at his window is rooted in the poem far more than it is at Derry.

"Getting involved in debates about a real tree takes our eye off the main thing -- the poem," Mark S. Richardson, a leading Frost scholar, said in an e-mail exchange. He argues that the poem is not really about a tree at all, "but about how one might better manage distress -- being 'all but lost.'"

So in the end, one tree cut down in New Hampshire and 16 lines of poetry that might even have been written more than a decade after Robert Frost moved from Derry raise a lot of small questions and answer a bigger one, about the vitality of Frost -- as concerned, as the poem says, with the inner weather of man as with the outer weather that affects the trees -- in the modern American imagination. The tree is gone, the poem remains, and Frost endures.

Posted by Orrin Judd at November 16, 2007 8:56 AM
Comments

Just last month the Senate passed an appropriations bill, pushed by GOP Sen. Judd Gregg ☼ of New Hampshire, that includes $300,000 for the Frost farm.

Ah-ha! An earmark!

Posted by: Steve White at November 16, 2007 11:19 PM
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