Frost is searching his pockets for a timetable. "May I?" The Younger Poet hands across two.
Frost would not remember him. In the past half-year he's met and talked with more people than the Younger Poet will see in a lifetime. But Frost gives him a hard look. "I've seen you before."
"At Mr. Holmes's place. Last March"
"Oh yes." Frost speak the Younger Poet's name.
The Younger Poets stands up, beams, bows. Frost begins to talk about poetryPaul Engle, Robinson Jeffers, the Atlanticand the Younger Poet remains in the aisle, attending. He sees a chance to offer up a line of Philip Sidney's: "Good poetry always tells the truth."
"That's a good one," Frost says. "But it makes us fall back on the stock phrase, What is truth?' Age-old. Take Keats's Beauty is truth, truth beauty.' A fine phrase, as far as it goes. But we know well that truth is not always beautiful. Ugliness is truth. WE must remember that."
At Springfield, Frost helps Mrs. Morrison off the train. Passengers whisper as he passes. When he returns, he sits next to Younger Poet. "My son, Carol, died last night. He killed himself."
"My God! I'm sorry"
The old poet's face quakes, and he turns away impatiently. "Please don't talk to me any more."
The train begins to move. Autumn slides past the window. Frost never looks. Instead, he begins to talk, and doesn't stop until Williamstown. The Younger Poet calls on his mnemonic techniques. Frost speaks of how to build a poem, of his own books, of his disappointment with Mountain Interval, of the sad business of reviews that twist an artist out of shape.
The Younger Poet says he has a copy at home of the infamous article in the Quarterly Review that so discourage Keats.
"You have? Is it as bad as they say?"
"The most bitter words I've ever read."
Frost is avid. "Are you able to quote any?"
He gets off the train at Williamstown. The Younger Poet stays in his seat, scribbling furiously in the shorthand he's learned expressly for Frost's lectures. He gets it all down. He includes the telling details of a ragged patch of whiskers under Frost's lower lip, showing he lacked heart to shave with care that morning.
From Fall of Frost, copyright Brian Hall 2008. All rights reserved. No part of this book maybe reproduced without written permission from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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