The Road Not Traveled And Other Poems, by Robert Frost
As someone who has now read three books of poems by this poet (reviews forthcoming), I must admit that the more I read, the more annoyed I am, because despite having three very different names, the poetry collections are substantially identical. None of the three poetry books by Robert Frost that I have read have any selections of poetry beyond 1922. This is rather striking and unheard of as someone who reads the work of those considered great poets. If you read selections of poems published after the death of great poems, and here a poet like William Stafford comes to mind, one can be sure that while there will be some poems that will appear in many different compilations, that there will be a great deal of variety about the works otherwise. For someone to be considered a major poet when they are basically a one-hit wonder is rather shocking and in bad taste. How is it that Frost is considered a major poet if his early poems, selected poems, and a “best of” collection are all the same few poems repackaged and given a different title? Does not that not suggest that one is dealing with a poet of very modest talent at best?
In terms of its contents, this book is the shortest of the three books by the poet I have read, and in some cases this is addition by subtraction. In fact, as far as the writing of the book goes and not any other sort of additional element (like the drawings), this may be my favorite of the poetry books I have read by Frost because it is the shortest. So far, unfortunately, my reading of Frost has not convinced me that his poetry is worth examining in depth, not least because I keep on reading the same few poems over and over and over again. Many of these poems are at least decent–“The Road Not Taken” is justly famous, not least because of its considerable ambiguity about what it was that Frost was truly trying to get at, since neither the kitschy nor the ironic meaning tell the whole story. For the most part, the poems included in this collection are brief, and that is for the best, since the less one has to read about the poet, the better. Unfortunately, while this book does not contain the drawings that the first volume of the poet’s that I read did, it does include a somewhat lengthy introduction.
And it is that introduction that provides the most interesting material, even if it is not always easy to enjoy. The introduction reveals that Robert Frost was a bestselling poet, something that is nearly unheard of, and that Frost is often thought of as being both popular and accessible as well as a bit of a fraud. While I definitely lean towards the second camp myself, I do not think he was a fraud because he was interested in dark subjects. Rather, I think he was a fraud because he was not sufficiently honest about his ambiguities. He wanted popular acclaim, and got it, and appeared to have sacrificed some of his integrity in order to get it. He wanted his writing to appear effortless but it was full of the same degree of artificiality as that of his much more obviously academic fellow poets of his age, like T.S. Eliot or Ezra Pound. He was thought of as a quintessentially New England poet but published his earliest (and seemingly best) work in England, had a name that called to archrebel Robert E. Lee, and had been born in San Francisco to a father who was a failed Democratic politico. Seeking to appeal to a wide audience, he appeared to revel in not showing himself while at the same time appearing to be friendly to the common sort of reader, and that is a great shame.