The Terrors and Pleasures of Robert Frost

A_560x0Kathryn Schulz in Vulture:

Whose woods these are I think you know. Because, really, how could you not? Other than the ones where Dante got lost, they might be the most famous woods in the history of verse; certainly they are the most famous woods in American literature. I am talking, of course, about the forest in Robert Frost’s “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.”

I can recall with some clarity my first encounter with those woods, which was also my first encounter with Frost. I was in the fourth grade. The poem was on the blackboard, and my teacher asked for a volunteer to read it aloud. Guess who raised her nerdy hand? “My little horse”—oh, damn; too late, I saw it coming—“must think it queer”: My classmates hooted. Eventually I finished, and we discussed the poem for a while. Then we read it aloud again, this time en masse—the way, each morning, we recited the Pledge of Allegiance.

A quarter-century later, I’m sitting at a different desk, looking at the same poem—this time in The Art of Robert Frost, a new book by British professor Tim Kendall. In the annals of Frostiana (and they are vast), Kendall’s book is an unusual hybrid, part anthology, part critical study: 65 poems with two or three pages of understated, illuminating commentary about each. It’s a good way to revisit Frost—and, per Frost, revisiting him is precisely what we should do. Kendall quotes this passage as the epigraph to his book: “A poem is best read in the light of all the other poems ever written. We read A the better to read B (we have to start somewhere; we may get very little out of A). We read B the better to read C, C the better to read D, D the better to go back and get something more out of A.”