Robert Frost: Go Out in a Blaze of Glory

W.D. Snodgrass in Paris Review:

From “Dabbling in Corruption,” an essay by W. D. Snodgrass, in our Spring 1994 issue. Snodgrass was born on this day in 1926; he died in 2009. Here, he recalls seeing Robert Frost read at a Washington D.C. poetry conference in October 1962, when the Cuban Missile Crisis was at full tilt. Frost was eighty-eight then, and, as Snodgrass writes, “obviously in his last months”; he died the following January.

RobertfrostOur luncheon with Jacqueline Kennedy that day was suddenly canceled—rumor had it she was in a cave somewhere in a western state. Soviet ships carrying nuclear missiles were steaming toward Cuba; American war ships were steaming toward them. If they met in mid-Atlantic, World War III would almost certainly begin; Washington would be wiped out in hours …

By the time [of Frost’s reading], I was even more drunk and … did not dare register what was happening until a day or so later. Frost began, as he almost never did, by reading someone else’s poem: “Shine, Perishing Republic” by Robinson Jeffers. The title alone might have outraged his audience but they were so preconditioned to reverence that nothing else could reach them. Moving to his own poem, “October,” he drew special attention to its relevance for the current autumnal crisis:

O hushed October morning mild.
The leaves have ripened to the fall;
Tomorrow’s wind if it be wild,
Should waste them all.

His next poem, “November,” developed that figure:

We saw leaves go to glory, …
And then to end the story
Get beaten down and pasted
In one wild day of rain.
We heard “’Tis Over” roaring.
A year of leaves was wasted.
Oh, we make a boast of storing,
Of saving up and keeping
But only by ignoring …
By denying and ignoring
The waste of nations warring.

He said that this was no waste “if it’s toward some meaning. But you can call it waste you can call it expense. Just for this evening.”

More here.