Of all the famous people born on March 26, Robert Frost is my favorite.
He also is my favorite poet.
As a child, when I visited my grandmother at her summer house in Cornville, I’d sit in the room that doubled as a sitting and dining room, poring over the pages of books, memorizing poems such as “The Road Not Taken” and “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening,” and reading aloud “Birches,” a poem I later would memorize to recite aloud in eighth grade.
My parents loved Frost and had a long-playing record on which Frost recited his poetry.
My mother’s family knew Frost. When she was a child, her father was the principal at Dow Academy in Franconia, New Hampshire, where Frost lived, and he often would visit the school.
When my Aunt Barbara, who was a little older than my mother, met Frost, she tied a string around his finger and told him it was for him to remember her by. For some reason I had always thought it was my mother who did that, but a family member corrected me recently.
When I was young, Frost’s poetry spoke to me. I loved the description of the little horse in “Stopping by Woods …” shaking his bells when his sleigh driver stops in the dark, cold night next to a frozen lake — a lake and winter much like those of my youth.
Frost wrote of the fields and woods and ponds that were so familiar to me.
As children, we climbed birch trees that grew at the edge of our woods in Skowhegan, much like the boy in “Birches” whom the narrator says he’d like to see climb the trees as he went to fetch cows.
I did not understand the deeper meaning of Frost’s poems then, but as I grew older and studied them in school and college, I acquired an even greater appreciation for his works.
“The Road not Taken,” for instance, is about much more than merely deciding which path to take in the woods, though as a kid scouring the countryside and roaming the forest, I was faced with that decision more than once. Choosing a road less traveled, according to Frost, does makes a difference — a lesson we learn as we age.
In “Mending Wall,” I recognized those old stone walls I climbed all over as a child, digging for antique bottles deposited there many years prior with the security of knowing I could follow the wall home if I became lost.
But the poem also is about the walls we build to keep others out, both literally and figuratively, and why it is important to take them down. How prescient Frost was. Like Shakespeare, he wrote of matters that survive the test of time.
Why do we build walls, really?
I’ve written before of a favorite Frost poem, “Fire and Ice,” which Frost could appropriately pen today as a commentary on our seemingly active path to self-destruction.
Beyond that, his words eloquently reflect the natural world we New Englanders enjoy, but they also serve to teach, warn, caution and comfort us.
When I was a young college student and homesick for Maine, I’d hole up in the library among the poetry stacks, reading Frost and perusing the photos of him from his youth to old age.
Several years ago I visited the former Dow Academy where my maternal grandfather worked and which had been turned into housing, and Frost’s former house, which was a museum to his life. I was delighted to be able to see, first-hand, some of the places he frequented, the chair he sat in, the bedroom in which he slept. I hope one day to also visit his home in Vermont.
Meanwhile, I have the green, hardcover “Collected Poems of Robert Frost” my mother and her brother gave to their parents nearly eight decades ago, and on whose inside cover my mother’s handwriting bears the words “Mother and Dad, from Gordon and Frances, Summer 1940.”
Though the pages are yellow with age and the binding loose, it is one of my most prized possessions and one that, any time of year, I can open and find a poem for the season or read one that promises another. I also have a painting of my father’s, framed and hanging on my dining room wall. In it, a tiny horse and sleigh stop in the snow by a frozen lake and dark wood, a tribute to Frost’s poem and the poet himself who, along with my father the artist, lives on in memory.
As we head into spring, I’m reminded to savor the season, as it too will pass. Let Frost’s “Nothing Gold Can Stay” serve as a gentle warning:
“Nature’s first green is gold./Her hardest hue to hold./Her early leaf’s a flower;/But only so an hour./Then leaf subsides to leaf./So Eden sank to grief,/So dawn goes down to day./Nothing gold can stay.”