Vanity, Fame, Love, and Robert Frost
WHEN I grew up-in the suburbs, at suburban schools-I heard adults mention one living poet, and only one. Professors might prefer Eliot; young poets might imitate Auden-but for the American public Robert Frost was the Great Living Poet. His Complete Poems, like Longfellow’s the century before, were wedged among popular novels on affluent bookshelves.
Everyone knew him, and everyone loved him. With the aid of Life, we recognized Frost’s character: rustic, witty, avuncular, benign. Now, a decade and a half after his death, his reputation has changed totally, and a consensus agrees that the old commonplaces were fraudulent. Reviewing a biography in the New York Times Book Review, an outraged critic confirms that “Frost was a liar … Frost was cold….” The same culture that applauded Frost as a simple farmer now reviles him as a simple monster. But he was not simple.
He was vain, he was cruel, he was rivalrous with all other men, but he could also be generous and warm-when he could satisfy himself that his motives were dubious. He was a man possessed by guilt, by knowledge that he was “bad,” by a craving for love, by the necessity to reject love-and by a desire for fame which no amount of celebrity could satisfy.
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