Poetry Break: Revisiting a Recording of Frost at a Poetry Society Dinner in 1958

In a 2016 article, WNYC writer Philip Quarles writes about a recording of Robert Frost restored by the NEH Preservation Project. In these turbulent times– globally, nationally, and personally—it is refreshing to hearken back to wise words from some of our pillars of American letters. In the recording, Frost is quintessentially “Yankee”—he disparages the “bardic sage” image that had been built around him, and he sought mainly to talk about the practical nature of being a person of the world, in the world. Of his career, he merely states, “I had so much luck.”

It’s pretty clear that there was a bounty of talent, some innate stubbornness, and a long-held belief in the power of simple words as well as any luck that made such an impressive legacy. Frost sought to make his audience understand that language is more of a remedy for what ails the world; it is not primarily political or social, but more communal.

Typical of Frost, although the highlight of the dinner was to be a reading of his poetry, he insists that he will “say” his poems—not declaim, sing, or perform. Frost wants us to hear the words, but also he wants the words to be rooted in experience, in the real world. He grounds us, it seems, with his practical wisdom, his insistence on place and people, and his love for the work at hand.

You can read Quarles’ article here, and listen to the audio recording as well.

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