Wednesday, June 22, 2016

The Day I Met Robert Frost


By John Deering

It was my sophomore year in high school when our English teacher, Miss Simpson at Holmes High School, introduced us to Robert Frost. I began reading his poetry then and I have never stopped since. Now, that is not to say I read his poetry over and over again, but his concepts stay with me because he wrote about such practical yet thought- provoking concepts.  Occasionally I get out our autographed book and our illustrated edition just to refresh myself.  When Ann and I were students at Eastern Kentucky State College, we heard he was to be a speaker at the University of Kentucky. We were determined to hear him. Our friends Sterling Parrish and Lois Kolo – Highlands class of 1947-- wanted to go too. He had a 1937 Plymouth, and thus we four were going to Lexington to see and hear this great man.

We were kinda’ star struck. There was Robert Frost sitting within a few feet of us.  He spoke to the gathered multitudes and then read some of his best-known poems. Among those selections was “Mending Wall,” my first one to read in high school. “Something there is that doesn’t love a wall that sends the frozen-ground-swell under it, And spills the upper boulders in the sun; And makes gaps even two can pass abreast…”  From there he discusses hunters who “have left not one stone on a stone, But they would have the rabbit out of hiding, To please the yelping dogs.”  From there he mentions details of other mischief and gets to the line “Good fences make good neighbors.” No, fences do not have to be stone or steel, but words and thoughts that illustrate limits.

“The Road Not Taken” is another favorite.  Even before maturity comes to us, we see meaning to life and how crucial our decisions about life are when we first – often – had to make them. This poem of Frost is one of the things in which he helped me understand my future.  What does the future hold if we make the wrong decisions?  “Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, And sorry I  could not travel both And be one traveler, long I stood And looked down one as  far  as I could To where it bent in the undergrowth,” says Poet Frost.  

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In the early years at Highlands, I had heard many of my more experienced colleagues talk of their former students and how so many had made thoughtful decisions about   life that led them to such successful careers.  Now, after so many years of teaching young people, I too have seen the results of their thoughtful decisions.  No, I am not suggesting that one poem or even one poet has been all it takes to realize success and happiness, but it is indeed one more thoughtful concept our poet has made. “I shall be telling this with a sigh Somewhere ages and ages hence: Two roads diverged in a wood, and I – I took the less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.” 

“Birches” is another favorite. “When I  see birches left and right Across the lines of straighter darker trees, I like to think some boy’s been swinging them But swinging doesn’t bend them down to stay, Ice storms do that…” Our poet thinks how things happen for better or worse and bent birches become a kind of metaphor for life and preferences: “But I was going to say when Truth broke in With all her matter-of-fact about the ice-storm    I should prefer to have some boy bend them As he went out and in to fetch the cows –" Indeed sometimes romantic thought supersedes actuality.

The evening when we saw, heard, and met Robert Frost, we felt one more blessing had come our way. Yes, I admit I stood somewhat in awe. He went on to talk to his college audience and answer our questions. It was obvious he was enjoying being with us too. Occasionally his assistant touched his arm to indicate the time was coming to leave, but Robert Frost politely waved him off. We just went on talking. It was one of the most interesting and enlightening evenings we can remember from our college years and well beyond. Finally it came time for us to ask him to sign his books of poetry. I remember his asking me how long I had had my paper-back edition. “A couple of years,” I answered.  We still treasure that book and his autograph. The evening was over too soon.

When I was still teaching high school young people, our curriculum had American literature in the junior year and English literature in the senior. Of course, I taught  both levels as I moved up the grade levels, and I thoroughly enjoyed both. English literature has a richer heritage than American literature, of course, because it has had such a great head start. We do not have a Beowulf and we still do not have a Shakespeare.  However, Robert Frost and Carl Sandburg are two of our great poets, but we have even more novelists than poets – Earnest Hemingway, Pearl Buck, John Steinbeck, and so many  other great ones. However, Robert Frost still has a following that might well be unmatched.

Ann and I joined the Cold Spring Branch of the Campbell County Library group years ago when we heard the poetry of Robert Frost was the topic of the next meeting. With our signed-book in hand, we attended -- and have attended ever since. I mentioned  we had met Robert Frost; and after the meeting, a member of the group asked me if I had shaken hands with him. “Yes, I did,” I replied. Then he said, “Let me shake your hand. Then I can say I have shaken hands with a hand that has shaken the hand of Robert Frost.”

WOW!  Need I say more?

2 comments:

  1. And this is why Mr. Deering was one of my favorite teachers. Thank you Mr. Deering for instilling in me a love of literature.

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  2. So nice to see something so thoughtfully written; but what would I expect from Mr. Deering...also, one of my favorite teachers, and neighbors... Nice to hear from you!!!

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