"A Poet and a National
by James Reston
Article in The New York Times
October 27, 1957
Frost became a familiar figure in Washington, D. C.
in the late 1950's culminating with his appointment
as Consultant in Poetry at the Library of Congress
during the Eisenhower Administration.
- Every time Robert Frost comes to
town the Washington Monument stands up a little straighter. The
old gentleman was here this week just when everybody was down
in the dumps about the Russians, but he was full of bounce and
The beauty of life, said he, looking out on the golden maples
on R Street, lies in struggle and change and taking tough decisions.
When he heard people complaining about the Russians and the Sputnik
and the endless standoff with Moscow, he said he had trouble
suppressing a mocking frivolity.
"We ought to enjoy a standoff," he remarked. "Let
it stand and deepen in meaning. Let's not be hasty about showdowns.
Let's be patient and confident in our country."
At eighty-three, Mr. Frost is still full of poetry and plans,
still wandering about the world talking to kids about what it
means to be an American, still taking long walks through the
Northern woods, and still urging everybody to talk up and be
He is against everything and everybody that want people to rely
on somebody else. He is against the United Nations. He is against
the welfare state. He is against conformity and easy slogans
and Madison Avenue, and he hasn't seen a President he liked since
"I keep reading about old Grover, and after sixty years
I have to admit there were one or two things that could be said
against him; but I concede it reluctantly. As Mencken said, Cleveland
got on in politics, not by knuckling to politicians but scorning
and defying them. He didn't go around spouting McGuffy Reader
slogans or wanting to be liked. "
The United Nations, disturbed by Mr. Frost's opposition, suggested
to him recently that he might like to write a poem celebrating
the ideal of the interdependence of the nations. Sweden had given
the U. N. a huge chunk of solid iron, and somebody thought that
this should be built into the U. N. building as a symbol of nature's
strength and unity.
Frost was not interested. Iron, he said, could be used to strengthen
the U. N. building, or it could be used for weapons of war. That
was the way with nature, he said: always confronting mankind
with decisions. So he rejected the invitation with a couplet
Nature within her inmost self divides
To trouble men with having to take sides.
His pet project at the moment is to band together all men and
women who want to stamp out "togetherness." The glory
of America, he says, has been its pioneers, who celebrated "separateness"
and who were not always seeking protection. "There is,"
he remarks, "no protection without direction."
Mr. Frost is still a physical phenomenon. There is a comfortable,
shaggy look about him but great physical and mental power. He
has a pair of shoulders like a Notre Dame tackle, a shock of
disobedient white hair, and a vast solidity, like a great natural
- His idea, one gathers, is that
America should act in the face of the Communist challenge as
a great man would act. It should not be dismayed. It should not
be boastful. It should be calm and watchful and industrious.
It should avoid pretension and sham. It should say clearly and
calmly what it means and do what it says it will do.
"The question for every man and every nation," he says,
"is to be clear about where the first answerability lies.
Are we as individuals to be answerable first only to others or
to ourselves and some ideal beyond ourselves? Is the United States
to be answerable first to the United Nations or to its own concept
of what is right?"
Once we get this straight, he believes, the United States will
be less entranced and preoccupied with the Soviet world, more
self-reliant, more prepared psychologically for the endless struggle
Transition and change do not bother him. He is pleased with Dean
Inge's reminder that when Adam and Eve were kicked out of the
Garden of Eden, Adam was heard to remark, no doubt by a reporter
of the Times, "We sure are living in a period of transition.
" All life," he says, "is cellular. We live by
the breaking down of cells and the building up of new cells.
Change is constant and unavoidable. That is the way it is with
human beings and with nations, so why deplore it?"
To Mr. Frost most of the political pronouncements of the day
are just "corn-meal mush," put out by politicians who
think their "first answerability" is to what will get
them re-elected, instead of what is right and true.
But he isn't worried.
- "I stand here at the window
and try to figure out whether American men or women swing their
arms more freely. There cannot be much to fear in a country where
there are so many right faces going by. I keep asking myself
where they all come from, and I keep thinking that maybe God
was just making them up new around the next corner. "
- Cross-reference to a story on Frost's visit to Williams College
in 1960. Frost had a habit of repeating his thoughts with different
twists, so that read as a body of statements, his little quips
become more lucid.
- Back to
The Frost Free Library
"To go straight home, we
wouldn't keep him, would we?"