An Exception for Edith

Since I steeled myself last night and made it through to the end of the Robert Frost collection, this will probably be the last post I write on the man’s work, at least for a while. Fortunately or un-, I received no definitive revelation regarding why I just can’t relate to much of the poetry. I got the feeling, though, that said alienation has more than a bit to do with the fact that Frost often relies heavily on aspects of nature for his subject matter. Try as I may (OK, not very hard) to remember the names of plants and birds, I suffer some sort of lethargy-induced mental block on the rare occasions that such a task presents itself. Don’t get me wrong; watching birds– or ants, or squirrels, or even leaves being pelted by raindrops– is often mesmerizing, and if a thunderstorm comes through, you can forget about my doing anything but staring and listening gleefully to the fury. My best form of admiration for all of this, though, comes in silence; trying to add words to the scene seems to take the edge out of it. I certainly won’t condemn others’ assertions that verbal descriptions only enliven the view of a nice apple tree– but I think in this instance, the best I can offer is “to each his/her own.”

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

What did grow stronger, though, was my conviction that Louis Untermeyer’s commentary (1971) detracted from reading the actual poems– and may have been at least partially to blame for the old-fashioned tint the collection took on. And for whatever reason, what encapsulated that feeling for me was his use of “delightful” in assigning a value to Frost’s poems on insects. (p. 186; it’s also used on the back cover to assert that the book makes “a delightful addition to any library.”) “Delightful”? Who uses the word nowadays without a tinge of bemusement, or as a way of indicating that the object/person/activity described is nice and maybe fun, but essentially harmless and not really worthy of serious scrutiny? I would need to undertake an etymological study to find out if the term ever constituted a truly robust compliment– but the only person I can think of who could use “delightful” and signal thereby sincere enthusiasm for whatever’s being described is Edith from Downton Abbey— and then only in her post-World-War, more-mature version. Given, Edith herself sometimes doesn’t realize the full implications of her suggestions, but to the character’s credit, she does seem open to thinking things through once they’re pointed out to her. That subject, though, is an entirely different can of worms, further discussion of which would only make me remember how guiltily addicted I am to a highbrow soap opera.

So, then: maybe the moral of my Frost adventures is to approach an unknown work sans the assistance of well-intentioned commentary. Historical context and biographical information, yes– but next time, I might just take the initial plunge solo.

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