The Dark Pastorals of Robert Frost and Hayden Carruth

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The Dark Pastorals of Robert Frost and Hayden Carruth


Frost’s Collected Poems depict a natural world in the grip of tumultuous seizures. Most are set in winter, at night or in dark cabins. The seas are rough and storms thrash their black manes. They are dark pastorals. Why dark? To draw a distinction between the ‘nature poem’ and the unique brand of revelatory rhetoric that one may read in Frost and Carruth. Robert Faggen begins his essay on Frost and the pastoral by writing: “to call [him] a pastoral poet is at once to say too much and too little” (Faggen, p.49). Without a qualifier, the term ‘pastoral’ summons too idyllic a picture; since the eighteenth century, European poets have sugar-coated the style to the point that when a modern ear hears it, one’s teeth start to rot and fall to the floor—all to the tune of a shepherd’s flute. I would define a pastoral as ‘dark’ if it takes nature and infects it with a degree of deception and mortality. Frost and Carruth’s poems are never really about the hay, the work, the cattle, the fences—those merely serve as the loci where morality and its personae interact and struggle. Work serves as a pretext to commence an exploration that goes much further. In ‘Emergency Haying’, Hayden Carruth begins by setting a seemingly innocuous scene: “Coming home with the last load I ride standing/on the wagon tongue,”—he has gone to help Marshal, a friend to deal with “a monster crop.” A few lines into the work and the drama begins:

      too bloodied cannot bear

      even the touch of air, even
      the touch of love. I have a friend
      whose grandmother cut cane with a machete

      and cut and cut, until one day
      she snicked her hand off and took it
      and threw it grandly at the sky.

It is on the natural plane that humanity can still surprise, where the human construct is reflected on a harsh, unforgiving stage, endows the individual with a shred—a quasi-heroic shred— of decency, merely because he or she survives. Theirs is a tactical retreat from the confusion of urban crowds, an act that strikes at the heart of what it really means to survive when the odds are stacked against one. Survival in the city is more often a given than in the countryside where life is always just a bit more precarious. It is also a plane whose laws are more salient and precise. In an essay written (but not published) for a special edition of Les Cahiers de la Pléiade devoted to Saint-John Perse, Auden wrote:

      In nature where all events occur according to law, there are no real crowds, only apparent ones whose laws of occurrence have yet to be discovered. Nor, since in nature there is no choice and hence no distinction between doing and loving—a natural thing loves what it does—can there be communities. In nature there are only societies. (Prose, p.162)

When Auden speaks of ‘society’, he is right; however, that society does not necessarily offer redemption to the individual. Faggen for instance seems to think that Frost is out to “save the individual” through nature (Faggen, p.51). This completely misses the point. Frost’s desire was not to ‘save’ but to inform. There is no interventionist claim in either Frost or Carruth. Theirs is a quest for an individualism that achieves an understanding through the tragedy of being brought to bear with the facts of the world—and surviving that process. The city, with its comforts and ease, anaesthetises the will through otium and over-abundance. To these poets, cities could hardly have the same effect, or at least that’s what Frost believed:

      Poetry is more often of the country than the city . . . just so the race lives best to itself—first to itself, storing strength in the individual life of the country, the farm. (qtd. in Faggen, 49-50)

He and Carruth depict nature and beauty as being in a constant state of crisis with the economic and demographic pressures of the artificial world. The ‘darkness’ of their pastorals is the shadow of man passing through an already inhospitable world. Their countryside is no retreat; it is a pursuit. Unfortunately it is a pursuit that has been hitherto little recognised.


A History of Misreadings


As happens with most poets, there are numerous Frostian myths: a man as warm as apple pie and as reliably quaint as an old grandfather clock: “the icon of Yankee values, the smells of wood smoke” (Walcott, 194). Heaney was only the latest in a long line. Even Auden’s otherwise brilliant essay on Frost is guilty of misreading:

      [Nature to Frost was] . . . the Dura Virum Nutrix who, by her apparent indifference and hostility, even, calls forth all man’s powers and courage and makes a real man of him. (Dyer’s Hand, 348)

Few, however, were as humorous as the one that Joseph Brodsky uncovered in On Grief And Reason. The episode occurred in 1943, when thanks to Louis Untermeyer, the Council on Books in Wartime “distributed fifty thousand copies of ‘Come In’ to US troops stationed overseas, as a morale builder” (Brodsky, 224). Why that poem in particular? On the surface ‘Come In’ is fairly unassuming. A man is by the edge of a dark wood and hears “thrush music” which invites him in. The poem’s use of repetition, of booming Victorian “Hark” and the short tense iambs spellbind—but no, he is “out for the stars” and will not go in, “not even if asked”. The refusal seems almost childish in its simplicity. Despite the jocular vehemence, Brodsky asked, couldn’t ‘Come In’ also mean die? The idea of Frost sneaking death past censors to GIs from Normandy to Iwo Jima is almost too much to bear. How does Brodsky manage such a dark reading of the poem? The movement of the lines is indeed ‘creepy’ but its ease is that it is almost as if the narrator were under the sway of some wily illusionist. But the will finally refuses nature, be it only a symbolic gesture —for die we must:

      I would not come in.
      I mean not even if asked,
      And I hadn’t been.

The drama feeds off the reaction to the hopelessness that nature stirs in us. This may not have been the message that generals wanted their troopers to read. There is no waving of the Stars and Stripes here. There is one quality, however, which makes Frost a recognisably American poet in that he sizes the rural world against the yardstick of his own ‘Adamic’ persona. Most European poets, would, in his place, unearth a plethora of references, waiting for history or philosophy to set their poem in motion. Nature to that kind of poet is merely a moving panel, used and discarded at will. To Frost it is a fixed mirror, where he sees himself and the rural merge —and that gives his poetry the unity and freshness that others, through their subsidising of the past, cannot afford. The American farmer Frost knew was a man of few words, one who put up with few frivolities. That farmer’s landscape is no Walden. Many of the misconceptions that have arisen can be traced to a linking of pastorals to Thoreau’s philosophical booklet, a work that still takes pride of place in the American consciousness. Here is an excerpt from Carruth’s essay The Man in the Box at Walden:

      A few years ago I wrote a poem in which I referred to Henry David Thoreau as “that idiot.” The response was about what I had expected. Officially, puzzlement; one reviewer even suggested that my term could be understood only if taken in a special inverted sense, as when Walpole called Oliver Goldsmith an “inspired idiot.” Of course I didn’t mean it literally. Thoreau was intelligent, I suppose; he had a good enough mind . . . it was a putdown, an expression of annoyance. But it was taken, officially, as heresy, and a peculiar heresy at that. I had spat on the sacred cow, and no one even wanted to admit I had done it . . .

Why annoyance? Perhaps it is because Walden reveals a conception of nature which makes the perceptive critic doubt whether Thoreau ever ventured beyond the tamest of city parks: “The most innocent and encouraging society may be found in any natural object”; by realizing such truths, man could suddenly find himself “neighbor to the birds.” The windows of Thoreau’s cabin at Walden Pond were always open, welcoming in summer. In ‘Come In’ the cabin is darker than the night outside. There was no welcome mat at Robert the Devil’s country house. As for Carruth, the sun may shine, but that light reveals no Arcadia—from ‘Prepare’:

      “Why don’t you write me a poem that will prepare me
                    for your death?” you said.
      It was a rare day here in our climate, bright and sunny.
                    I didn’t feel like dying that day,
      I didn’t even want to think about it . . .

We now turn our attention to the ‘subterfuge’ that nature conceals in the dark pastoral.


The Rhetoric of Subterfuge


Both Frost and Carruth began their careers as relative outsiders to prevailing literary fashions. Though this was due to a number of issues, many of which are not germane to the discussion at hand, their use of rhetoric was certainly a contributing factor. In Rhetoric and Poetic Drama, Eliot writes of the former as something gone “recently out of fashion” continuing to add:

      At the present time there is a manifest preference for the “conversational” in poetry—the style of “direct speech,” opposed to the “oratorical” and the rhetorical; but if rhetoric is any convention of writing inappropriately applied, this conversational style can and does become a rhetoric —or what is supposed to be a conversational style, for it is often as remote from polite discourse as well could be . . . Some writers appear to believe that emotions gain in intensity through being inarticulate. Perhaps the emotions are not significant enough to endure full daylight. (Sacred Wood, 66)

The paradox that Eliot seems to suggest here is that if the lack of rhetoric is replaced by uninformed oratory it risks becoming inarticulate. Then again, since Eliot’s own Waste Land, poets have often assumed that their diction should also be as difficult, or intricately researched—lest their work be written off as facile, or even worse, unlabored. The registers by which this difficulty is measured, of course, vary from culture to culture. On a trip to Europe Randall Jarrell made an interesting discovery:

      When I taught at Salzburg I found that my students did not find The Waste Land half as hard as Frost’s poetry, since one went with, the other against, all their own cultural presuppositions; I had not simply to explain ‘Home Burial’ to them, I had to persuade them it was a poem. (Jarrell, 7)

What does this imply? Mainly that in order to connect Frost’s “conversational” style to a tradition, admirers and detractors alike focused on the easiest paragon they could find, as if somehow feeling the need to excuse the man’s simplicity by making it cohere with the canon. Frost’s pastoral poems have since been invariably coupled with the Georgics, considered by many to be Virgil’s masterpiece.1 Ezra Pound even called his poems “modern georgics.” (Pound, 127). This is hardly a fitting tribute. Virgil’s pastoral figures were mere simulacra of rusticity. His countryside is abstract, an advertisement based on urban stereotypes. One could almost compare them to The Guardian’s pieces on weekend Tuscan getaways:

                                                                  The horse
      knows nothing of the drudgery of labour,
      the gore of the battlefield, the blood-flecked foam
      of the racecourse. (Georgics, 98)

This smacks of idle observation, of otium. Virgil doesn’t get his hands dirty and it shows. Those who have attempted to link Frost’s rural poetry to Virgil’s Georgics2 would have missed a line, which in all probability would have set Frost frothing at the mouth: “Labor omnia vincit/improbus”3 (Georgics: 1, 145-146). This is pure self-satisfaction; the idea of a hard day’s work paying its dividends has far more in common with socialist realism than with reality. Conversely, Frost’s conception of nature is mostly inhospitable. “There is much in nature against us,” he writes in ‘Our Hold On The Planet.’ In fact, it is precisely when labour fails that Frost’s poems gather their dark energy and turn the pastoral from the elegiac into the dramatic. It is a drama that occurs when work cannot solve all our ills. Frost’s restraint is made clear in ‘Two Tramps in Mud Time’:

      The blows that a life of self-control
      Spares to strike for the common good

This is why we must look beyond the Georgics and analyse other classical models that might have inspired Frost and Carruth in their use of rhetoric. This underlying classicism in the American dark pastoral has been overlooked owing to current disaffection with the use of rhetoric and the death of the logos in poetics.4 Nevertheless, Frost’s conception of a poet’s task is precise and leaves little room for interpretation:

      The artist’s object is to tell people what they haven’t as yet realised they were about to say themselves. First they are displeased, and then they are pleased at this for psychological reasons we won’t go into. The publisher comes in right there to help in the transition between their being displeased and pleased. (Untermeyer, 256)

Frost seems to suggest a kind of subterfuge. This is hardly surprising. A skilled rhetorician will produce that effect in his reader’s perception without being too overt. Derek Walcott reminds us that Frost’s singularity was not that of the unabashed romantic:

      The romance of the pioneer, the tinkerer (if the pentameter wasn’t broken, why fix it?) who knows the [. . .] rational needs of society, one of which is the practicality of its poetry, its workday occupation, the [. . .] fusion of commerce and art, of carpentry and metrical composition. Frost stays put, close to stone [. . .] walls, under apple orchards, mowing grass, his view of the republic a blue haze of hills, rigidly Horatian. (Walcott, 202)

Walcott seems to fixate far too much on surface-level imagery. This is misleading. As Robert Faggen correctly pointed out: “Almost everything in Frost is figurative and metaphoric, but in the suggestive ways of parable and proverb” (Faggen, p.52). It certainly sounds about right. The tone is that of the proverb. Walcott makes a better point when he addresses the syntactical variety in Frost’s verse, dubbing it “vers libre within the taut frame” (Walcott, 197). Structurally then, the form is—as any good poet knows—dictated by the subject. If Frost’s use of nature is to reveal the essential struggle at work when man tries to break free from his bonds, then slipping the radical ordinary within a classical structure induces a harmonious resonance where the message slides along the tense surface of the metre and rhyme. Yet, as much as one may profess to admire Frost’s genius, this was neither effortless nor unintentional. Why has this trend remained unnoticed for so long? The answer to this conundrum lies in Ovid and his stylistic forebear, Lucretius.




Why Ovid? Why Lucretius? In late Republican and early Augustan times, a sound Roman education provided for instruction in the two primary models of rhetorical exercises then popular—the controversiae and the suasoriae. The controversiae was more roundly suited for use by orators and lawyers, who in focusing their defence (or prosecution) around a single subject constructed a complex dialectic to serve their political causes or clients. The suasoriae on the other hand, was subtler; it utilized a myth or historical event as a Trojan horse, whereby the writers would develop both sides of an argument, gently steering the reader’s attention to a dramatis caesura or an aphoristic conclusion that aimed for a kind of wisdom or revelation.5 In this manner, the writer would be able to exploit the heightened ethos without de-emphasizing the logos, or general argument of the tract or poem. Ovid’s Heroides are a good example of this technique.6 Envision Frost’s longer dramatic poems from this angle and the use of the suasoriae is self-evident. ‘Home Burial’, ‘The Death of the Hired Man’, ‘A Servant to Servants’, ‘The Fear’ and numerous others place both the hero and heroine on an equal dramatic par, in what is known as prosopopoeia,7 or the assumption of another person’s words and dramatic gestures. Frost’s use of it in ‘Home Burial’ for instance, allows him to put words into the wife’s mouth—words that are hysterical, hurtful but ultimately believable. We, the audience, trust them because they sound genuine. Thanks to this, pathos is established and the interplay between the male and female characters hardly strikes a false note, because the tone is Frost’s and his alone. He is both man and woman,8 and is shrewd enough to criticise both and thus suspend disbelief. That said, the controversiae is not wholly absent from either Frost or Carruth’s work. In Carruth’s ‘Emergency Haying’, the tone is deliberately that of the suasoriae— though cast from the first-person perspective—until the penultimate stanzas where the controversiae breaks through:

                                                                                     . . . Now

      in September our New England mountains
      under a clear sky for which we’re thankful at last
      begin to glow, maples, beeches, birches

      in their first color. I look
      beyond our famous hayfields to our famous hills,
      to the notch where the sunset is beginning,

      then in the other direction, eastward,
      where a full new-risen moon like a pale
      medallion hangs in a lavender cloud

      beyond the barn. My eyes
      sting with sweat and loveliness. And who
      is the Christ now, who

      if not I? It must be so. My strength
      is legion. And I stand up high
      on the wagon tongue in my whole bones to say

      woe to you, watch out
      you sons of bitches who would drive men and women
      to the fields where they can only die

The lack of a full stop at the end allows the final howl to bounce right off the page. Nevertheless, the Volta9 is organic—the poem could only end the way it does. In Frost, the sententiae are hardly ever as outré; they are thumbtack-thin apexes that only hint at the rhetorical icebergs creeping under the icy waters.  A Frostian example of this is: “The thousandth time may prove the charm” (from Snow). As was the case with Seneca and his rhetorical school, Frost’s poems are a continual evolution and reworking of a single thought or message. One may sum it up thus: Life is brutal, nature merciless, beauty lies not in that truth, but in our resistance to it and that resistance is fuelled by love. Extricate some of Frost and Carruth’s last lines from their cradle and they sound—and look— remarkably like aphorisms:

      To yield with a grace to reason,
      And bow and accept the end
      Of a love or a season?

      Reluctance *


      Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
      I took the one less travelled by,
      And that has made all the difference.

      The Road Not Taken *


      The fact is the sweetest dream that labor knows.
      My long scythe whispered to the ground and left the hay to make.

      Mowing *10


      but death went on and on
      never looking aside

      except now and then
      with a furtive half-smile
      to make sure I was noticing.

      On Being Asked To Write A Poem Against The War In Vietnam **


      Always I wanted to give and in wanting was
      the poet. A man now, aging, I know the best
      of love is not to bestow, but to recognize.

      Sonnet #10 **


      And I stopped. I
      was about to say the grave of God
      until I realized I’m looking at it
      all the time. . . .

      Graves **11

These are the kind of endings that Dr. Johnson must have had in mind when he wrote: “The only end of writing is to enable the readers to enjoy life or better endure it.” But how are they achieved? One of the suasoriae’s greatest assets is that it allows poets to set the conditions whereby the reader actually yearns for the lesson to be imparted and thus does not mind the lofty tone as the quaestiones infinitae are pondered. In any other context, we would find such pearls too pedantic, or worse, condescending, yet rhetoric and its capacity for the Volta, allows for the incantation to deliver its venom by lacing the cup with honey (more on Lucretius later). For now, the argument leads us to the synthesis that this paper is attempting. Following the romantic rejection of rhetoric, there has been a progression towards a poetics of asides, ruminations and a Hamlet-like obsession with the subject—a trend that culminated in the overkill of the confessional lyric and the de-fragmentation of language that resulted shortly after that,12 surely an understandable reaction once such an impasse is reached.13 Most poetry since has been characterised by an uninformed re-invention of stanzaic, metrical and/or sonorous experimentation. Nevertheless, rather than perceiving rhetoric as an antithesis of poetry, one should realize that emotions and perceptions from the within—that hallmark of the armchair pasha poet—are insufficient to sustain either the reader’s prolonged attention or a sense of drama and importance. In the Evagoras (9:9-11) Isocrates discussed the ‘difficulty of writing elegies’ without the aid of metrical scaffolding and the argumentative poetic license. In classical times, the union of poetry and rhetoric was deemed not only complementary but also essential by the widest range of poets and orators. In her essay Poetry and Rhetoric, Ruth Webb quotes a remark by Theophrastus:

      Poetry and rhetoric are both considered to be directed towards the audience (in contrast to philosophy which is directed towards its subject matter.) Poetry, moreover, has always shared certain functions with epideictic rhetoric, such as the public praise of rulers and patrons in works originally composed for a particular audience or occasion. (Webb, 340)

Coincidentally, Aristotle’s words on the epideictic echo a quotation from Frost used earlier in this essay14:

      The present is the most important; for all speakers praise or blame in regard to existing qualities, but they often make use of other things, both reminding [the audience] of the past and projecting the course of the future. (Rhetoric, 1358b)

Frost and Carruth utilized the dark pastoral to intimate how nature’s brutal laws are an adequate definition by which man can define his chaotic existence—but only if the speaker’s grasp of drama can sustain the rhetoric that must arise out of that confusion. Revealing chaos is no great task; providing a way out, on the other hand, is where true art begins. Frost once signed a Christmas card “a Lucretian abstainer from politics” (Untermeyer, 335). Lucretius himself used the rhetorical to move and persuade the audience in De Rerum Natura, placing his subject matter before the eyes of the reader, answering imaginary objections and constructing his arguments carefully, point by point. It is from Lucretius and Ovid and not Horace and Virgil that both Frost and Carruth adopted their use of prosopopoeia against nature. To conclude this section on rhetorical subterfuge, it seems worthwhile to note that though down-to-earth, Frost was a highly literary poet, having studied classics and philosophy for two years at Harvard. This is not necessarily a bad thing in the context of accessibility. These days ‘literary’ is an adjective that hints at a wilful obscurity. In the case of Frost, however, the cultural cargo present in the poems is a knee-jerk reaction to the overtly sophisticated references popular with literary and academic circles - environments with which Frost was never quite properly at ease. The rhetorical undertones we read in between the lines proved to be the antidote to that dislike.


Go Down Logos?


Perceptive critics will have by now realized that like Frost, most contemporary poets would benefit from a similar antidote to rejuvenate their craft. In a recent article published in the pages of Poetry, Clive James echoed the sentiments of many when he wrote:

      The idea that a poem can be made poetic by its structure alone is open to question, at the very least. I [. . .] would still like to contend, however, that any poem which comes to exist without having first been built [. . .] might be destined for the same pit of oblivion that all the well-wrought dross went into. Such a fate [. . .] seems especially likely when the poem without form has nothing else to grab your attention either: no [. . .] little low heavens, no gauze babushkas, nothing to see or even hear. Today’s deliberately empty poetry [. . .] can get a reputation for a time: there will always be a residency for J.H. Prynne. But it will never be as [. . .] interesting as the question of how it got there.

This is true to a certain extent. The finest poets were indeed aware of the need to emphasize the simple to convey the complex. If we take Frost’s conscious projection of a faux-naïf ruralism as part of his efforts to convey his deeply pessimistic and bitter undertone and thus grapple with the larger existential themes—we can agree with James. Nevertheless, this should come with a recognition that the country bumpkin persona was, to borrow from Catholic phraseology, a holy trinity of ethos, pathos and logos that Frost took full and unabashed advantage of. It was shameless, but necessary posturing, if the quality of the poetry is anything to go by, and it is.
     We should open ourselves to the possibility that Frost’s enduring popularity and reputation relies on the widely held perception that the man voiced nature and not the other way around. We do not question him because we are overpowered by the respect we attribute to his empirical research into the primal aspects of what it is to live, to love, to realize our ultimate failure in both and then die. Much of the same can be said for Carruth. This is not, as William James would have us believe, the American spirit combining empiricism with spirituality. It is a rejection of that. It is using the half-spoken truths that we cannot bear to utter in their barest simplicity to create a theatre where the flaws of the character are enshrined in the admiration of resistance—of the will to overcome—that is strangely only made stronger by the stubborn refusal to give in. The lines from Beckett’s The Unnamable: “I can’t go. I’ll go on” seem to sum this up pretty well.
     Brodsky believed there had been two great revolutions in poetics since the Middle Ages. The first was the disappearance of allegory with Spenser, while the second was the end of the rhetorical with the advent of Romanticism. Arguably we could add a third to that list, the shifting of envoi from the poet to the reader—the ‘accredited’ reader at that. As we have seen, both Frost and Carruth reveal that in order to endow the subject with creditable sway and influence over the reader’s memory and imagination, one must present a coherent vision of the logos, an argumentative force that stems from the one realm of public knowledge that still holds out in the jaded collective consciousness: the universality of human emotions, primarily those derived out of fear and neuroses. Questions over the ‘death of the metaphor’ have in recent times arisen out of an over-abundance of imagery-driven poetry. In his preface to Saint-John Perse’s Anabasis, Eliot contended:

      If an arrangement of imagery requires just as much fundamental brain work as the arrangement of an argument, it is to be expected that the reader of a poem should take at least as much trouble as a barrister reading an important decision on a complicated case. (‘Preface’, 8)

Take Hart Crane. Even his most perceptive detractors appreciate the momentum that the emotional effect underlying his abstruse cornucopia delivers. Subtract argumentation and the poetic equation bottoms out—leaving drama as the unknown variable. As a result, the poet is confined to the middle range of experience and loses the intense state of consciousness that can free him to explore the quaestiones infinitae. Obstruct it and both poet and reader are left with grappling too limited a spectrum of humanity. Sacrifice the vision and the visionary for the sake of inclusion and pretty soon the membership card is worthless. Santayana offers some words on the matter:

      An ultimate ideal is no mere vision of the philosophical dreamer, but a powerful and passionate force in the poet and orator. It is the voice of his love or hate, of his hope or sorrow, idealizing, challenging or condemning the world. (Santayana, p.90)

Like the other ‘either/ors’ listed above, morality or its absence is a fiction. Yet rhetoric’s value rests in the undressing of those fictions which as Robinson Jeffers wrote in his ‘Inscription for a Gravestone’, we “shed/like athletes stripping for the race.” Without this process there is little chance of a poetry that establishes both the individuality of the artist and is able to express the concerns of his community. Moral relativism is what is gained from an overabundance of pathos and ethos without the mediating filter of the logos. That relativism may be in tune with democratic and populist sensibilities and likewise accord a contemporary poem with a degree of interpretative elasticity, but it will never reach the heights of true genius. Man and woman, individual and community, reality and ideal should, as in one of Carruth’s late poems,

      . . . go down plunge
      to the purge of sand
      vanish together
      hand in hand


Works Cited:


Auden, W.H., The Dyer's Hand and Other Essays (New York: Vintage Books, 1989)

—, The Complete Works of W.H. Auden: Prose Volume III 1949-1955 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP, 2008)

Brodsky, J., On Grief and Reason: Essays (New York: Hamish Hamilton, 1995)

Carruth, H., Collected Shorter Poems, 1946-1991 (Port Townsend: Copper Canyon Press, 1992)

Carruth, H., Selected Essays and Reviews (Port Townsend: Copper Canyon Press, 1996)

Eliot, T.S., “Preface to Anabasis” (London: Faber & Faber, 1930)

—, The Sacred Wood, Essays on Poetry and Criticism (London: Faber & Faber, 1997)

Faggen, R., The Cambridge Companion to Robert Frost (Cambridge: CUP, 2001)

Frost, R., The Collected Poems (Boston: Holt, 1979)

James, C., 'Little Low Heavens' in Poetry [Chicago], Volume CXCIII, No. 1

Jarrell, R., No Other Book: Selected Essays (New York: Harper Collins, 2000)

Pound, E., Literary Essays of Ezra Pound (New York: New Directions, 1968)

Santayana, G., Interpretations of Poetry and Religion, Vol. 2 (New York: Scribner, 1936)

Untermeyer, L., (ed.), The Letters of R. Frost to L. Untermeyer (New York: H, R & W, 1963)

Virgil, The Georgics (London: Penguin, 1982)

Walcott, D., What the Twilight Says: Essays (New York: FSG, 1999)

Webb, R., 'Rhetoric and Poetry' in Handbook on Classical Rhetoric in the Hellenistic Period (330B.C.-A.D.400), ed. S. Porter (Leiden, 1997) pp. 339-69


1     No doubt a result of numerous traumatic school day experiences when portions of the Aeneid were forced down young gullets like castor oil.

2     Eliot unfortunately was one of them; Robert Faggen does no better.

3     ‘Hard labour overcomes everything’

4     One must experiment to prove a craftsman’s capacity to update—as if poetry were some kind of software.

5     Notable examples are Keats’ Grecian Urn and Rilke’s Apollo.

6     It is no wonder that volumes of correspondence are often best sellers, the human ear and mind yearns for the interplay of characters; their virtual absence in poetry has shifted that desire towards the epistolary and the biography. The Heroides’ fictitious heroines are the spurned lovers that the modern reader now follows via celebrity columns.

7     See Quintilian’s Institutes of Oratory.

8     One in a long line of literary transvestites; of course, these days men are forbidden from writing about women, lest charges of sexism be brought against them.

9     The writer would like to point out that his use of the term ‘Volta’ is to be excised from its usual context as the so-called dramatic turn at the end of an octave in a sonnet. In this paper it is used as a synonym for the sententiae or adage at the end of a poem. Both occupy the territory of dramatic variation and will be used interchangeably throughout the remainder of the essay.

10    * Frost

11    ** Carruth

12    Think L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E and though we may find it distasteful, think we must.

13    The writer doesn’t really see this as ‘understandable,’ but is treating it as an exercise in diplomacy.

14    Refer to page six—the excerpt from Frost’s letter to L. Untermeyer.