Born in 1947, I came of literary age in the 1960’s—the world of Alan Ginsberg, Anne Sexton, Sylvia Plath, and Frank O’Hara. Robert Frost seemed old fashioned, out of touch, and not too relevant to the way times were changing although I must confess, I had a copy of “The Road Not Taken” taped to the wall over my desk right next to Sylvia Plath’s “Morning Song.” And there had been that magical moment in 1960 when I was 13. I watched with wonder our black and white TV screen as Robert Frost read a poem at the inaugural of our hope-for-the-future--John F. Kennedy. Three years later JFK was dead, the future shattered, the 1960’s were full tilt boogie. The dark side of human nature seemed to be in control. The New England farmer/poet seemed not to be a part of Woodstock, Rock and Roll, Viet Nam and our damaged environment. He was wholesome, rural, a family man, and although a raised a good Democrat, he seemed a little conservative. He seemed boring even though the reading public still bought his books. I didn’t pay too much attention to him even though I knew his poems were among the best in American poetry. “Stopping by the Woods On A Snowy Evening” one of my favorites…
Robert Frost is New England much like Carl Sandberg is Chicago. It was a bit of a surprise to learn details of his early boyhood in rough and tumble, bourbon and brawls San Francisco of the 1870’s and 80’s where his father was politically active newspaper man. Not the farm boy I had imagined. But that all came to an end when his father died of TB and his mom and sister and father’s coffin made the 3000 mile train trip back to Massachusetts where the Frosts were an old Puritan family who his father had fled. His very proper WASP Grandfather wasn’t sure what to do with this boy from out west but they worked it out.
My Bucket List has brought me to Robert Frost and Jean Gold’s 1964 biography “The Aim Was Song.” My Bucket List is to read as many biographies of poets as I can before I die. I have done everything else I want to do. And I want to understand what makes poets tick. Jean Gold didn’t help very much. She is more of a story teller then a biographer. She gets the story right. She was a student of Frosts in Ann Arbor in the 1920’s and then reconnected with him in Vermont shortly before he died where he filled her in on a lot of details about his long and amazing life.
She paints an affectionate and detailed portrait of the poet but as you read it, you can tell she is doing her best to make him look good. His rumored dark side never makes an appearance, the mental health issues in the family are mentioned and left on the back burner and his negative attitudes about society and universities are treated only as virtues. Believe me, those things have two sides. Despite an occasional insight, it is mostly a one dimensional Biography. Plus she constantly refers to Robert Frost as “Rob.” Really annoying. She is neither family nor life-long friend which might give her a right to use the familiar but I never heard of family or friends or anyone else refer to him as “Rob.” Robert Frost is simply not a “Rob.” He is Robert Frost—one of the shinning lights of American Poetry.
"Robert Frost: The Aim was Song", Jean Gould, 1964, Dodd, Mead and Company, New York.