Robert Frost Gave Me a Piece of Advice—but He Forbid Me to Speak of It in His Lifetime
For the great Robert Frost the best anthology of poetry was the one not written.
Courtesy David Keller/ReminisceAs a member of the administrative staff at Ohio University in Athens, Ohio, I had the pleasant assignment of escorting the dean of American poetry, Robert Frost, around the campus during his two-day visit there in the spring of 1960. This involved accompanying him while he visited literature classes, read his poems at a convocation, and—the thing he liked best—strolled the grounds, talking with students.
“I learn so much from the things they tell me,” he said.
Students were enchanted by their encounters with the 85-year-old and four-time Pulitzer Prize winner, who in 1961 would become the first poet to take part in a presidential inauguration ceremony. (These inspirational poems will warm your heart.)
His responses to the students seemed so natural yet so profound that I couldn’t determine whether they were spontaneous or thought out in advance.
His most memorable remark obviously was preplanned, though I have never encountered it in print. He said, “It’s only having been contrasted that bad and good so long have lasted.”
One of the few times we were alone, I mentioned in passing that I wrote part time and hoped to make it a career. I tried to drop the subject quickly so it wouldn’t seem that I was seeking his advice. But his reaction was as abrupt as it was startling. (These are the most iconic books set in every state.)
“Well, whatever you do,” he said gruffly, “don’t write an anthology.” He went on to deride the concept of anthologies, including those around his own poetry. All they amount to are collections of works “accompanied by the collectors’ interpretations of meanings the authors never intended.”
Then a devilish twinkle glowed in his eyes. “I don’t ordinarily make such an admission on a college campus because I’m certain you have professors here who do anthologies.”
He added conspiratorially, “I’ll expect you to say nothing about it until I’m dead and gone.”
Later I realized he must have been testing me, but I never was sure. I played it safe, in any case, never putting it in writing until now, though Robert Frost died in 1963.
I also have never given the slightest thought to doing an anthology.