Friday, August 21, 2015


[No online link available.]

[But there is a facsimile of the MS of DS 230 here {last of the 4 links, p.92}]

A memory of a visit with Robert Frost, who had insulted B. once and actually apologized for it. Two things stand out. One is that assertion that no man is great. We simply fight, and some win. Greatness is bestowed, not an intrinsic quality. Greatness comes from medals around your neck and the laurel wreath on your head. You earn such accolades through competition and victory. The second thing is that B. admits he always comes in prostrate when he compares himself to Yeats and Frost, a sentiment that can only arise from his own driving competitiveness. 

Frost was a great poet, and much loved as a poet, but his reputation as a person was that he was irascible at best and at times cruel. Who knows Robert Frost as anything but legend? I don’t. Same with Shakespeare, same with Milton, every writer we remember. Yeats? That he was consumed with a passion to marry Maud Gonne—who turned him down four or five times—was a constant heartache for the living man. He felt it as it drained him, ate at him, inspired him. Now, that passion is nothing more than part of his echoing story. If that sense of longing and unrequited passion found its way into the emotional fabric of his work, so much the better for us. But the living man’s living passion is long dead. It was his. He’s dead. Its capture in language sort of lives on if a reader has the skill, sensitivity and empathy to recreate it—but still, it’s the reader’s construct, not Yeats’s real, living deal. Still, Yeats’s work can certainly trigger that feeling, like here, if you let it. It works better if you know the feeling yourself, have been in love with somebody who didn’t return that love or even care for it. It does help to know something of Yeats’s life, but in the end it doesn’t matter that much. I know absolutely nothing—zilch—of e.e. cummings’s life, but I can’t think of many lovelier love poems than this one. We make what we do of it, and here’s someone with talent at making live a new interpretation, putting his take on it out in the world, while he was still alive, and still young and with lots of hair.

For a musician, interpretation is often an aspect of the fight. For an actor, it almost always is. For a poet, invention is the main event. B. spent time worrying, and it made its way into his work, whether he was number one or not, whether he was pulling ahead in the grand poetic horse race. This comes as well with a recognition of the competitive hubris of such a conception, and not a few “I’m not worthy” moments as well. Me, I didn’t come here to learn about this kind of thing in particular, the competition of art and creativity, but now that I’m here—I’m paying attention. It’s decorative gourd season.

1 comment:

  1. "I sat there full of love / salt with attention" So good!

    I think, in this poem, when B says we all fight, some better than others, he doesn't mean that some win. Just that some do better. While B was competitive, I don't see his reflections here as win/lose. He's wrestling with his conception of greatness, and his own ego vs admiration.