Birthdays over the weekend.

It was the birthday of Robert Frost, born in San Francisco (1874). He cultivated the image of a rural New England poet with a pleasant disposition, but Frost’s personal life was full of tragedy and he suffered from dark depressions.
He graduated from high school at the top of his class but dropped out of Dartmouth after a semester and tried to convince his high school co-valedictorian, Elinor White, to marry him immediately. She refused and insisted on finishing college first. They did marry after she graduated, and it was a union that would be filled with losses and feelings of alienation. Their first son died from cholera at age three; Frost blamed himself for not calling a doctor earlier and believed that God was punishing him for it. His health declined, and his wife became depressed. In 1907, they had a daughter who died three days after birth, and a few years later Elinor had a miscarriage. Within a couple years, his sister Jeanie died in a mental hospital, and his daughter Marjorie, of whom he was extremely fond, was hospitalized with tuberculosis. Marjorie died a slow death after getting married and giving birth, and a few years later, Frost’s wife died from heart failure. His adult son, Carol, had become increasingly distraught, and Frost went to visit him and to talk him out of suicide. Thinking the crisis had passed, he returned home, and shortly afterward his son shot himself. He also had to commit his daughter Irma to a mental hospital.
His behavior became erratic at times and worried people. He asked the wife of a colleague to marry him and she refused, though did agree to work for him as a secretary and tour manager. President John F. Kennedy would later say of Frost that his “sense of the human tragedy fortified him against self-deception and easy consolation” and that his poetry had a “tide that lifts all spirits.” Even during periods of deep depression, he drew large crowds to his immensely popular poetry readings, which he preferred to call poetry “sayings.”
He said: “A poem begins with a lump in the throat; a homesickness or a love-sickness. It is a reaching out toward expression, an effort to find fulfillment. A complete poem is one where an emotion has found its thought and the thought has found the word.”
And, “A poem begins in delight and ends in wisdom.”
And, “Love is an irresistible desire to be irresistibly desired.”
And, “In three words I can sum up everything I’ve learned about life: it goes on.”


Also, it was the birthday of A.E. Housman, born in Fockbury, Worcestershire, England (1859). He wrote only two volumes of poetry in his lifetime; A Shropshire Lad (1896), and Last Poems (1922). He studied classics at Oxford, but finished without much distinction, and ended up with a job in the Patent Office. When he finished work every afternoon, he went to the British Museum, where he pored over Latin manuscripts. He had an uncanny gift for identifying errors in transcription, and he began to produce new editions of Latin classics, earning, over a period of years, a towering reputation in the field.
As a classicist and critic, he could be merciless. He kept notebooks primed with devastating phrases to be used against those whose behavior or scholarship had displeased him. In one book review he wrote, “The author’s arguments are all two-edged, but both edges are blunt.”
He eventually won a professorship at Cambridge. When his students and co-workers discovered he was the author of the poems in A Shropshire Lad, they couldn’t believe that the reclusive, dour man they knew had written such openhearted poetry. He began to write the poems while he was still in London; at the time, he had never been to Shropshire. Even after he began to make trips there, he felt free to change the details he saw, transferring hills and steeples to other places. Later, when readers started to make pilgrimages there, they often had difficulty locating the landmarks in the poems; Housman had moved them.
A.E. Housman said: “I could no more define poetry than a terrier can define a rat.”
In his poem “Terence, This Is Stupid Stuff,” he wrote:
“Down in lovely muck I’ve lain,
Happy till I woke again.
Then I saw the morning sky:
Heigho, the tale was all a lie;
The world, it was the old world yet,
I was I, my things were wet,
And nothing now remained to do
But begin the game anew.”

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