Wednesday, January 20, 2016

the last book I ever read (David Orr's The Road Not Taken, excerpt four)

from The Road Not Taken: Finding America in the Poem Everyone Loves and Almost Everyone Gets Wrong by David Orr:

“Cautious”: not a word Frost would have liked. In his personal life, he was anything but, as is demonstrated by his nearly monomaniacal courtship of his wife, to say nothing of his decision to move to England at age thirty-eight on the basis of a coin toss. (He was much bolder in this regard than almost all of his modernist peers.) And the word seems equally inapplicable to his strongest writing, which is audacious in its willingness to engage multiple audiences (and be judged by them), as well as in its determination to display its technical wizardry in a way that was certain to be initially underestimated. It takes tremendous nerve to be willing to look as if you don’t know what you’re doing, when in fact you’re a master of the activity in question. Even in 1915, for example, it was far from “cautious” for an ambitious poet to open his first book by deliberately rhyming “trees” with “breeze,” a pairing so legendarily banal that it had been famously singled out for derision by Alexander Pope two hundred years earlier. True, Frost became tremendously successful by writing in the way he did, but success in a tricky venture doesn’t make the venture itself any less risky.

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