Book Review: In the Clearing by Robert Frost (1962)

I bought this book at a yard sale some years ago, and I’ve decided recently to add a volume of poetry to my mix of books on my nightstand (after my experience with the book of Leonard Cohen’s selected poems). So I read this book.

It’s only 100 pages of primary material, and doesn’t represent a collection of material showing a poet’s evolution. Hence, I could enjoy it and the poems within it much more easily and much more viscerally than I could something with footnotes or 40 page introductions indicating why the poet was good.

Oddly enough, Robert Frost published this book in 1962, which is within the span of years contained within the four volumes in the Leonard Cohen selection (1956-1968). Cohen’s material seems much more contemporary and Frost’s more archaic, but the lack of “sophistication” belies some powerful poetry.

Frost rhymes almost exclusively, and any serious poet who attended college gets that beaten out of them pretty effectively (and unserious poets rarely bother). So a contemporary reader, even I, can find himself or herself pooh-poohing the rhymes as unsophisticated. Sometimes, they are; he rhymes US with Russ (for Russian) at one point. I gave that up early in college, and prefer to work a little harder to make rhymes work.

But if you spend too much time carping about the rhymes and the simplicity of the language of the poems, you miss out on Frost’s ability to nail a phrase or line that captures something of human experience that you’ll want to quote and that his simplistic poems often have deeper meanings below the surface that you can fathom without a copy of the Oxford English Dictionary and certain material related to the Kabbalah.

So read more Frost. I knew once that it was good (high school, before I became more “educated” in my poetry tastes) and now again.

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