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"I am probably the only proletarian in America" chuckled Robert Frost, poetic interpreter of the New England spirit and current Charles Eliot Norton lecturer, as he chatted of poetry, Harvard and of life in general.
Discussing the many jobs of various natures he held in his younger days, Mr. Frost said: "I was at Dartmouth for a while, and during the five years between that and the time I entered Harvard I did all kinds of work imaginable-factory hand, cobbler, mill worker, reporter and editor on the Lawrence, Mass., "Sentinel". A lot of these fellows who rave about the troubles of the "working class" probably never saw the inside of a mill in their lives!"
"Too many writers of today are going bitter on us," continued the poet. "I am shocked at the amount of really vitriolic, filthy sarcasm which is published today: I'm glad I have enough oil in my feathers to disregard it! Much of it, I feel, comes from the sense of personal frustration and tragedy which accompanies the feeling that one has 'sold out' to the forces of materialism which keep prodding an author to 'produce.' Many writers yield to the publishers' request for a second book to meet the demand caused by the popularity of a successful first attempt. The quality of their work usually suffers, their reputation wanes, and their outlook on life becomes warped and caustic.
"I see so much of this sort of personal tragedy around me," stated Mr. Frost: "It may come from either victory or defeat-either one may distort one's personal standard of values and produce disillusionment. But although individual sorrows are unfortunate, I feel that they offer the only true subject for tragedy. The tragedy of the 'forgotten man,' of economic misfortune, can never reach great heights. The drama of deep personal woe, which is nobody's fault, but which comes from an inevitable accumulation of adversities, is the only legitimate subject for real tragedy."
Mr. Frost left Harvard in 1899 not because he was "escaping" from formal college work, but because he was "pursuing" poetry, he asserted. "Perhaps it was rather a lazy pursuit," he admitted, "but I was restless, and had the urge to write. It seems to me that the process of all creative writing is the eternal seeking for the expression of an ideal-aiming at a perfect conception which we never quite hit. With each successive effort we think we have it, but somehow we just barely miss.
"One of the few friends I made at Harvard was the man who translated the Odyssey next to me on a narrow bench in Sever Hall," smiled the poet. "I bad a passion for Latin and Greek when I was in college. Professor Morison to the contrary, I was not driven from Harvard by the daily theme requirement, as I took no English courses which required daily themes; to prove to you that I was a worker, however, I may say that I took voluntary composition courses in Greek and Latin.
"I was also much interested in philosophy, and studied under Santayana, Royce, Munsterburg, and Palmer during my two years' stay at Harvard. Of course I enjoyed all four extremely, but I cannot say that any one of them had an outstandingly great influence on my mind. I had intended to take a course under William James, but left college before this desire could be realized."
When asked whether a poet could write on subjects with which he had no acquaintance, Mr. Frost replied that the substance of poetry, although it might not come from the writer's own experience, must at least be the product of his contacts with books, works of art, or people.
"Inspiration," he asserted, "Is not a method of creating a character, situation or place which is entirely hypothetical; it is rather an imaginative seizure in which the mind of the poet extends, arranges, or blends the information which he has obtained from his actual contact with the world. It is by these extensions and adaptations of his material to fit his own personality-his interpretation of life-that the quality of a man's work is judged."
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