A Further Range

by Robert Frost
[Holt, $2.50]
I AM limited in space and must say what I wish to say in few words. That is Robert Frost’s own practice in his poetry. I can, at least, pay him the sincere tribute of endeavor.
A Further Range is precisely that. Never has a volume, produced in the midcourse of a poet’s career, received a happier title. This one is small in bulk, but, having read it, one may well say, ‘ Much have I travelled in the realms of gold.’ Golden common sense, inspired common sense — how rarely we find it, in either prose or poetry! In Robert Frost we have a never-failing source of supply, and it becomes more golden as the years pass.
I am not forgetting that we look for something beyond this, in poetry, but the something beyond may be taken for granted in the man who wrote ‘ My November Guest,’‘Going for Water,’ and the other small pieces of perfection scattered through each of his volumes down to this present one. But it seems to me that Mr. Frost has been more concerned with another aspect of poetry; that he is increasingly concerned with it as time goes on. Ever since he first set pen to paper he has been spreading abroad what our modern world may call the dread disease of sanity. In poetry, he has a few able coworkers scattered over the planet, but he is the chief, the fountainhead, as I see it, and his influence grows and grows. From the beginning, his has been the healthy speech of a serene and healthy spirit, and if ever there was a time when gifts such as he brings were needed, surely it is now.
In one of his essays, in ‘ Dreamthorp,’ Alexander Smith says: ‘Consider what a world this would be if ruled by the best thoughts of men of letters! . . . Fancy a world, the affairs of which are directed by Goethe’s wisdom and Goldsmith’s heart ! ’ It is so ruled, I believe, those parts of it that matter. It may be difficult to be convinced of this, at times, and never more so, perhaps, than in these, our times. What we see and hear now are the terrified backing and filling and sail-trimming of our so-called leaders, the howling of politicians, the truculent posturing of stuffed shirts, whether black or brown. But what do their antics amount to, when we take the long view of human affairs? It is the men of letters, musicians, artists, — leaders in the high sense, — whose influence endures. In so far as the United States is concerned, when men have our day in better perspective than we can have it, I should n’t wonder if the year 1936 would be considered chiefly memorable because, in May of that year, A Further Range appeared. Sanity may be more catching than is now supposed.
Recently I heard one of Robert Frost’s sincere admirers lamenting the fact that he keeps silence for so long. He pointed out that A Further Range had been seven years in the making, at least in the appearing. But should this be a matter for regret? For my own part, I take pleasure in thinking of the many pages of poetry that Mr. Frost is not rushing to his publishers. We can well afford to wait for what comes until it does come. He stands alone among his contemporaries in giving us only his best. As he looks back over work accomplished, he need not suffer the anguish of mind which must afflict so many of his fellow poets when they think of their various sins of commission. His silence is of a kind worthy of emulation by all men of letters; his idleness of a kind that Francis Thompson was thinking of when he wrote: —
From stones and poets you may know
Nothing so active is as that which least seems so.
In ‘Not Quite Social’ he says: —
Some of you will be glad I did what I did
And the rest won’t want to punish me too severely
For finding a thing to do that though not forbid
Yet was n’t enjoined and was n’t expected clearly.
One can smile over the ‘was n’t enjoined,’a perfect example of the force in understatement. What Robert Frost found to do, and continues doing to our increasing profit and pleasure, was n’t enjoined — that’s fairly certain. But my belief is that no death tax, not even one of only fairly polite repentance, will ever be required of him, or of his-heirs.