Robert Frost would’ve voted for Elizabeth Warren

Poet’s Notebook.

click to enlarge Robert Frost would’ve voted for Elizabeth Warren
Jeanne Meinke

Frost-ing the candidates

I advocate a semi-revolution.

The trouble with a total revolution

(Ask any reputable Rosicrucian)

Is that it brings the same class up on top.

Executives of skillful execution

Will therefore plan to go halfway and stop.

Robert Frost would have slightly smiled (he seldom laughed out loud) at the Democrats’ recent debates. The circular firing squad did little to clarify their positions, but gave Republicans a basket of one-liners to use in the upcoming — but still far, far, away — presidential contest. Frost was a pragmatist with little patience; he couldn’t have sat through all six hours of the programs.

Frost, America’s unofficial Poet Laureate, was a conservative interested in politics, but as Republicans weren’t interested in poetry, he wound up becoming friends with Vice President Henry Wallace and President John F. Kennedy, reading at Kennedy’s Inauguration in 1961 (Frank Sinatra headed the Inauguration Ball — the Dems had good taste in those days!). Frost died peacefully in 1963; a blessing he didn’t have to learn about Kennedy’s assassination a few months later.

Only five poets have read at our presidential inaugurations: Frost at Kennedy’s, Maya Angelou and Miller Williams at Bill Clinton’s, Elizabeth Alexander and Richard Blanco at Barack Obama’s. (It’s doubtful that President Trump could name a single poem, much less a poet.)

Frost’s poem is quoted today because a semi-revolution would be good advice to the Democrats. He liked thinking big, but taking careful steps to reach his vision. “Before I built a wall I’d ask to know/What I was walling in or walling out,/And to whom I was like to give offense.” (“A fence!” — he liked puns, too.) Even his visions were specific: “Magnified apples appear and disappear,/Stem end and blossom end,/And every fleck of russet showing clear.”

Frost distrusted abstractions like “liberal” or “conservative,” although he did observe that “I never dared to be radical when young, for fear it would make me conservative when old.” Listening to the 20 earnest people pontificating behind their podiums, I’d guess Frost would’ve voted for Elizabeth Warren, by far the most specific of the speakers. He really liked school teachers and smart women: His mother Isabelle was a teacher who introduced him to literature and poetry, and his future wife Elinor and he were co-valedictorians at Lawrence High School in 1892. To write his poems, Frost had to know the basics as well as the classics. Then he had to learn the details of the pastures, woods and farms of New Hampshire.

Recently Republican columnist David Brooks complained that, “Over the past 20 years one group has shifted to an outstanding degree: highly educated white Democrats. I’m not sure I understand why this group has undergone such a transformation, but it has and the effects are reshaping our politics.” Well, the answer’s included in his question: They’ve transformed because they’re highly educated. Frost would have approved of that. Education, with a little help from poetry, is the best way to go after the large problems that face our country and our lives: race, health care, climate change, inequality, et al. Shall we call everybody a racist? Racism is in the air we breathe. Are all men sexist? Sexism flows in with mother’s milk. Shall we tear down the world? Frost studied evolution on his farms, and understood the slow development of the human race. But there is development, and both men and women have taken part in this. 

The 20 Democrats up there were a pretty smart group of politicians (compare them with Trump’s appointments and nominations), with diverse ideas, but they agreed on the main things. Still, Warren’s platform has more specificity and less aggression than the others. Bernie’s good, Biden’s likable, Booker’s cool, Buttigieg’s eloquent, Williamson’s angelic, and Kamela has spunk, but Warren recognizes with Frost that “revolutions are the only salves”; she may be a visionary capitalist, but she’s a teacher: Let’s move forward, chapter by chapter.

Yes, revolutions are the only salves,

But they’re one thing that should be done by halves.

—both quotes from “A Semi-Revolution” by Robert Frost (1874-1963) 

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