A Poet Against the Age

I just came across John F. Desmond’s discussion of Robert Frost: The Poet as Philosopher (2008) by Peter J. Stanlis, which originally appeared in Modern Age. I apologize for writing about a topic at third-hand, but I haven’t read Stanlis’ memoir nor am I an expert on Robert Frost. But I admit to enjoying any sort of intellectual literary study, and will note a few interesting points. According to the review

Frost believed with Aristotle that matter and spirit were equally real and that all reality consisted of “things in pairs ordained to everlasting opposition.”… Dualism formed the basis of Frost’s art as well. In an important “Prelude” to his study, Stanlis shows the link between Frost’s dualism and his developing aesthetic creed.

Among other things, this prompted Frost to adopt a modified Darwinism. Like many theists, he accepted it as a plausible scientific model, and added that: “You say God made man of mud, and I think God made man of prepared mud.” For this reason he was opposed to the crassly materialist theories of Thomas Henry Huxley. As a dualist, the poet was antagonistic to all forms of “monism” – the idea that everything in the universe is reducible to one substance.

He extolled the New England virtues of self-reliance, personal freedom, and courage…. At the same time, he affirmed the need for social responsibility and loyalty to region and nation, to counterbalance the “scot-free” impulses in man…. Belief in dualism and the “trial by existence” led Frost to condemn any social or political program that promoted what he saw as a collectivist, monistic social order that weakened individual self-reliance. Thus he opposed Roosevelt’s New Deal, the League of Nations, and the United Nations as illusory attempts to homogenize men and women in ways that undermine the personal struggle with the dualities of good/evil, reason/impulse, freedom/social obligation….. He much admired Newman’s “Idea of a University,” deplored the modern system of “progressive education” at all levels promoted by John Dewey and his minions, which Frost regarded as another pseudo-scientific monism and utopian delusion.

Not having read or written about Frost since early college, this essay taught me a great deal. At some point I look forward to picking up Stanlis’ biography.

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