New Hampshire’s Mount Washington Hotel is big and pompous in a subdued New England way, recalling a time when one did not “vacation,” one “summered.” I was there for a conference last week and needed a break.
Beside the fireplace were some antique golf clubs: a dusty driver, a five, a three. I walked over, started fiddling with the clubs, and said:
“Whose woods these are I think I know. His putter’s in the village though.”
Robert Frost turned a cold gaze towards me. Foolishly, I pressed on.
“How do you find the hotel? Are the accommodations to your liking? Or do you lie awake pondering the room not taken?”
“Sure is a big hotel. I was down in the conference area chatting with a colleague about the distance to the rooms, and she said, ‘I have miles to go before I sleep…’”
Robert Frost pulled himself upright, glared and said, “I hold it to be an inalienable right of anybody to go to hell in his own way.”
I blushed and chuckled awkwardly. I nearly backed off but, how often do you get to talk to a beloved dead poet? I looked about the vast lobby. Here and there, other guests were enclosed in their own bubbles, texting, tweeting, deploying cartoon birds. Over by the ballroom, John Irving was arguing loudly with the late J.D. Salinger.
“I’m sorry, Mr. Frost,” I stuttered, “but I’m a little nervous. It’s honestly such a pleasure to meet you. I’d be so happy if I could sit with you for just a minute.”
His eyes softened. “Happiness makes up in height for what it lacks in length,” he said, and gestured to the sofa across from him.
I sat facing the great poet. He folded his hands, waiting for me to speak.
“Do you worry?” I asked at last. “I mean about poetry? Not even pure poetry but language in general. Do you think anyone cares? I mean, who even aspires to be a poet anymore?”
Robert Frost leaned forward: “To be a poet is a condition, not a profession.”
“Perhaps,” I said. “But it seems that even though there’s more written word than ever – websites, blogs, Facebook – everywhere! – language itself is devalued.”
Robert Frost nodded: “Half the world is composed of people who have something to say and can’t, and the other half who have nothing to say and keep on saying it.”
“Exactly!” I said. “And those who can express themselves feel safer tweeting ironic quips or terrible puns than composing anything even close to poetry. Everybody’s a wise guy. And when someone does create beauty, no one cares. Should artists just give up?”
Robert Frost warmed his hands against the fire. “Ah, when to the heart of man / Was it ever less than a treason / To go with the drift of things, / To yield with a grace to reason, / And bow and accept the end / Of a love or a season?”
“Now, see, you’ve lost me.”
“We dance round in a ring and suppose, / But the Secret sits in the middle and knows,” said Robert Frost standing up and letting a melancholy smile pass his face. I stood as well.
“Hang on,” I said. “Do you have any advice for artists?”
“If you can keep your head when all about you/ Are losing theirs and blaming it on you…” he reached out and shook my hand.
“If… wait a sec, that’s Kipling!”
“Go placidly amid the noise and haste. Don’t worry, be happy. Keep on truckin’,” he said and strode through the doors of the Mount Washington Hotel.
As he disappeared into the White Mountains, I understood that Robert Frost too was a wise guy.
And that has made all the difference.