I will always have a soft spot for Frost because his “Mending Wall” was the first poem to challenge my stubborn belief as a teenager that poetry must rhyme to be enjoyable. That poem helped me develop an appreciation for the wordsmithing that can be involved in the creation of blank verse and enabled me to enjoy much more of this collection than I would have so many years ago. Perhaps part of what makes Frost accessible is his evident love of nature, his ability to find inspiration in simple things and his avoidance of the self-indulgent, wilful obscurity that plagues so much art, in my opinion (i.e. if you can’t understand it, that must mean the creator was a genius, and if you can manage to read deep meaning into it, guess what…the creator must have been a genius).
Why I read it: I think I originally bought this to send to my brother because he doesn’t like poetry much…yet. Unfortunately for him, I think I must keep it instead.
Because I can’t resist, here are just a couple of my favourite poems from this collection (of which they are not strictly representative):
We make ourselves a place apart
Behind light words that tease and flout,
But oh, the agitated heart
Till someone really find us out.
‘Tis pity if the case require
(Or so we say) that in the end
We speak the literal to inspire
The understanding of a friend.
But so with all, from babes that play
At hide-and-seek to God afar,
So all who hide too well away
Must speak and tell us where they are.
BOND AND FREE
Love has earth to which she clings
With hills and circling arms about–
Wall within wall to shut fear out.
But Thought has need of no such things,
For Thought has a pair of dauntless wings.
On snow and sand and turf, I see
Where Love has left a printed trace
With straining in the world’s embrace.
And such is Love and glad to be.
But Thought has shaken his ankles free.
Thought cleaves the interstellar gloom
And sits in Sirius’ disc all night,
Till day makes him retrace his flight,
With smell of burning on every plume,
Back past the sun to an earthly room.
His gains in heaven are what they are.
Yet some say Love by being thrall
And simply staying possesses all
In several beauty that Thought fares far
To find fused in another star.
He is no fugitive–escaped, escaping.
No one has seen him stumble looking back.
His fear is not behind him but beside him
On either hand to make his course perhaps
A crooked straightness yet no less a straightness.
He runs face forward. He is a pursuer.
He seeks a seeker who in his turn seeks
Another still, lost far into the distance.
Any who seek him seek in him the seeker.
His life is a pursuit of a pursuit forever.
It is the future that creates his present.
All is an interminable chain of longing.
The rare combination of humility and genius is as beautiful as it is surprising, especially when encountered in one of the greatest physicists of the modern age. These three lectures, given at the University of Washington in 1963, explore a variety of unscientific topics–from politics to religion–and surprisingly, do not provide any answers. What they do give, however, is the opportunity to see non-scientific issues from the point of view of a scientific genius. This point of view is very different from the arrogant, condescending, closed-minded attitude that comes across from many figures in popular science, who seem to feel that their expertise in a narrow field qualifies them to make pronouncements on everything. In fact, the emotion that stands out most in these lectures is doubt. Not a lazy, depressing, hopeless sort of doubt, but a humble, searching doubt that fuels relentless curiosity. Feynman seems unwaveringly respectful of opinions and beliefs that contradict his own, while applying a formidable intellect and rational approach to the less scientific aspects of human existence.
Why I read it: I’ve enjoyed the two other books by Feynman I’ve read (QED and Six Easy Pieces) and jumped at the chance to read a less challenging book by him when I came across it in Henderson Books.