I was sent a link to an article on the Washington Post website about a group of teenaged kids who broke into Robert Frost‘s old home, and had themselves a party which caused over $10,000 worth of damage.
The twist in the story? Local poet Jay Parini was contacted by the prosecutor in the case:
His idea, which the judge embraced, was that part of the young invaders’ community service would involve discussing Frost’s poetry with me. If they studied with me for a period of time (to be determined by the judge and me), their criminal records in this case would be erased.
I’ll let you read the article yourself for the result. The first thing that struck me (as it did Parini) was offence. Poetry as a punishment?! The kids might think so, but a judge reinforcing that notion?!
Except … this was vandalism of a literary place. Done by people who (presumably) wouldn’t have even considered doing so if they’d had any real appreciation of American poetry, and Robert Frost’s legacy. So yes, it was true “poetic justice” to require them to learn what it was that they had offended against. And Frost was always a poet of common people’s dramas – most of his characters are working class, usually poor, almost always decent. And his poems always echo with the notion of community. Even solitary poems like “Stopping Woods on a Snowy Evening” have that sense of communion, of being part of something beyond yourself. Humility and gratitude. And reverence. Even in the midst of grief. Even in the midst of joy.
I have a friend who once told me that she hadn’t been able to enjoy Robert Frost until she read about his background in rural America. Everything clicked the moment she understood where he was coming from. The context of his work, of his thoughts, his beliefs.
If you think about it, context is what these drunken kids were missing.
And the irony something Frost would have appreciated.