Frost drew comparison between poetry, sports

Posted Dec. 18, 2009, at 11:41 p.m.

’Tis the season to wish for and, if lucky, give or receive the most unlikely of gifts.

These reflections on sports were unexpectedly unwrapped in a book entitled, “Robert Frost Speaking on Campus,” which featured edited lectures and speeches offered by the poet laureate.

At a Dartmouth College lecture in 1953 he spoke of a question often posed: “…what (college) department was nearest of kin” to poetry.

Neither English nor philosophy said Frost. “…I decided that the nearest of kin was the athletic (department).”

“For what reason?” he asked. “Because poetry I regard as a kind of prowess, prowess in performance. It’s performance. It isn’t criticism. It isn’t appreciation. It’s performance. (I think the poetesses and the actresses and all the creative people in the world, they marry athletes. I’m always hearing that. Anyway, they ought to!)”

Sports are performances. Within the framework of “a game” what matters is how an athlete performs. It’s entertainment, nothing more. Sports are one show after another, one season following another, with the results measured by performance.

In another lecture, Frost again went to the sporting arena when discussing poetry. “That’s the part of life that is the most important of all: the gamble and the enterprise.”

Frost said poetry is about. “…bringing expression to a place where you never had it before.” That is the gamble in the enterprise.” He turned to sports again.

“You go to games,” he said, “and all you have to do is set your heart on one side or the other, and win or lose with ’em. You go home defeated or victorious with the team. You get your uncertainty of an afternoon.

“They [fans] get way up, a hope on one touchdown. And then they get way down on two touchdowns by the other side. And they scream and holler,” said Frost.

Frost viewed the poet as more patient than the fan, but not more certain. “I wait till the last thing before I scream. But I’m the same uncertainty.”

That comment reminds one of a lesson taught by Vince Lombardi. A running back scored and became overly exuberant. Lombardi told him, “Next time you make a touchdown, act like you’ve been there before.”

Perhaps Frost would have said, “Be more the poet.”

He said just that at another lecture. “The Romans dragged Christians to the alter of victory. If they wouldn’t bow down to that, they fed ’em to the lions. … That’s vitality — to want to win.”

Frost continued, “But now beyond that — to give that meaning — beyond that is not to be made a fool of by winning or losing, either. (You can be made a fool of by both). …You say, ‘Well, what do I want more than victory?’ Well, I want to behave myself in victory or defeat, ’cause you can have either.”

“This,” said Frost “is where the spiritual begins. “… Just say that much. ‘It seems to be expected of me that I shan’t be made a fool of by either victory or defeat.’ And now you’re up in the spiritual world. And the next thing you know you know, you’re at the top of the Golden Stairs.”

The poet as athlete — the athlete as poet — sports fans should treasure such gifts though they are as rare as Robert Frost or Albert Pujols.

Happy Holidays!

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