April 2014 Vol. 112 No. 6 THE REVIEW

Classic Revisited – Frost for Lawyers: "The Best Thing That We're Put Here For's to See"

Sherman J. Clark

The Poetry of Robert Frost: The Collected Poems. Edited by Edward Connery Lathem. New York: Henry Holt and Co. 1969. Pp. xx, 521. $37.50

Why should lawyers read Frost? First of all, of course, it can bring great pleasure. As Robert Pinsky put it, poetry brings pleasures "both intellectual and bodily" and can provide "a satisfaction central to life." And this is particularly true of Frost, whose poems are both accessible and enjoyable. This does not mean that there are no challenges in his poems. Frost does make us work. Indeed, as I hope to explore in this Essay, the work he asks us to do is essential to what we can learn from his poems. But this work is itself engaging and invigorating-like the exhilarating challenge of rock climbing. Or, for those inclined to more grounded pleasures, it is akin perhaps to the satisfaction one can get from the hard, rewarding work of splitting wood, which Frost, through his narrator in "Two Tramps in Mud Time," describes this way:

You'd think I never had felt before

The weight of an ax-head poised aloft,

The grip on earth of outspread feet,

The life of muscles rocking soft

And smooth and moist in vernal heat. (p. 276)

Both intellectual and bodily indeed.

But along with these essential pleasures, what can we get and learn from Frost? Granted that we may want to read Frost, why might it be a good thing for lawyers, in particular, to do so? It is not because Frost's poetry teaches lessons about the law in any direct sense. Frost wrote poems, not lessons-let alone lessons for lawyers. His poems are true pictures of life and the world, not fables with easy morals. As a result, what we can learn from Frost comes less from the poems than through them. It comes through reflection on the things he shows us so honestly and well. And, more deeply, it comes through the very experience of reading the poems. Here, I consider some of the ways in which we might be enriched by both the things Frost shows us and the ways he helps us see. I hope to suggest that the enjoyable challenge offered by Frost can engender capacities and habits of mind that can be valuable, even ennobling, both in our lives and in our work.

 

 

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