My Frost was belligerent. To be belligerent means, to me, to be highly argumentative. The final words Carol Frost said to his father, Robert Frost, before killing himself was this: "You always win an argument, don't you?" My Frost was belligerent in that as a man and poet, he was highly argumentative. According to Biographer William H. Pritchard, Frost, before his son's suicide, "spent his days telling people how to live, and ever once more how to live." The quality that is my pet peeve in others is the tendency to tell people what to do and how to live their lives. Every person is belligerent to some degree in their tendency to look out for the people they love. But it is a life philosophy for me to allow every person to make their own decisions and find their own way in life.
I vividly remember my junior year of college, when two of my roommates confronted me and told me that they were concerned: while dealing and wrestling with family issues, I'd been drinking too much. Although I didn't drink excessively every night, the longest I'd go without a drink was three days. "You know, I have an uncle who can't go to bed unless he had 12 beers a night, and you're starting to remind me of him," one of my roommates told me. I know my roommates were well-intentioned and I appreciated it, but I reacted abrasively to the implication. Normally a docile and peaceful person, I became defensive, interpreting that my roommates were trying to control my life, take away my power of choice, and tell me what to do. I distinctly remember the first thing I did when my roommates expressed their concern and started to equate me to alcoholics they knew in their lives: I went to the fridge and got a beer. No one was going to tell me what to do.
As for my belligerence a year after this experience, the Frost poem "Neither Out Far Nor In Deep" reflects where I am. The first stanza says that people on the beach "turn their back on the land./ They look at the sea all day." We, as humans, are creatures of the land. Yet we look to the sea for what could be. For my Frost and for me, I look to the sea for the choices in my life I could have lived differently. I look to the sea for what I could have said or done differently with my friends. I look to the sea to see that there is a whole world out there beyond my present circumstance. My Frost speaks to me when he says "They cannot look out far./ They cannot look in deep." Right now, I am in a transient state, for I cannot look our far into the future. I cannot look deep to my past. But I have to keep on going, and keep on living, because "when was that ever a bar/ For any watch they keep?"
In response to Carol's suicide, Robert Frost wrote a letter to his longtime friend, Louis Untermeyer, that "I can't myself say how serious the crisis was and how near I came to giving in." Attached to the letter was a poem, "to prayer I think I go…," a poem that Frost biographer, Lawrence Thompson, regarded as a suicide poem, a poem so raw that Frost deliberately chose to exclude from A Witness Tree. Frost writes that
"I go to prayer -
Along a darkened corridor of woe.
And down a stair In every step of which I am abased."
In being abased, my Frost casts himself as a repentant sinner who, in the words of William Pritchard, "embraces his fate in the most abject possible manner." Robert Frost ends "to prayer I think I go…" with the scattered lines that
"There I will throw me down an unconsoled
And utter loss,
And spread out in the figure of a cross. -
Oh, if religion's not to be my fate
I must be spoken to and told
Before too late!"
These lines may suggest that Frost turned to religion in the face of his tragedy and utter loss, and evidence seems to point to that conclusion in Frost's growing close relationship with Rabbi Victor Reichert as he aged. Also in the letter to Untermeyer, Frost wrote that "I believe I am safely secular till the last go down," showing, in the words of Pritchard, he believed the alternative to secularism is not death by suicide but rather religious faith. In the face of the broken tragedy of my own life, I have to confidently claim that religion is to be my fate, that prayer is where I will go. What other choice do I have? I was belligerent in the sense that my Frost was belligerent. I used always to get into heated political arguments about populism and the understated role of class in modern day American politics. I grew up in a poor immigrant family, that to this day, makes ends meet by renting out rooms in the house to tenants, yet I cannot see how that part of my background, at least, matters in the grand scheme of my relationships with people I love. To prayer I think I go, because I know that all things, all people will fade as my life goes on. But my burgeoning personal relationship with God has not.
The focus of the poem, "Desert Places," is "the loneliness includes me unawares." To me, and to my Frost, the desert place that ends the poem is the deep sense of loneliness we have in response to deep loss. "Snow falling and night falling fast" represent the dying and loss of the identity of who I was. The "few weeds and stubble showing last" suggest the few areas of new identity that I have gained amidst my current circumstances. Some of the loneliness that I experience in my crisis of belligerence is a "blanker whiteness of benighted snow/ With no expression, nothing to express." The benighted snow in my life is the averted eye contact and pejorative opinions of the people I once considered some of my best friends on campus. I no longer find it important to care about my scarlet letter, because
"they cannot scare me with their empty spaces…
I have it in me so much nearer home
To scare myself with my own desert places."
Like my Frost after the death of Carol, I do not care anymore about the empty spaces of judgment, because I know that I am condemning and judging myself far worse than anyone else is judging me. My self-condemnation is my desert place, and I know, now, that my belligerence is a belligerence with myself, a deep argument for what should be my identity now, as a repentant sinner, going forward.