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Life Sketch of Robert Frost with Sample Poem "Carpe Diem"

Writing life sketches and/or interviews that focus on well-known poets, philosophers, and others remains part of my writing toolkit.

Early Life

Robert Frost's father, William Prescott Frost, Jr., was a journalist, living in San Fransisco, California, when Robert Lee Frost was born on March 26, 1874; Robert's mother, Isabelle, was an immigrant from Scotland. The young Frost spent eleven years of his childhood in San Fransisco. After his father died of tuberculosis, Robert's mother moved the family, including his sister, Jeanie, to Lawrence, Massachusetts, where they lived with Robert's paternal grandparents.

Robert graduated in 1892 from Lawrence High School, where he and his future wife, Elinor White, served as co-valedictorians. Robert then made his first attempt to attend college at Dartmouth College; after only a few months, he returned to Lawrence and began working a series of part-time jobs.

Marriage and Children

Elinor White, who was Robert's high school sweetheart, was attending St. Lawrence University when Robert proposed to her. She turned him down because she wanted to finish college before marrying. Robert then relocated to Virginia, and then after returning to Lawrence, he again proposed to Elinor, who had now completed her college education.

The two married on December 19, 1895. The couple produced six children: (1) Their son, Eliot, was born in 1896 but died in 1900 of cholera. (2) Their daughter, Lesley, lived from 1899 to 1983. (3 ) Their son, Carol, born in in 1902 but committed suicide in 1940. (4 ) Their daughter, Irma, 1903 to 1967, battled schizophrenia for which she was confined in a mental hospital. (5 ) Daughter, Marjorie, born 1905 died of puerperal fever after giving birth. (6) Their sixth child, Elinor Bettina, who was born in 1907, died one day after her birth. Only Lesley and Irma survived their father. Mrs. Frost suffered heart issues for most of her life. She was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1937 but the following year died of heart failure.

Farming and Writing

Robert then made another attempt to attend college; in 1897, he enrolled in Harvard University, but because of health issues, he had to leave school again. Robert rejoined his wife in Lawrence, and their second child Lesley was born in 1899 . The family then moved to a New Hampshire farm that Robert's grandparents had acquired for him. Thus, Robert's farming phase commenced as he attempted to farm the land and continue his writing. The couple's farming endeavors continued to result in unsuccessful attempts. Frost became well adjusted to rustic life, despite his miserable failure as a farmer.

Frost’s first poem to appear in print, “My Butterfly," had been published on November 8, 1894, in The Independent, a New York newspaper. The next twelve years proved a difficult time in Frost's personal life, but a fertile one for his writing. Frost's writing life took off in a splendid fashion, and the rural influence on his poems would later set the tone and style for all of his works. However, despite the success of his individual published poems, such "The Tuft of Flowers" and "The Trial by Existence," he could not find a publisher for his collections of poems.

Relocation to England

It was because of his failure to find a publisher for his collections of poems that Frost sold the New Hampshire farm and moved his family to England in 1912. This moved proved to be life-line for the young poet. At age 38, he secured a publisher in England for his collection, A Boy's Will, and soon after North of Boston.

In addition to finding a publisher for his two books, Frost became acquainted with Ezra Pound and Edward Thomas, two important poets of the day. Both Pound and Thomas reviewed Frost's two book favorably, and thus Frost's career as a poet moved forward.

Frost's friendship with Edward Thomas was especially important, and Frost has remarked that the long walks taken by the two poet/friends had influenced his writing in a marvelously positive manner. Frost has credited Thomas for his most famous poem, "The Road Not Taken," which was sparked by Thomas' attitude regarding not being able to take two different paths on their long walks.

Returning to America

After World War 1 broke out in Europe, the Frosts set sail back to the United States. The brief sojourn in England had had useful consequences for the poet's reputation, even back in his native country. American Publisher, Henry Holt, picked up Frost's earlier books, and then come out with his third, Mountain Interval, a collection that had been written while Frost was still residing in England.

Frost was treated to the delicious situation of having the same journals, such as The Atlantic, soliciting his work, even though they had rejected that same work a couple of years earlier.

The Frosts once again became owners of a farm located in Franconia, New Hampshire, which they purchased in 1915. The end of their traveling days were over, and Frost continued his writing career, as he taught intermittently at a number of colleges, including Dartmouth, University of Michigan, and particularly Amherst College, where he taught regularly from 1916 until 1938. Amherst's main library is now the Robert Frost Library, honoring the long-time educator and poet. He also spent most summers teaching English at Middlebury College in Vermont.

Frost never completed a college degree, but over his entire lifetime, the revered poet accumulated more than forty honorary degrees. He also won the Pulitzer Prize four times for his books, New Hampshire, Collected Poems, A Further Range, and A Witness Tree.

Frost considered himself a "lone wolf" in the world of poetry because he did not follow any literary movements. His only influence was the human condition in a world of duality. He did not pretend to explain that condition; he only sought to create little dramas to reveal the nature of the emotional life of a human being.

First American Inaugural Poet

In addition to having gained the distinction as one of America's most beloved poets, Robert Frost holds the honor of being the first American poet to deliver his poems to the assembled celebrants at the 1961 inauguration of the 35th president of the United States of American, John F. Kennedy.

Robert Frost had intended to star his occasional piece, "Dedication," as a preface to the poem that the president-elect, John F. Kennedy, had requested for his 1961 inauguration, but the sun rendered Frost’s reading impossible, so he dropped "Dedication" but continued on to recite "The Gift Outright."

Introduction and Text of "Dedication"

Robert Frost became the first American poet to deliver a poem at a presidential inauguration, as he recited his poem, "The Gift Outright," at the swearing in of the 35th president of the United States of America, John F. Kennedy, in 1961. Frost had also written a new poem to preface his recitation of "The Gift Outright," but he did not have time to commit his new piece to memory and thus intended to read it, but he was unable to see his copy of the piece, because of the bright sunlight bouncing off the snow, so only the first few lines of the new poem were read.

While Frost’s "Dedication" offers some useful and important historical features, it does reveal some of the fawning exaggeration that occasional poems are often wont to suffer.

Dedication

Summoning artists to participate
In the august occasions of the state
Seems something artists ought to celebrate.
Today is for my cause a day of days.
And his be poetry’s old-fashioned praise
Who was the first to think of such a thing.
This verse that in acknowledgement I bring
Goes back to the beginning of the end
Of what had been for centuries the trend;
A turning point in modern history.
Colonial had been the thing to be
As long as the great issue was to see
What country’d be the one to dominate
By character, by tongue, by native trait,
The new world Christopher Columbus found.
The French, the Spanish, and the Dutch were downed
And counted out. Heroic deeds were done.
Elizabeth the First and England won.
Now came on a new order of the ages
That in the Latin of our founding sages
(Is it not written on the dollar bill
We carry in our purse and pocket still?)
God nodded his approval of as good
So much those heroes knew and understood,
I mean the great four, Washington,
John Adams, Jefferson, and Madison
So much they saw as consecrated seers
They must have seen ahead what not appears,
They would bring empires down about our ears
And by the example of our Declaration
Make everybody want to be a nation.
And this is no aristocratic joke
At the expense of negligible folk.
We see how seriously the races swarm
In their attempts at sovereignty and form.
They are our wards we think to some extent
For the time being and with their consent,
To teach them how Democracy is meant.
“New order of the ages” did they say?
If it looks none too orderly today,
‘Tis a confusion it was ours to start
So in it have to take courageous part.
No one of honest feeling would approve
A ruler who pretended not to love
A turbulence he had the better of.
Everyone knows the glory of the twain
Who gave America the aeroplane
To ride the whirlwind and the hurricane.
Some poor fool has been saying in his heart
Glory is out of date in life and art.
Our venture in revolution and outlawry
Has justified itself in freedom’s story
Right down to now in glory upon glory.
Come fresh from an election like the last,
The greatest vote a people ever cast,
So close yet sure to be abided by,
It is no miracle our mood is high.
Courage is in the air in bracing whiffs
Better than all the stalemate an’s and ifs.
There was the book of profile tales declaring
For the emboldened politicians daring
To break with followers when in the wrong,
A healthy independence of the throng,
A democratic form of right divine
To rule first answerable to high design.
There is a call to life a little sterner,
And braver for the earner, learner, yearner.
Less criticism of the field and court
And more preoccupation with the sport.
It makes the prophet in us all presage
The glory of a next Augustan age
Of a power leading from its strength and pride,
Of young ambition eager to be tried,
Firm in our free beliefs without dismay,
In any game the nations want to play.
A golden age of poetry and power
Of which this noonday’s the beginning hour.

Frost begins reading "Dedication" but is unable to continue because of the bright light

Commentary

Robert Frost’s poem, "The Gift Outright," remains the poem remembered for the inauguration of John F. Kennedy, and it also happens to be a much stronger poem than "Dedication." Frost once remarked about his poem, "The Gift Outright," that is was "a history of the United States in a dozen lines of blank verse."

First Movement: Invocation to Artists

Summoning artists to participate
In the august occasions of the state
Seems something artists ought to celebrate.
Today is for my cause a day of days.
And his be poetry’s old-fashioned praise
Who was the first to think of such a thing.
This verse that in acknowledgement I bring
Goes back to the beginning of the end
Of what had been for centuries the trend;
A turning point in modern history.

The speaker seems to be postponing his task of making this inauguration a grand and glorious event by remarking the efficacy and appropriateness of artists contributing to such an occasion. He likens his current effort to past glories of "poetry’s old-fashioned praise" of remarking that certain occasions are bound to point to historical trends.

The speaker’s claims remain rather vague and noncommittal but still leave open the possibility that things will become clearer and more specific as he continues to offer his gems of wisdom. He claims that what he is doing, bringing verse to event, is as old as the beginning. But that beginning is then sparked by the "beginning of the end"; thus, the speaker is covering himself in case he may be proven wrong.

Second Movement: The Forming of a Nation

Colonial had been the thing to be
As long as the great issue was to see
What country’d be the one to dominate
By character, by tongue, by native trait,
The new world Christopher Columbus found.
The French, the Spanish, and the Dutch were downed
And counted out. Heroic deeds were done.
Elizabeth the First and England won.

The speaker then draws an interesting picture of "colonial" America. He contends that the many nations that have found their progeny on the new shores were battling for dominance, putting forth the question: would France, Spain, or Holland take the lead in leading the American nation? But then he answers the question by declaring England the winner, as "Elizabeth the First and England won."

Thus, the speaker provides answers to this question of whose characteristics, language, and traits would prevail: America would not adopt French or Spanish or Dutch as its native language; it would be English whose tongue the New World would speak. Also, one can imagine the "native traits" including English style clothing, manners, and food. The other nations, while welcome, would take their place as an accompanying position.

Third Movement: Tribute to the Founding

Now came on a new order of the ages
That in the Latin of our founding sages
(Is it not written on the dollar bill
We carry in our purse and pocket still?)
God nodded his approval of as good
So much those heroes knew and understood,
I mean the great four, Washington,
John Adams, Jefferson, and Madison
So much they saw as consecrated seers
They must have seen ahead what not appears,
They would bring empires down about our ears
And by the example of our Declaration
Make everybody want to be a nation.

While this movement contains a number of historically accurate statements, it remains rather awkward in its structural execution. The parenthetical—"(Is it not written on the dollar bill / We carry in our purse and pocket still?)"— followed by the line, "God nodded his approval of as good" render their substance less impactful. That "Latin of our founding sages" refers to "E Pluribus Unum," (Out of the many, One) and loses it heft when placed as a parenthetical.

That Robert Frost, the somewhat agnostic poet, would claim that God was nodding approval of anything—much less the wholly secular, historical founding of a nation— despite the fact that one of the founding principles for founding this nation was religious—adds to the questionable sincerity so often found in such occasional poems—especially of the inaugural variety.

The tribute to "Washington, / John Adams, Jefferson, and Madison," whom the speaker designates "as consecrated seers" remains a wholly accurate statement. And the final two lines clearly and appropriately celebrate the document, the "Declaration of Independence," which along with the U. S. Constitution remain two of the most important pieces of text ever to exist both to the American nation and the world, making "everybody want to be a nation."

Fourth Movement: Pursuing Life, Liberty, and Happiness

And this is no aristocratic joke
At the expense of negligible folk.
We see how seriously the races swarm
In their attempts at sovereignty and form.
They are our wards we think to some extent
For the time being and with their consent,
To teach them how Democracy is meant.
“New order of the ages” did they say?
If it looks none too orderly today,
‘Tis a confusion it was ours to start
So in it have to take courageous part.
No one of honest feeling would approve
A ruler who pretended not to love
A turbulence he had the better of.

The speaker then engages the issue of immigration to this newly formed nation. It makes perfect sense that folks from all over the world would desire to emigrate from their totalitarian, freedom-squelching dictators in their own nations to this new land that from the beginning embraces freedom, individual responsibility and promised such in those documents delineating the basic human rights of "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."

The speaker denigrates the notion that only the aristocrats were appreciated and allowed to flourish in this new land. New immigrants may become our "ward," but that status is only temporary and "with their consent." In other words, new immigrants can become citizens of our new land of freedom because that new land represents the "[n]ew order of the ages."

Fifth Movement: A Courageous Nation

Everyone knows the glory of the twain
Who gave America the aeroplane
To ride the whirlwind and the hurricane.
Some poor fool has been saying in his heart
Glory is out of date in life and art.
Our venture in revolution and outlawry
Has justified itself in freedom’s story
Right down to now in glory upon glory.
Come fresh from an election like the last,
The greatest vote a people ever cast,
So close yet sure to be abided by,
It is no miracle our mood is high.
Courage is in the air in bracing whiffs
Better than all the stalemate an’s and ifs.

The speaker then focuses on the very specific event of the Wright Brothers ("the twain") and their new invention "the aeroplane." He then asserts that such feats have put the lie to the "poor fool" who thinks that there is no longer any "glory" in "life and art." He insists that the American adventure story in "revolution and outlawry" has been gloriously vindicated and "justified [ ] in freedom’s story."

The speaker then offers his take of how this recent election, whose result he is now celebrating, played out. He deems it the "greatest vote a people ever cast"—an obvious exaggeration. Yet, while the election was "close," it will be "abided by." The citizenry’s mood is "high," and that fact is "no miracle." He then asserts that such a situation arises out of the courage of the nation.

Sixth Movement: The Curse of the Inaugural Poem

There was the book of profile tales declaring
For the emboldened politicians daring
To break with followers when in the wrong,
A healthy independence of the throng,
A democratic form of right divine
To rule first answerable to high design.
There is a call to life a little sterner,
And braver for the earner, learner, yearner.
Less criticism of the field and court
And more preoccupation with the sport.
It makes the prophet in us all presage
The glory of a next Augustan age
Of a power leading from its strength and pride,
Of young ambition eager to be tried,
Firm in our free beliefs without dismay,
In any game the nations want to play.
A golden age of poetry and power
Of which this noonday’s the beginning hour.

In the opening line of this final movement, the speaker alludes to John F. Kennedy’s book, Profiles in Courage—"book of profile tales." Of course, the inaugural poet in his inaugural poem had to focus on the subject of this occasion, the new president of the United States, whom he is celebrating with his poem. But then he becomes overly solicitous in his following remarks claiming that this president was a politician who can "break with followers when in the wrong."

The speaker furthers his fawning remarks by suggesting that this administration would be a "democratic form of right divine / To rule first answerable to high design." This statement boarders on toadying flattery. Then the puffery in the movement continues with the prediction of a "next Augustan age," until the final unfortunate lines, "A golden age of poetry and power / Of which this noonday’s the beginning hour." Of course, hindsight now confirms that no "golden age" ever resulted for politics or poetry.

While Frost’s "Dedication" offers some useful commentary, it still fails as a genuine poem. Even as an occasional poem in it final movement, it engages overzealously in exaggerated flattery. One is reminded that fortunately, this piece did not see the light of day, as Frost was unable to read it as he intended. The poet was spared the drubbing he no doubt would have received had the sunlight not conspired to keep that piece in the dark.

Sources

Introduction and Text of "The Gift Outright"

Robert Frost’s "The Gift Outright" became the first inaugural poem, after the 35th president asked the famous poet to read at his swearing in ceremony—the first time a poet had read a poem at a presidential inauguration.

On January 20, 1961, John F. Kennedy was inaugurated the 35th president of the United States of America. For the inauguration ceremony, Kennedy had invited America’s most famous poet, Robert Frost, to write and read a poem. Frost rejected the notion of writing an occasional poem, and so Kennedy asked him to read "The Gift Outright." Frost then agreed.

Kennedy then had one more favor to ask of the aging poet. He asked Frost the change the final line of the poem from "Such as she was, such as she would become" to "Such as she was, such as she will become." Kennedy felt that the revision reflected more optimism than Frost’s original. Frost did not like the idea, but he relented for the young president’s sake.

Frost did, nevertheless, write a poem especially for the occasion, "Dedication," which he intended to read as a preface to "The Gift Outright." At the inauguration, Frost attempted to read his occasional poem, but because of the bright sunlight bouncing off the snow, his aging eyes could not see the poem well enough to read it. He then continued to recite, "The Gift Outright."

Regarding the changing of the final line: instead of merely reading the line with the revision Kennedy had requested, Frost stated,

Such as she was, such as she would become, has become, and I – and for this occasion let me change that to – what she will become. (my emphasis added)

Thus, the poet remained faithful to his own vision, while satisfying the presidential request.

Robert Frost’s poem, "The Gift Outright," offers a brief history of the USA, which has just elected and was in the process of inaugurating its 35th president. The speaker of Frost’s poem, without becoming chauvinistically patriotic, manages to offer a positive view of the country’s struggle for existence, a struggle that can be deemed a gift that the Founding Fathers gave to themselves and the world.

To the question, “Well, Doctor, what have we got—a Republic or a Monarchy?,” regarding the product created by the Constitutional conveners during their meetings from May 25 to September 17, 1787, in Philadelphia, Founder Benjamin Franklin responded, "A Republic, if you can keep it." The US Constitution became a gift the has kept on giving in the best possible way. It replaced the old, weak Articles of Confederation, and kept the nation in tact even during a bloody Civil War, nearly a century later.

The speaker in Frost’s poem offers a brief overview of the American struggle for existence, and he describes that struggle resulting in a Constitution as a gift the Founders gave themselves and to all the generations to follow.

The Gift Outright

The land was ours before we were the land’s.
She was our land more than a hundred years
Before we were her people. She was ours
In Massachusetts, in Virginia,
But we were England’s, still colonials,
Possessing what we still were unpossessed by,
Possessed by what we now no more possessed.
Something we were withholding made us weak
Until we found out that it was ourselves
We were withholding from our land of living,
And forthwith found salvation in surrender.
Such as we were we gave ourselves outright
(The deed of gift was many deeds of war)
To the land vaguely realizing westward,
But still unstoried, artless, unenhanced,
Such as she was, such as she would become.

Reading of "The Gift Outright"

Commentary

Robert Frost’s inaugural poem offers a glimpse into the history of the country that has just elected its 35th president.

First Movement: The Nature of Possession

The land was ours before we were the land’s.
She was our land more than a hundred years
Before we were her people. She was ours
In Massachusetts, in Virginia,
But we were England’s, still colonials,
Possessing what we still were unpossessed by,
Possessed by what we now no more possessed.

The first movement begins by offering a brief reference to the history of the country over which the new government official would now preside. The speaker asserts that the men and women who had settled on the land, which they later called the United States of America, had begun their experiment in freedom living on the land which would later become their nation, and they would then become its citizens. Instead of merely residing as a loosely held together band of individuals, they would become a united citizenry with a name and government held in common.

The official birthdate of the United States of America is July 4, 1776; with the Declaration of Independence, the new country took its place among the nations of the world. And the speaker correctly states that the land belonged to the people "more than a hundred years" before Americans became citizens of the country. He then mentions two important early colonies, Massachusetts and Virginia, which would become states (commonwealths) after the new land was no longer a possession of England.

Second Movement: The Gift of Law and Order

Something we were withholding made us weak
Until we found out that it was ourselves
We were withholding from our land of living,
And forthwith found salvation in surrender.

During the period from 1776 to 1887, the country struggled to found a government that would work to protect individual freedom and at the same time provide a legal order that would make living in a free land possible. An important first step was the Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union, the first constitution written in 1777, which was not ratified until 1781.

The Articles failed to provide enough structure for the growing nation, and by 1787, it was deemed that a new, stronger document was needed to keep the country functioning and united. Thus, the Constitutional Convention of 1787 was convened to rewrite the Articles. Instead of merely writing them, however, the Founding Fathers scrapped the old document and composed a new U.S. Constitution, which has remained the founding set of laws guiding America since it was finally ratified June 21, 1788.

The speaker describes America’s early struggle for self governance as "something we were withholding," and that struggle "made us weak." But finally, we found "salvation in surrender," that is, the Founding Fathers surrendered to a document that provided legitimate order but at the same time offered the greatest possible scope for individual freedom.

Third Movement: The Gift of Freedom

Such as we were we gave ourselves outright
(The deed of gift was many deeds of war)
To the land vaguely realizing westward,
But still unstoried, artless, unenhanced,
Such as she was, such as she would become.

The speaker describes the early turbulent history of his country as a time of "many deeds of war," which would include the war the early Americans had to fight against England—its mother country—to secure the independence that it had declared and demanded.

But the young nation wholeheartedly gave itself that "gift" of existence and freedom by continuing its struggle and continuing to grow by expanding "westward." The people of this nation struggled on through many hardships "unstoried, artless, unenhanced" to become the great nation that now—at the time of the poet’s recitation—has elected its 35th president.

Sources

Sample Poem: "Carpe Diem"

The phrase, "carpe diem" meaning "seize the day," originates with the classical Roman poet Horace, circa 65 B. C. Frost's speaker offers a different view that questions the usefulness of that idea. This poem offers a sample of the themes and the style in which Frost wrote most of his more successful poems.

Introduction and Text of "Carpe Diem"

The speaker in Robert Frost’s "Carpe Diem" engages in a rebuttal to the philosophical advice portrayed in the notion, "seize the day." Frost’s speaker has decided that the present is not really that easy or valuable enough for capturing; thus, this rebel has some subterfuge advice for his listeners. Let art and life coalesce on a new notion.

Carpe Diem

Age saw two quiet children
Go loving by at twilight,
He knew not whether homeward,
Or outward from the village,
Or (chimes were ringing) churchward,
He waited, (they were strangers)
Till they were out of hearing
To bid them both be happy.
"Be happy, happy, happy,
And seize the day of pleasure."
The age-long theme is Age's.
'Twas Age imposed on poems
Their gather-roses burden
To warn against the danger
That overtaken lovers
From being overflooded
With happiness should have it.
And yet not know they have it.
But bid life seize the present?
It lives less in the present
Than in the future always,
And less in both together
Than in the past. The present
Is too much for the senses,
Too crowding, too confusing-
Too present to imagine.

A reading of "Carpe Diem"

Commentary

The phrase, "carpe diem" meaning "seize the day," originates with the classical Roman poet Horace, circa 65 B. C. Frost's speaker offers a different view that questions the usefulness of that idea.

First Movement: Age as a Person

Age saw two quiet children
Go loving by at twilight,
He knew not whether homeward,
Or outward from the village,
Or (chimes were ringing) churchward,
He waited, (they were strangers)
Till they were out of hearing
To bid them both be happy.
"Be happy, happy, happy,
And seize the day of pleasure."

In the first movement of Frost’s "Carpe Diem," the speaker creates a metaphor by personifying "Age," who is observing a pair of young lovers. The lovers are on a journey—to where the speaker is not privy. Because the speaker does not know exactly wither the couple is bound, he speculates that they may be simply going home, or may be traveling out of their home village, or they may be headed to church. The last guess is quite possible because the speaker notes, "chimes are ringing."

Because the lovers are "strangers" to the speaker, he does not address them personally. But after they can no longer hear, the speaker wishes for them happiness in their lives. He also adds the "carpe diem" admonition elongating it to a full, "Be happy, happy, happy, / And seize the day of pleasure."

Second Movement: A New Take on an Old Concept

The age-long theme is Age's.
'Twas Age imposed on poems
Their gather-roses burden
To warn against the danger
That overtaken lovers
From being overflooded
With happiness should have it.
And yet not know they have it.

At this point, after presenting a little drama exemplifying the oft-touted employment of the expression in question, the speaker commences his evaluation of the age-old adage, "carpe diem." The speaker first notes that it is always the old folks who foist this faulty notion upon the young. This questionable command of the aged has spilled into poems the rose-gathering obligation related to time. His allusion to Robert Herrick’s "To the Virgins to Make Much of Time" will not be lost on the observant and the literary.

The implication that a couple in love must stop with basking in that all-consuming feeling and take note of it is laughable to the speaker. Lovers know they are love, and they enjoy quite tangibly in the here-and-now that being in love. Telling them to "seize" that moment is like telling a toddler to stop and enjoy laughing as she enjoys playing with her toddler toys. One need not make a spectacle of one’s enjoyment for future use.

Third Movement: The Faulty Present

But bid life seize the present?
It lives less in the present
Than in the future always,
And less in both together
Than in the past. The present
Is too much for the senses,
Too crowding, too confusing-
Too present to imagine.

Lovers know they are in love and enjoy that state of being. They are, in fact, seizing the present with all their might. But for this speaker, the very idea of life in general being lived in the present only is faulty, cumbersome, and finally unattainable simply because of the way the human brain is naturally wired. This speaker believes that life is lived "less in the present" than in the future.

Folks always live and move with their future in mind. But surprisingly, according to this speaker, people live more in the past than in both the present and the future. How can that be? Because the past has already happened. They have the specifics with which to deal. So the mind returns again and again to the past, as it merely contemplates the present and gives a nod to the future.

Why not live more in the present? Because the present is filled with everything that attracts and stimulates the senses. The senses, the mind, the heart, the brain become overloaded with all of the details that surround them. Those things crowd in on the mind and the present becomes "too present to imagine." The imagination plays such vital role in human life that the attempt to confine it to an area of overcrowding renders it too stunned to function.

And the future: of course, the first complaint is that it has not happened yet. But the future is the fertile ground of the imagination. Imagining what we will do tomorrow. What will we have for lunch? What job we will train for? Where we will live when we get married? What will my children look like? These brain sparks all indicate future time.

The speaker, therefore, has determined that the human mind lives more in the future than in the present. The "carpe diem" notion, which this speaker has demoted to a mere suggestion, remains a shining goal that is touted but few ever feel they can reach—maybe because they have not considered the efficacy of American poet Frost’s suggestion over the latinate command of Roman poet Horace.

Mr. Keating's Lesson on "Carpe Diem" from Dead Poets Society

Commemorative Stamp

Commemorative Stamp

Most Interesting Fact about Robert Frost

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2015 Linda Sue Grimes

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