...to saying, what you mean.

Thumbing through The Letters of Robert Frost to Louis Untermeyer, I came across a list of lecture topics Frost had drawn up in 1916, and enclosed as part of a letter to Untermeyer. His price of $50 for 60 minutes translates to about $1000 in relative 2011 currency.

That was thirty years prior to those lectures unearthed at Dartmouth. In NPR's coverage they play a recording of one, where Frost says, "As near as you want to come to saying... What you mean. That's what poetry is. As near as you want to come to it." Middlebury has some that you can actually listen to, though not permanently download. The earliest of these is from 1936. Even those wander a bit.

So color me curious. Anyone else want to hear R. Frost on anything?

[Enclosed with Letter sent Mid-1916]



Partial List of Subjects in Stock:

BOOTY. Derivation of the word from beauty. Two words interchangeable in age of bride-snatching. Poetry, the bride of elemental nature. Richard Le Gallienne. Kale Young Rice. Edith Thomas. Etc.

THE UNATTAINABLE. How much ought a poet get for showing (Hamlet, Act III, Scene 2) in public? How much is fifty dollars? Are the English overpaid? Masefield. Yeats. Noyes. Base suggestion that poetry is as often gloating over what you have as hankering after what you haven’t. Strabismus and Idealismus.

POETRY AND SCIENCE. Is the conflict irreconcilable? How long will the war last? Poece of Itrecht and other memorable pieces. Aphasia. Pompadour. Nell Gwyn. Resolved that evolution is like walking on a rolling barrel. The walker isn’t so much interested in where the barrel is going as he is in keeping on top of it. The Labrynthodont. The Sozodont. The Cotoledon. The Dodecahedron. The Plesiosaurus. The Thesaurus (and Rhyming Dictionary). The Megatheorem. The Pterodactyl. The Spondee. And the Concordance.

THE INEVITABLE: AND HOW TO POSTPONE OR AVOID IT. How to keep from attaining what you don’t want. Query: If what Shelley meant by Prometheus wasn’t the philosophizing poet, Shelley himself? The world’s gain could he have stood fate off for one year. Two years. Five years. Ten years. Futility of speculation.

THE HARRISON LAW: Some dull opiate to the drains. Swinburne’s famous adjuration to his sister: “Swallow, my sister; oh, sister, swallow!” Picture: We were the first that ever burst; or the danger of mixing drinks. Jamaica Ginger. A plain talk to druggists. Given in England under the title: A plain talk to chymists.

MOANISM AND SWOUNDING. On larruping an emotion. Men’s tears tragic, women’s a nuisance. Heightening. In this I make it clear-by repeated assertions-that I can use any adjective that anyone else can.

NEW HAMPSHIRE GOLD. Adventure with an examining doctor for an insurance company who, after looking me over and taking samples of me, decided I was just the romantic kind he could unload a small wild farm on because it was blessed with a gold mine that had been worked to the extent of producing three wedding and engagement rings. The moral being that I am not romantic.

TRUE STORY OF MY LIFE. Stealing pigs from the stockyards in San Francisco. Learned to whistle at five. At ten abandoned senatorial ambitions in order to come to New York, but settled in New Hampshire by mistake on account of the high rents in both places. Invention of the cotton gin. Supersedes potato whisky. A bobbin boy in the mills of Lawrence. Nailing shanks. Rose Marie. La Gioconda. Astrolabe. Novum Organum. David Harum. Visit General Electric Company, Synecdoche, N.Y. Advance theory of matter (what’s the matter?) that becomes an obsession. Try to stop thinking by immersing myself in White Wyandottes. “North of Boston.” Address Poetry Society at Great Poetry Meal. Decline. Later works. Don’t seem to die. Attempt to write “Crossing the Bar.” (International copyright.) Time: three hours. Very intimate and baffling.

(NOTE): Some of these lectures are more intelligible if taken in combination with all the rest together the same afternoon or evening.

Dollar a minute or sixty minutes for fifty dollars. I have to ask a little more where I introduce my adjectives immediately after, instead of before, my nouns-as in The House Disorderly.

Lists of nouns and adjectives I am accustomed to use furnished in advance to guard against surprise.

[Robert always insisted on the difference between being a rebel and a radical. He argued that a radical was tied far more unquestionably to a program and a rigid set of principles than a reactionary, whereas a rebel was free-free to denounce any political party, propaganda, creed, or cant. As a rebel, he was willing to be the rejected and rejecting individual, isolated, speculating sorrowfully on man’s eagerness to “belong,” to trade individuality for group “togetherness” and mass conformity.

At this time his letters sounded many variations on the theme of foes and friends. I was, of course, touched by the evidences of a friendship which grew continually closer and warmer, and I was also amused by his mock fulminations against his enemies.

It was in the spirit of mockery – “I sort of fool along” – that he sent me a parody of a lecture prospectus. He had given several “talks” after his return to America – he was the most provocative and most penetrating of talkers – but, although for many years it was a way of supporting his farm and his family, lecturing was a kind of public torture. He could never get himself to prepare the customary “descriptive list” of subjects and even refused to confine himself to a set of titles. A self-adulating circular put out by the elderly poet Edwin Markham set him off – it “made me wonder if I hadn’t a series of lectures in me that I could give.”

Enclosed with the following letter was a broad burlesque of what lecture committees liked and what he could never get himself to do. The combination of plain fact and fancy fooling presents a practically unknown Frost. The reference to his “immersing” himself in White Wyandottes conceals a more or less serious grief of ungratified chicken farming.]