Whenever he had the chance, Robert Frost warned his readers of what he called in his essay “Caveat Poeta” the “danger of too much analysis.” Earlier, in the essay “Poetry and School,” he wrote that “poems are not meant to be read in course any more than they are to be made a study of”:
One of the dangers of college to anyone who wants to stay a human reader (that is to say a humanist) is that he will become a specialist and lose his sensitive fear of landing on the lovely too hard. (With beak and talon.)
Rather than have critics tell us what to think of his poems, Frost wanted us to delight in his verses on our own, to “settle down … and make ourselves at home among the poems, completely at our ease as to how they should be taken.” Perhaps for Frost the most important word in his comment is taken, one form of a verb that reappears often in both his poetry and prose and that carries the sense of active participation in the construction of meaning, a vigorous act, as he suggests elsewhere, not unlike our giving ourselves over to love. Certainly, such taking of poetic meaning is not the result of relying passively on criticism.
We can probably guess, then, what Frost would think about a book entitled The Robert Frost Encyclopedia. The presumption suggested in such a title is that somehow in one volume we have captured the essence not only of his poetry but of his life as well. The Greek roots of the word encyclopedia remind us, however, that a text like this one provides merely a general education, an overview—a place to begin one’s discovery, by no means an end in itself.
As we compiled and edited the volume, we were guided by the philosophy that the entries should provide readers with a starting point. Unlike scholarly journal articles that often seek to advance a particular literary theory or thesis about a particular work or aspect of a life, the entries here serve as introductions to the poems, helping readers to place them in the larger context of Frost’s life and work and, when possible, providing them a map of earlier readings. Making
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Publication information: Book title: The Robert Frost Encyclopedia. Contributors: Nancy Lewis Tuten - Editor, John Zubizarreta - Editor. Publisher: Greenwood Press. Place of publication: Westport, CT. Publication year: 2001. Page number: ix.
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