Frost for Lawyers: "The Best Thing That We're Put Here For's to See"2
Clark, Sherman J., Michigan Law Review
FROST FOR LAWYERS: "THE BEST THING THAT WE'RE PUT HERE FOR'S TO SEE"
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."1 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.
I. "As my two eyes make one in sight"
But why lawyers? Given that a thoughtful person should want to see the world as well and clearly as possible and that reading Frost can help, why should lawyers in particular seek out and embrace this experience? I hope in this Essay to provoke thought about this question, not dispose of it at the outset; but I might begin with these lines from the same poem:
But yield who will to their separation,
My object in living is to unite
My avocation and my vocation
As my two eyes make one in sight. (p. 277)
One hears much talk among lawyers and others about "work-life balance," but "balance" may be a limiting and misleading way to frame the question. We do not talk about a balance between lefteye and right eye because we recognize that what matters is how the two work together. Nor is it simply a matter of "doing what you love," such that work and play would be one and the same. No; the depth perception afforded by having two eyes comes through the slightly different perspective provided by each. Understood in this way, the aim is not so much balance between life and work but the right sort of connection between the two.
Let this, then, be a starting point: lawyering well and living fully are, or can be, closely related and mutually illuminating endeavors. Both are about seeing as well and fully as possible. For thoughtful lawyers, work and life are both ongoing efforts to make sense of, impose order on, and ultimately find meaning and dignity in our world and ourselves. Granted, the daily concerns of much legal work can seem far removed from the deeper concerns of life, but that very distance is part of what allows each to add perspective to the other-how these two eyes might make one sight. …