I probably owe y’all an explanation as to why I decided to retype “The Lesson for Today” and post it on this blog.
Robert Frost is my favorite poet. Except maybe for that OTHER BOB from the OTHER HALF of the 20th century. “The Lesson for Today” is my favorite Robert Frost poem.
Last week I emailed a friend of mine another Frost poem, “Fire and Ice.” That is a short poem (exactly nine lines). No problem. Typed it and sent it.
This friend of mine liked “Fire and Ice” so much that she encouraged me to send her more Frost poems. I thought about “The Lesson for Today.” I tried to find the complete text of the poem on the internet. No dice. Maybe I did not look hard enough, but all I found was an excerpt. All I found was the last four lines. Even that pissed me off a little bit because the last verse contains only five lines. At least they could have excerpted all five lines of the final verse (instead of omitting the first line).
So I decided to retype “The Lesson for Today” and post it myself. I did so for reasons similar to all the Charles Hatton I have been retyping and posting. The writing of both is very good (or better). The subjects are interesting. They both deserve to be read. If I have to retype and post them myself to encourage more people to read them, so be it.
Frost once observed that free verse is like playing tennis without a net. I laughed uproariously the first time I heard that aphorism. It was so apropos. I suppose you could play tennis without a net, but it would not be nearly as interesting nor challenging.
About 25 centuries ago I used to play tennis somewhat frequently with a female friend of mine. I never had a single tennis (nor golf) lesson in my life, but I learned to play both sports somewhat adequately just by repetition and experimentation.
I did not even have a backhand when I started playing tennis with this particular opponent (although I developed one eventually that was not very good). So I ran around the court a lot and hit every shot with my forehand. Despite this disadvantage, the two of us were pretty evenly matched. The sets seemed to split pretty close to 50-50.
My whole foolosophy of tennis was to avoid mistakes and let the opponent make the mistakes. I was not consciously trying to hit “winners.” I was trying to avoid “losers” and outlast the opponent that way.
My opponent recalls our tennis conflicts somewhat differently. She claims that I did keep pinning her back in the far left corner of her side of the court, forcing her to hit backhand after backhand until she made a mistake. Maybe her memory is better than mine on this score.
Sometimes the opportunity to hit a smashing “winner” is just too tempting to resist though. Several options exist. You can aim right at the opponent and try to hit them in the face. You might have seen movies in which this occurs. Effective (if nasty) if you can pull it off. You can try to smoke it past the opponent with sheer velocity. Or you can try to bounce the ball about 20 feet into the air so that the opponent can not possibly reach it.
Whenever I tried to hit such “winners,” I screwed up and hit a “loser” instead. So I disciplined myself not even to try to hit such “winners.”
There is another type of “winner,” however, in tennis. You keep the opponent far back from the net. You keep the opponent thinking that a big smash is coming. When the time comes, however, you just give the ball a gentle tap and plink it barely over the net. The tennis terminology for this type of winner is a “dink” (I kid you not). Appropriately enough, the only type of tennis “winner” I ever learned to hit with any consistent success was the “dink.”
What does all this have to do with Robert Frost???? I am getting there. Consider the final verse of “The Lesson for Today” again.
“I hold your doctrine of Memento Mori.
And were an epitaph to be my story
I’d have a short one ready for my own.
I would have written of me on my stone:
I had a lover’s quarrel with the world.”
That last line is decidedly not a “dink.” It is a SMASH winner. That ball bounced so high it hit the moon. Robert Frost was indeed a master poet. In tennis terms, he knew how to hit SMASH winners.