Robert Frost, that most American of poets, is famous for saying of free verse poetry that it is “like playing tennis without a net.”
As a poet who writes almost exclusively in free verse, I suppose I should take exception. I do not. I understand his point, though I do not accept his analogy. Like many analogies (maybe all) Frost’s poet/tennis comparison is more sleight of hand than pulling aside a veil.
His famous Yankee ear lets him write in a way that traditional and non-traditional rhyme-forms fit best. It is a gift he maximizes as well as any in the 20th Century. Since Frost was a tennis player, a better analogy may have been: writing free verse for Frost would be the same as asking him to play baseball… or basketball… any sport that he was not so gifted at.
All poets naturally move in a direction that emphasizes their strengths and hides their deficiencies. This is in part what poets mean when they say “finding their voice.” Frost is very aware of his own strengths as a poet… as well as his limitations.
“Dust of Snow” is familiar to anyone who ever took English 101. It is one of those poems that bad English teachers use to display a reading a poem in a way that emphasizes the poetics of hidden meaning, loaded-language, and literary detective work above all else. For that reason, its true beauty is obscured more often than not for most “well-educated” readers.
“Dust of Snow” is a poem that should be savored above all for its for its language and mood. It is a perfect poem for a November day.
Dust of Snow
The way a crow
Shook down on me
The dust of snow
From a hemlock tree
Has given my heart
A change of mood
And saved some part
Of a day I had rued.