Frost’s “The Courage to be New”

I've virtually finished Frost's Collected Poems and will shortly be starting In the Clearing, his last book of poems. So far, the poems I've liked the best have conveyed Frost's love of nature, and, generally, a positive attitude towards life.

It would be a mistake to assume that those few poems accurately convey Frost's attitude towards people and life. Like most "modern" poets, his poetry also contains a cynical element. Simply put, Frost didn't always hold people in high regard. Like Frost, I occasionally despair that the human condition will ever improve:

The Courage to be New

I hear the world reciting
The mistakes of ancient men,
The brutality and fighting
They will never have again.

Heartbroken and disabled
In body and in mind
They renew talk of the fabled
Federation of Mankind.

But they're blessed with the acumen
To suspect the human trait
Was not the basest human
That made them militate.

They will tell you more as soon as
You tell them what to do
With their ever breaking newness
And their courage to be new.

Somehow it seems strangely appropriate that when I Googled "Federation of Mankind" that I found an ongoing discussion of this poem with one of our troops stationed in Afghanistan. What could better epitomize the first stanza but a country dominated by warlords and ancient hatreds?

Do you think it's because he's "disabled/ In body and mind" that Bush began talking about turning Afghanistan and Iraq into "beacons of Democracy" in the Middle East? Although Frost apparently used the phrase "Federation of Mankind" to refer to the United Nations and convey's Frost's distrust of that organization, it's obvious that the poem is about something far more innate in human nature than a single institution.

Like Frost, I often find it difficult to believe man will ever find "new" ways of eliminating violence from our world for far too many people are afraid of new ideas and blindly follow old ideas, the ones that demand an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.

3 thoughts on “Frost’s “The Courage to be New”

  1. Like you say one must inevitable despair when confronted with our own wickedness. Robert Frost was no exception to that. Yet, it is however in places like Frost’s “The Tuft of Flowers” that I myself tend to find the strength to go on:

    “That made me hear the wakening birds around,
    And hear his long scythe whispering to the ground,

    And feel a spirit kindred to my own;
    So that henceforth I worked no more alone;

    But glad with him, I worked as with his aid,
    And weary, sought at noon with him the shade;

    And dreaming, as it were, held brotherly speech
    With one whose thought I had not hoped to reach.

    ‘Men work together,’ I told him from the heart,
    ‘Whether they work together or apart.’”

    I also wish to thank you for your entry on Emerson’s “Uses of Great Men” (http://lorenwebster.net/In_a_Dark_Time/archives/000189.html)
    That was the entry, which originally led me here. I will most likely return, since I liked what I found.

  2. Upon reading this poem, I first question the federation of mankind, I know that he was talking about the united nations, but what if he was referring to it as a federation of all humans, as Emerson once did. maybe just maybe Frost envisioned something far greater than the poem itself quoting the weakness in every man, is also the strength in another. I questioned the second stanza more than most, referring to the statement above about the strength in a man, and I quote “blessed with human acumen” , meaning the insights of humans, feelings and worth. I question further more is the next line, the biggest question is if he is referring to the basest human, as a simplest human, or the baseness we all present. If so I believe that Frost simply sees the world of man reaching for goals that seem to far fetched, and out of reach. The last stanza however answers our questions giving us a governing body to lead us, as every person, man woman or child, needs some sort of leader, that leader is god.. And I firmly believe that Frost is giving us that question with in ourselves to break that human trait and believe in ourselves once more, or the courage to be new… its just my perception although I could be wrong, yet I’m subjected to debate.. On this topic

  3. anyone who does not recognize the air of disgusted sarcasm in this poem either does not know frost or is just plain daft. (or possibly a progressive.)

What do you think?