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Robert Frost

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.