Robert Frost Mentions the Human Taste for the Outlandish on Special Occasions

Cellar Hole in the Country

from The Generations of Men:

(“Those of name Stark” have gathered together, by decree of the Governor of New Hampshire, for a family reunion in the town of Bow.)

Someone had literally run to earth
In an old cellar hole in a byroad
the origin of all the family there.
Thence they were sprung, so numerous a tribe
That now not all the houses left in town
Made shift to shelter them without the help
of here and there a tent in grove and orchard.
They were at Bow, but that was not enough:
Nothing would do but they must fix a day
To stand together on the crater’s verge
That turned them on the world, and try to fathom
The past and get some strangeness out of it.

7 thoughts on “Robert Frost Mentions the Human Taste for the Outlandish on Special Occasions

  1. Why would the relatives be interested in seeking ” some strangeness” in their family history? “SOME” implies that they* hope to find material for gossip, i think. If they were looking for THE strangeness, meaning “uniqueness,” it would be easier to see them as honorable family members. Or is there a meaning of “strange” that I have missed? I recall that you use that word as an important characteristic of poetic language and insight.

    I’m following P. C. rules of non-microaggressive pronoun reference in spite of my training, conformist windsock coward that I am.

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    • Lol well it’s not especially unusual to use ‘they’ when actually referring to more than one. When you use ‘ they’ where you really mean ‘he’ that’s PC, and bad grammar.

      I agree that ‘some strangeness’ is different than ‘the strangeness.’ But I think they are trying to get outside the ordinariness of their usual ways of perceiving. Why travel if not to change your view? ‘Strangeness’ in the first instance means that which is or seems foreign or unknown, and other meanings develop from there. Cf ‘stranger.’

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Also I’m puzzled about the image “crater’s verge.” It must be the ” old cellar hole” and therefore an example of mixing common speech with high formal language” possibly bordering on the archaic–a technique you have argued for, right? But at the risk of blasphemy, I don’t think this one works.

    And what does it mean to be” turned on the world”? “Born”? Not exactly, because they are of later generations. I can’t think of a concise concrete way to express that relationship. Is that an example of Frost’s skill in making brief, ordinary sounding phrases to express rather abstract ideas. (No question mark needed.But does it work IS a question.)

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    • Well ok. But what do you mean by ‘works?’ Not meaning to be obtuse, but really what are you expecting to get out of plain blank verse in addition to grasping his meaning, which you evidently do?

      Don’t worry about the blasphemy risk, no literary inquisition here. 🙂

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      • To me, “works” means it doesn’t call attention to itself, doesn’t require a reader to ask, what does that mean or why did he say that; instead, as an original or fresh expression, it reveals something special and the result, for the reader, is pleasing, satisfying, small-smile-causing.

        “Which reader?” is yet another question.

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        • I question whether we appreciate revelations that are not preceded by wonder. Still, if it’s bewilderment rather than wonder we feel in the face of an expression, that’s not enjoyable either.

          Yes, which reader. So much depends on the overlapping literacy of reader and poet, perhaps on overlapping mentalities. I feel at home in Frost’s mind.

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