Monday, July 14, 2014

Two Ways About Love

Visiting friends once and staying with them in their home, I noticed how their two children, who were aged eight and four at the time, would follow a curious procedure whenever they wanted something. They would first ask their father for it, and if he wouldn't let them have what they wanted, I watched them as they waited and then asked their mother for it, and she would give it to them.

Evidently, children learn very early the political landscape of their environment. The father loves them, but is too practical-minded and preoccupied with qualifications. He considers what his children want, but also what they have done to deserve it. Children have to earn his largesse, whereas the mother, if it is within her power, will provide it without hesitating, and doesn't consider if they are deserving or not.

In 1960, when he was eighty-six, Robert Frost was interviewed by Richard Poirier for The Paris Review. When Poirier mentioned to Frost that he didn't "have a reputation for being a New Dealer," he responded:

"They think I'm no New Dealer. But really and truly I'm not, you know, all that clear on it. In 'The Death of the Hired Man' that I wrote long, long ago, long before the New Deal, I put in two ways about home. One would be the manly way: 'Home is the place where, when you have to go there/They have to take you in.' That's the man's feeling about it. And then the wife says: 'I should have called it/Something you somehow haven't to deserve.' That's the New Deal, the feminine way of it, the mother's way. You don't have to deserve your mother's love. You have to deserve your father's. He's more particular. One's a Republican, one's a Democrat. The father is always a Republican toward his son, and his mother's always a Democrat. Very few have noticed that second thing; they've always noticed the sarcasm, the hardness of the male one."

This sound simple, in the inimitable way that Frost has of putting even the most profound ideas, but it certainly has a ring to it.

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