Before I Sleep

January 29, 2010

Robert Frost, Pulitzer Prize winner, farmer, teacher, light-bulb-filament changer, newspaper delivery man, and American poet known for such works as “The Road Not Taken” and “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” died 47 years ago today. He had a lot to write about.

When Frost was eleven, his father died of tuberculosis, leaving the family with $8. His mother died of cancer, his sister died in the mental hospital which Frost himself had committed her to, his sons were lost to cholera and suicide, his youngest daughter was lost three days after birth, another died of fever. His wife of over forty years, Elinor, died in 1938. He and many of his family suffered from depression. Go figure.

Frost is known to have said “In three words I can sum up everything I’ve learned about life — It goes on.”

When I was a kid, the only thing I knew about him was that I had a cool-looking Robert Frost postage stamp in my collection, and this story, which my Dad used to tell during our annual hunting trips to the Duck Shack:

On the day of their deaths, Robert Frost and Tringvald Seversen (hope I didn’t bone the spelling, Dad) arrived together at the Pearly Gates. St. Peter came out to greet them, and explained that, due to overpopulation, everyone must now pass a test before receiving admission to Heaven. “Each of you must compose a poem, sonnet, or limerick,” he said, “ending in the word ‘Timbuktu’.” Anticipating that Tringvald might need a little time, St. Peter decreed that Robert Frost should go first.

Mr. Frost thought for a moment, and said:

“Whilst traveling o’er distant lands,
my feet upon the burning sands,
I spied a train a passing through,
on its way to Timbuktu.”

St. Peter was impressed. “Very nice, Mr. Frost. You may proceed into heaven.” Turning then to Tringvald, he said “Well, Mr. Seversen. Please give me your answer, so that you may pass.”

Tringvald, clearly nervous now, scratched his head a little. “Yah, vell, here it goes, den,” and offered the following:

“Tim and I a hunting went,
we saw some maidens in a tent,
dey was three and we were two,
I fucked one and Tim bucked two.”

Thanks for your help, Dad.

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