Quote of the Day: Robert Frost on Capitalism

“Then I was certain I had never meant

To let him have them. Never show surprise!

But thirty dollars seemed so small beside

The extent of pasture I should strip, three cents

(For that was all they figured out apiece),

Three cents so small beside the dollar friends

I should be writing to within the hour

Would pay in cities for good trees like those,

Regular vestry-trees whole Sunday Schools

Could hang enough on to pick off enough.”

Christmas Trees, Robert Frost

Origins of the Quote

Robert Frost depicts two different types of men in ‘Christmas Trees,’ one who wants to buy Christmas trees and the other who debates selling them. The difference in the persona displays the different ideologies that they inhabit.

Frost doesn’t propose a value judgment. But he puts both perspectives for the viewer to gauge and make his own assessment. Though looking at his own situation he was vastly moved by the tree seller and not so much the buyer. Because the Capitalistic tendencies shock him.

The Person Behind the Words

Robert Frost was born March 26, 1874, in San Francisco, California, U.S. This American poet is much admired for his depictions of the rural life of New England. What makes his poetry stand apart is his command of American colloquial speech, and the realistic verse portraying ordinary people in everyday situations.

Frost lost his father at a very young age. A journalist he wanted to set up a life in California. However, after he died, his wife took both the children and moved to Lawrence, Massachusetts. Being an excellent student, he continued in the pursuit of academics well after his marriage. The financial strain was pretty huge. Newly married and a teacher’s job and farming were not enough. This is when his struggle to establish himself started.  Frost would have to wait fo the right publishers.

It was 1911 and Frost was fighting against discouragement. Frost was nearly 40 years old, had not published a single book of poems, and had seen just a handful appear in magazines. Also, in 1911 ownership of the Derry farm passed to Frost.

New Beginnings, Roads Less Travelled

Frost decided to sell the farm and use the proceeds to make a radical new start in London, where publishers were perceived to be more receptive to new talent. So, in August 1912 the Frost family sailed across the Atlantic to England. Armed with sheaves of verses he had written but not gotten into print he reached England. English publishers in London did prove to be more receptive to innovative verse. Thus, with his own vigorous efforts and those of the expatriate American poet Ezra Pound, Frost published A Boy’s Will in 1913. This was very encouraging for Frost. He had achieved in a year in a foreign land what he hadn’t in his own country.     

Unbeknownst to himself, Frost was on his way to fame. The outbreak of World War I brought the Frosts back to the United States in 1915. But Amy Lowell’s review had already appeared in The New Republic, and writers and publishers throughout the Northeast were aware that a writer of unusual abilities stood in their midst.

Some Final Thoughts

Regarding the poem – the speaker seems surprised that the city man estimates that there are a thousand trees that he might want. After hearing the price, “A thousand trees would come to thirty dollars,” the speaker lets the reader know that at the point he knew he never meant to sell them. The city merchant then drops out of the dialogue, leaving it a mystery exactly how the speaker said no and what the man’s response might have been. The speaker does say what he believed about haggling over price: “Never show surprise!”

The speaker then asserts that such a low price “seemed so small beside / The extent of pasture I should strip.” Laying his land bare for three cents a tree did not seem worth the effort. And he knew that the merchant would sell the trees for a dollar each.

There is a tussle between the leftist values and the Capitalist culture that he brings to play in these verses. And it is a part of his own turmoil that he faced in his life. Torn between the pull of the rural and the impending need to remain in the urban. Frost was acutely aware that money was important but at the same time, he believes that the land and the soil must be respected. As all his life he had loved the land and working on it.


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