In honor of April being National Poetry Month, today I present a picture-essay of Poet’s Row, a street on Capitol Hill (on Sherman, between 10th and 11th) featuring 9 old buildings named after writers, not all of whom are known as poets. I noticed that the Robert Frost building is up the street from the Beauvallon in the Golden Triangle. I see a similarity in the style of the window gratings, but can that one detail be used as the basis for a poet-to-building comparison? In other words, do you think there is any way in which Robert Frost’s poetry resembles this monstrously beige building? Poets.org calls Frost (1874–1963) “a quintessentially modern poet in his adherence to language as it is actually spoken, in the psychological complexity of his portraits, and in the degree to which his work is infused with layers of ambiguity and irony.” I’m not sure I would call the Beauvallon modern, but I could accuse it of having layers, I suppose.
Frost died in January 1963, several months after I was born. He is one of my youngest sister’s favorite poets.
It may be charitably guessed
Comparison is not her quest.
from “Two Leading Lights”
I had never read that particular poem before, and I found it somewhat sexist, which reminded me of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s (1804–1864) complaint about “scribbling women” taking away book sales from more deserving writers. Searching for that phrase on Google led me to this site. Of the 15 stories turned into radio plays there, I’ve read Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl and “The Yellow Wallpaper.” While writing this post, I listened to “The Stones of the Village” by Alice Dunbar-Nelson (1875–1935).
James Russell Lowell (1819–1891) called Hawthorne’s 1851 novel The House of the Seven Gables “the most valuable contribution to New England history that has been made.” Of himself, Lowell said, “I am the first poet who has endeavored to express the American Idea, and I shall be popular by and by.” (Those of us who are writers certainly know that feeling.) Whether Lowell’s first sentiment is accurate, I don’t know, but quintessentially American poet Walt Whitman (1819–1892), who has no building on Poet’s Row, called Lowell “not a grower—he was a builder. He built poems: he didn’t put in the seed, and water the seed, and send down his sun—letting the rest take care of itself: he measured his poems—kept them within formula.” Is it inappropriate that the doorway of a “builder” is dappled with the shadows of leaves?
Russell is known as the author of the 1848 book-length poem A Fable for Critics, which I have not read, but I can imagine he would have a few things to say about my silly juxtapositions here. Amy Lowell, his descendant (1874–1925), made him a character in her 1922 poem “A Critical Fable.”
“Hero-Worship” by Amy Lowell
A face seen passing in a crowded street,
A voice heard singing music, large and free;
And from that moment life is changed, and we
Become of more heroic temper, meet
To freely ask and give, a man complete
Radiant because of faith, we dare to be
What Nature meant us. Brave idolatry
Which can conceive a hero! No deceit,
No knowledge taught by unrelenting years,
Can quench this fierce, untamable desire.
We know that what we long for once achieved
Will cease to satisfy. Be still our fears;
If what we worship fail us, still the fire
Burns on, and it is much to have believed.
Of all the writers on Poet’s Row, I would prefer this blog post be judged by Mark Twain (1835–1910), because at least that would make me laugh: “Always acknowledge a fault. This will throw those in authority off their guard and give you an opportunity to commit more.”
Does anyone else think it appropriate that the doorway for Emily Dickinson (1830–1886) has no number?