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Robert Frost’s Beer Bath

Here’s a fun story. Today is the birthday of American poet Robert Frost. “His work was initially published in England before it was published in the United States. Known for his realistic depictions of rural life and his command of American colloquial speech, Frost frequently wrote about settings from rural life in New England in the early 20th century, using them to examine complex social and philosophical themes. Frost was honored frequently during his lifetime and is the only poet to receive four Pulitzer Prizes for Poetry. He became one of America’s rare ‘public literary figures, almost an artistic institution.’ He was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal in 1960 for his poetic works.”

Publisher and author Bill Peschel related a story from 1935 that involved some beer that found its way to Frost.

Robert Frost was an irascible poet, jealous of rivals, and called by at least one friend as Yahweh. Any slight, real or perceived, was paid back, with interest.

Such as the case in Santa Fe, N.M., where Frost had been invited to speak at the city’s New Mexico Museum. At the event the day before, local poet Witter Bynner had been scheduled to introduce the poet, but had showed up late. While there may have been a good reason for his tardiness, it may also have been an intentional slight over Frost’s greater success with the public.

So Frost was deliberately late the next day at a lunch held in his honor at Bynner’s house. Then, they clashed over a book of poetry that praised homosexuality. While Frost found the subject distasteful, he went along with Bynner’s praise, even saying that he had a favorite poem. Could he read it aloud?

Bynner passed the book to him. Frost read one of the more erotically charged passages, then teased Bynner, saying he was “too young and innocent to understand such verse.” Bynner responded angrily by pouring a mug of beer over Frost’s head.

Frost got the explosion he wanted, so he took the bath in good humor. As a friend later remarked, “Robert took great pleasure in setting the cat among the pigeons.”

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