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Film / Robert Frost: A Lover's Quarrel with the World

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"Never do it to pay a bill, 'cause you probably won't."
Robert Frost's advice to aspiring poets

Robert Frost: A Lover's Quarrel with the World is a 1963 documentary feature (barely, 41 minutes) directed by Shirley Clarke.

The film is an examination of Robert Frost, one of America's most famous and beloved poets. Completed shortly before Frost's death at the age of 88, it mostly intercuts between a lecture he gave to students at Sarah Lawrence College and a private reading he gave for students at Amherst. Also included are scenes of Frost at home on his Vermont farm, as well of footage of his meeting with John F. Kennedy, who was a Frost fanboy.

Compare Portrait of Jason, a much less conventional Shirley Clarke documentary.



  • Conversation Cut: Multiple times Clarke cuts back and forth between different scenes in such a way that Frost's train of thought is uninterrupted. One scene has Frost meditating on American greatness, saying "The Russians know how good we are," cutting to a completely different conversation before a different audience in which Frost says "Everything the Russians say they say in our direction."
  • Cool Old Guy: Frost comes off as this, drolly snarking with the students that go to his lectures. At one point he reads a poem about chopping down a tree, and says that his publisher took that as a threat that he was going to write a new book.
  • Hollywood New England: Frost was a big part of creating the stereotypical Hollywood New England image, and his Vermont farm is a perfect example—a stony field, a rustic cabin, wooden fences, folks riding by on horses.
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  • The Ken Burns Effect: Clarke only uses this a couple of times, including when she starts a Time Passes Montage by zooming in on a photo of baby Robert Frost.
  • Narrator: Used relatively briefly in the early going to establish some basic facts about Frost. Most of the film is narrated by Frost himself, when he isn't actually talking onscreen.
  • Off-into-the-Distance Ending: Ends with Frost climbing into a station wagon and being driven away down a country road.
  • Rake Take: His poems weren't all dour! In the movie he recites a little comic poem about Rake Takes, "The Objection to Being Stepped On."
    At the end of the row
    I stepped on the toe
    Of an unemployed hoe.
    It rose in offense
    And struck me a blow
    In the seat of my sense....
  • Shout-Out: Frost reels off a passage he likes from an 18th century poem called "The Task": "Oh for a lodge in some vast wilderness/Some boundless contiguity of shade."
  • Title Drop: Frost says in an interview that he suggested as his own epitaph the closing line from his poem "The Lesson for Today": "I had a lover's quarrel with the world." And as it turns out that line actually is the epitaph on his gravestone.
  • White-Dwarf Starlet: Frost reads the poem "Provide, Provide", about a "withered hag" washerwoman who was once "the picture pride of Hollywood."
  • Your Terrorists Are Our Freedom Fighters: Frost is asked a question about his old friend and colleague Ezra Pound, later a fan of Benito Mussolini who made radio broadcasts for Fascist Italy. Frost says that Pound got off lightly and should have been shot for treason, then muses that Washington and Jefferson were regarded as traitors by the British in their day. He even quotes Patrick Henry's famous line "If this be treason, make the most of it."