Sunday, November 16, 2008

CHICKEN CHICKEN

I cannot resist posting these paragraphs from Christopher Benfey's NYRB piece on several recent books about Robert Frost (subscribers only):
[I]n 1900, Frost found in raising chickens an occupation that gave him money, time, and a landscape ripe with metaphors for the poems he had begun to write late at night when his wife and children were sleeping. Elliott, the Frosts' first child, died of cholera during the summer of 1900. During the decade the Frosts spent on their thirty-acre farm in Derry, New Hampshire, the four surviving children, Lesley, Irma, Marjorie, and another son, Carol, roamed the rock-strewn countryside as freely as Frost's three hundred Wyandotte chickens.

"Most philosophers must have been raised on chicken farms," Sherwood Anderson wrote in his story "The Egg" (1920). "One unversed in such matters can have no notion of the many and tragic things that can happen to a chicken." It's clear from the eleven lively stories Frost published in the trade journals The Eastern Poultryman and Farm-Poultry, from 1903 to 1905, that he was imaginatively engaged by the tragic things that can happen to a chicken. In "Trap Nests," a couple new to chicken farming employ a device "intended to catch and hold the hen until she was willing to purchase freedom at the price of an egg." The trap nests "savor of vivisection and the Inquisition"; the city-bred farmer finds himself taking "a growing satisfaction in ruthlessness, for such, he felt, was life." In another story, a farmer's "first hatches were so exceptionally fine that the gods fell in love with them, and they died young."

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