Definition of Freedom: It’s Being Easy in Your Harness

Robert Frost? James B. Simpson? Apocryphal?

frost09Dear Quote Investigator: An enigmatic metaphorical statement about freedom has been attributed to the famous American poet Robert Frost:

You have freedom when you’re easy in your harness.

Are these really the words of Frost? What was the context? Would you please examine this topic?

Quote Investigator: Robert Frost held a news conference on the eve of his eightieth birthday in 1954. An article from the Associated Press (AP) news service described some of the questions and answers which included remarks about freedom. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

“I find my greatest freedom on the farm,” the four-times Pulitzer Prize winner said. “I can be a bad farmer or a lazy farmer and it’s my own business.” He lives on a farm in Ripton, Vt.

What’s your definition of freedom, he was asked.

“It’s being easy in your harness,” he replied, slipping into rural vernacular.

Note that the words spoken by Frost in this contemporaneous account did not quite match the quotation under examination. QI believes that the modern quotation evolved from the words spoken by Frost in 1954.

Frost suggested that some form of constraint was inherent in his notion of freedom. The reader must provide his or her own interpretation.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Definition of Freedom: It’s Being Easy in Your Harness

Notes:

  1. 1954 March 26, The Hartford Courant, Frost, Poet, Is Honored On Birthday: New Englander, 80, Views World as Too Crowded and Hurried, Quote Page 14, Column 1, Hartford, Connecticut. (ProQuest)