Tag Archives: Robert Frost

In Three Words, I Can Sum Up Everything I’ve Learned About Life. It Goes On

Robert Frost? Edna St. Vincent Millay? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: The acclaimed American poet Robert Frost was asked as an octogenarian what he had learned about life, and he succinctly replied: It goes on.

I have been unable to find a contemporaneous citation, and a popular quotation website says that the attribution is disputed. What do you think?

Quote Investigator: Robert Frost did utter this proverbial wisdom during his eightieth birthday celebration according to journalist and self-help writer Ray Josephs. In September 1954 the Sunday newspaper supplement “This Week Magazine” published “Robert Frost’s Secret” by Josephs which included the following exchange. Ellipses were in the original text. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

“In all your years and all your travels,” I asked, “what do you think is the most important thing you’ve learned about life?”

He paused a moment, then with the twinkle sparkling under those brambly eyebrows he replied: “In three words, I can sum up everything I’ve learned about life. It goes on. In all the confusions of today, with all our troubles . . . with politicians and people slinging the word fear around, all of us become discouraged . . . tempted to say this is the end, the finish. But life — it goes on. It always has. It always will. Don’t forget that.

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  1. 1954 September 5, The Cincinnati Enquirer, Section: This Week Magazine, Robert Frost’s Secret by Ray Josephs, Quote Page 2, Column 1, Cincinnati, Ohio. (Newspapers_com)

Dancing Is a Perpendicular Expression of a Horizontal Desire

George Bernard Shaw? George Melly? I. S. Johar? Ann Landers? Patrick Harte? Robert Frost? Winston Churchill? Oscar Wilde? Anonymous?

dancing07Dear Quote Investigator: Here are two versions of an adage highlighting the sensual aspects of popular gyrations:

  1. Dancing is a perpendicular expression of a horizontal desire.
  2. Dancing is a vertical expression of a horizontal idea.

George Bernard Shaw, Ann Landers, Oscar Wilde, and Robert Frost have received credit for this saying. What do you think?

Quote Investigator: The earliest evidence known to QI appeared in the London periodical “New Statesman” in 1962. The musician and critic George Melly attributed the saying to the notable playwright George Bernard Shaw. Emphasis added by QI: 1

I have spent a certain amount of time lately watching people in London dance in the various new ways. I report what went on in three very different places where my fellow countrymen and women had come together to give what Shaw called ‘a perpendicular expression of a horizontal desire’.

Shaw’s death in 1950 preceded Melly’s article by more than a decade, and the text provided no citation; hence, the evidence supporting the ascription was rather weak. Nevertheless, the citations for competing ascriptions are even less persuasive.

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  1. 1962 March 23, New Statesman, Late Perpendicular by George Melly, Start Page 426, Quote Page 426, Column 3, New Statesman Ltd., London. (ProQuest)

Self-Education Is the Only Kind of Education There Is

Robert Frost? Isaac Asimov? Kathleen Norris? Charles Swain Thomas? Robert Shafer? George Gallup?

educ08Dear Quote Investigator: The renowned poet laureate Robert Frost emphasized the importance of self-education. Also, the preternaturally productive science and science fiction writer Isaac Asimov extolled self-education. Here are two quotations on this topic:

1) The only education worth anything is self-education.
2) Self-education is the only kind of education there is.

Would you please help me find citations for these expressions?

Quote Investigator: In 1958 Robert Frost spoke the first statement according to his friend Louis Untermeyer. In addition, Isaac Asimov wrote a sentence that closely matched the second sentence in 1974. Full citations are given further below.

Before Frost or Asimov shared their opinions, a high school teacher named Charles Swain Thomas made a similar remark as reported in “The Indianapolis Star” in 1913. Thomas who later became a professor in the Harvard Graduate School of Education addressed the Marion County Teachers’ Institute in Indiana. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

The only kind of education worth while is self-education, Mr. Thomas said in his morning lecture, “The good work for all education is interest. Until there is interest there is no response.”

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  1. 1913 August 29, The Indianapolis Star, Asserts ‘Soul Ardor’ Is Need of Teacher, Quote Page 3, Column 2, Indianapolis, Indiana. (Newspapers_com)

There’s Absolutely No Reason for Being Rushed Along with the Rush

Robert Frost? Apocryphal?

frost09Dear Quote Investigator: The prominent poet Robert Frost thought that pursuing activities with an unremitting frenetic pace was unwise; periods of relaxation and leisure were indispensable. He has been credited with a passage that begins:

There’s absolutely no reason for being rushed along with the rush. Everybody should be free to go very slow.

I have been unable to locate a solid citation. Would you please help?

Quote Investigator: In January 1954 “The Atlanta Constitution” of Atlanta, Georgia published an interview with Robert Frost who was in the local area because he was planning to give a talk at Agnes Scott College of Decatur, Georgia. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

“There’s absolutely no reason for being rushed along with the rush,” the venerable poet said yesterday, lounging easily in the Agnes Scott library between speaking engagements. “Everybody should be free to be very slow. I never know when I’m wasting time.”

The quotation above differed slightly from the common modern rendition because it contained “free to be very slow” instead of “free to go very slow”. Frost continued by presenting some thoughts about his writing process:

“You see I don’t know when I’m thinking. It may be when I’m just sitting around and it may be when I’m working. But what difference does it make? What you want, what you’re hanging around in the world waiting for is for something to occur to you.”

Frost further stated that he composed his poetry in his head while walking and wrote it down at night while sitting in an easy chair.

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  1. 1954 January 30, The Atlanta Constitution, Relax, Poet Frost Asks Here, Quote Page 9, Column 3, Atlanta, Georgia. (ProQuest)

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.

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  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)

A Banker Lends You His Umbrella When It’s Sunny and Wants It Back When It Rains

Mark Twain? Robert Frost? Ambrose Bierce? Ben Bernanke? Philippe Girardet? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: It has been remarkably difficult to obtain a loan in the current financial climate. When I finally succeeded I was reminded of this quote:

A banker is a fellow who lends you his umbrella when the sun is shining, but wants it back the minute it begins to rain.

Mark Twain is sometimes credited with this remark, but I know that means little. It seems every clever remark is eventually attributed to Twain. Could you figure out who really said it?

Quote Investigator: You are correct to doubt the ascription of the saying to Mark Twain. The invaluable TwainQuotes website of Barbara Schmidt has a webpage dedicated to this adage with the following warning notice [TQBA]:

This quote has been attributed to Mark Twain, but until the attribution can be verified, the quote should not be regarded as authentic.

1905 is the date of the earliest citation found by QI expressing the kernel of the idea in the maxim. The following words were published in a London-based weekly for chartered accountants [ACBU]:

A customer who was not getting what he wanted, once said to me: “You bankers only lend a man an umbrella when it is a fine day,” and I thought he expressed it exactly.

A version very similar to the questioner’s expression appeared in January 1930. The first cite found by QI attributing the remark to Mark Twain is dated 1944. In 1949 the adage was credited to the famous poet Robert Frost.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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