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Desert Places by Robert Frost

Posted on Jun 10, 2016 by

Robert Frost photo wikimedia

Not long ago I noticed that I was afraid of something—I can’t remember what now—and the words that came into my head—unexpected—as if dropping into my mind—were from Robert Frost’s poem, “Desert Places”:

You cannot scare me with your desert places . . .

I have it in me so much nearer home

To scare myself with my own desert places.

I misremembered that first line—but still I found the lines oddly comforting—a feeling I haven’t always associated with this poem. Oh. It’s my inner landscape where the terror is located. My response to this thing that is happening—that’s what’s nearer home—that’s the desert place I’m vulnerable to—and that’s something I can do something about? Maybe?

Here’s the poem read by Robert Farnsworth for Frost Place:


I find the whole poem compelling, but the lines I find most evocative are those in the final stanza—the ones I remembered—though that first line I’d misremembered.

They cannot scare me with their empty spaces

Between stars—on stars where no human race is.

I have it in me so much nearer home

To scare myself with my own desert places.

I love the way that, right in the moment, the words and tone of poetry have at least the potential to shift a thought—to send a stream of thoughts moving in a new direction.

And this a reason to memorize certain lines of poetry? So those new words and thoughts will come to us when we need them? Poetry as a way to revise the text inside our own minds?

Photo of Frost from Wikimedia Commons