2004 Frost Medalist
Elementary Principles at Seventy-Two
When we consider the stars
(what else can we do with them?) and even
recognize among them sidereal
father-figures (it was our
consideration that arranged them so),
they will always outshine us, for we change.
When we behold the water
(which cannot be held, for it keeps turning
into itself), that is how we would move—
but water overruns us.
And when we aspire to be clad in fire
(for who would not put on such apparel?)
the flames only pass us by—
it is a way they have of passing through.
But earth is another matter. Ask earth
to take us, the last mother—
one womb we may reassume. Yes indeed,
we can have the earth. Earth will have us.
All rights reserved. Reprinted with the permission of the author.
Robert Frost, in speaking about the creation of "every work of art, not of cunning and craft, mind you," testified to the power of "believing the thing into existence, saying as you go more than you even hoped you were going to be able to say, and coming with surprise to an end that you foreknew only with some sort of emotion." Each poem of Richard Howard's has this element of spark and inherent drama, radiating his profound delight in—and absolute dedication to—the art he has practiced with perfect pitch for fifty years.
Ardor, scrupulosity, and supreme erudition characterize his long and dazzling life in letters. As poet, essayist, translator, editor, and incomparable teacher, he has enriched our culture and our reading lives and inspired thousands of students by the example of his bright unceasing labor and devotion to literature as a high, high calling.
On behalf of the Board of Governors of the Poetry Society of America, I am honored to award the 2004 Robert Frost Medal to this irreplaceable polymath who has been so pivotal and central a figure in American poetry from the mid-20th century forward.