Wednesday, June 11, 2008
Crime, Punishment and Robert Frost
Last December a bunch of teens had a very rowdy party in poet Robert Frost's old summer house in Vermont. (It is now a museum.) There was a lot damage and the judge in the case just got creative about how the defendants are not only going to pay for what they destroyed but also learn a bit in the process. As the NYT explains in a recent editorial:
The criminal justice system in Ripton, Vt., prescribed poetry, of all things, as punishment — and we hope rehabilitation — for 25 teenagers (townies all) who broke into Frost’s old summer house in the woods last December. They trashed it during a snowy night’s bout of drinking and partying.
Skeptical at first, Mr. Parini, who teaches at nearby Middlebury College, accepted the invitation to teach the wayward teens. He did not pull any iambic punches in class last week.
One lesson was built around “The Road Not Taken,” Frost’s caution on the fateful choices that crop up in the dense woods of life. Harsher still was the choice of “Out, Out,” Frost’s account of a youth’s precious life spilling away in a sawmill accident amid the heedless glories of Vermont.
“They seemed shaken to their foundations,” said Mr. Parini, not that surprised. “A wake-up call: don’t waste your life.”
The young perpetrators must also do hours of community service, but the professor knows Frost’s words struck home best. “Poetry is about life and death and who you are as a person,” Mr. Parini explained, quoting the prose line from Frost “that really drove me towards these kids.” It’s from the essay “Education by Poetry,” in which the poet warned, “Unless you are educated in metaphor, you are not safe to be let loose in the world.”