by William Roetzheim

This biographical drama tells the story of Robert Frost's life, primarily using his own words and works. In 'Frost' Robert Frost has come back to life and stepped onto the stage in all of his former glory. He takes the reader with him on a journey of discovery as we share his triumphs and failures, his loves and hates, and most of all his insecurities and arrogance.…  See more details below


This biographical drama tells the story of Robert Frost's life, primarily using his own words and works. In 'Frost' Robert Frost has come back to life and stepped onto the stage in all of his former glory. He takes the reader with him on a journey of discovery as we share his triumphs and failures, his loves and hates, and most of all his insecurities and arrogance. Whether you already love Robert Frost's poetry, or you are only vaguely aware of his work, you'll come away understanding the man and his life's work. Playwright William Roetzheim has won awards that include winning or finalist in 'Best Books' National Poetry Anthology of the Year and Poetry Book of the Year; Benjamin Franklin Audio Book of the Year; Foreword Magazine Audio Book of the Year; Faulkner Society Poetry Award, Oberon Prize, and the Bill Fisher Award for Best New Fiction.

Product Details

Level 4 Press
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 8.30(h) x 0.20(d)

Read an Excerpt

First Day

A medical internship consists of more than spectating at complicated
bowel operations, cutting open stomach linings, bracketing off lungs,
and sawing off feet; and it doesn't just consist of thumbing closed
the eyes of the dead, and hauling babies out into the world either.
An internship is not just tossing limbs and parts of limbs over your
shoulder into an enamel bucket. Nor does it just consist of trotting
along behind the registrar and the assistant and the assistant's
assistant, a sort of tail-end Charlie. Nor can an internship be only
the putting out of false information; it isn't just saying: "The pus
will dissolve in your bloodstream, and you'll soon be restored to
perfect health." Or a hundred other such lies. Not just: "It'll get
better"—when nothing will. An internship isn't just an academy of
scissors and thread, of tying off and pulling through. An internship
extends to circumstances and possibilities that have nothing to do
with the flesh. My mission to observe the painter Strauch compels me
to think about precisely such non-flesh-related circumstances and
issues. The exploration of something unfathomably mysterious. The
making of sometimes very far-reaching discoveries. The way you might
investigate a conspiracy, say. And it is perfectly possible that the
non-flesh-related, by which I don't mean the soul—that what is
non-flesh-related, without being the soul, of which I can't say for
certain whether it exists, though I must say I assume it does, that
this thousand-year-old working assumption is a thousand-year-old
truth—but it isperfectly possible that the non-flesh-related, which
is to say, the non-cell-based, is the thing from which everything
takes its being, and not the other way round, nor yet some sort of

Second Day

I took the earliest train at four thirty. Passed through sheer rock.
When I boarded the train, I was shivering. Gradually I warmed up.
Further, the voices of the workers coming home off the night shift. I
felt for them right away. Men and women, old and young, but all with
the same voices of utter exhaustion, from their heads and their
breasts and their balls down to their boot soles. The men in gray
caps, the women in red headscarves. They wrapped their legs in scraps
of loden cloth; that's the only way they know of keeping the cold at
bay. I knew at once that they were a group of snow-shovelers who had
got on at Sulzau. It felt as warm as in a cow's belly: the air felt
as if it was being pumped from body to body with incredible pressure
from some collective muscle. Doesn't bear thinking about! I pressed
my back hard against the wall of the compartment. Because I hadn't
slept all night, I dropped off. When I woke up, I saw again the trail
of blood that trickled unevenly along the wet floor of the wagon,
like a stream threading its way between mountains, ending up between
the window and the window frame, under the emergency brake. It
originated from a crushed bird that had been cut in half by a sudden
jerk of the window. Maybe days ago. Shut so hard, there wasn't the
trace of a draft. The conductor, going by in performance of his
dismal duty, had taken no notice of the dead bird. But he must have
seen it. I knew that. Suddenly I heard the story of a lineman who had
been asphyxiated in a snowstorm, which ended: "He never cared about
anything." I don't know if it was my exterior, or something inside
me, finding some expression, the aura of my thoughts, of my task,
energetically preparing itself in me--but no one sat down near me,
even though over time every seat became precious.

The train wheezed through the river valley. In my thoughts, I was
once briefly at home. Then I was far away again, in some city I once
walked through. Then I saw specks of dust on my left sleeve, which I
tried to brush off with my right arm. The workers pulled out knives,
and cut bread. They choked down great thick lumps of bread, and ate
pieces of meat and wurst with them. Great chunks that no one would
ever eat at a table. Only on their laps. They all drank ice-cold
beer, and were evidently too enfeebled to laugh at themselves, even
though they felt they were worth laughing at. They were so tired, it
didn't even occur to them to do up their flies or wipe their mouths.
I thought: When they get home, they'll fall straight into bed. And at
five in the afternoon, when everyone else knocks off, they'll start
again. The train rattled and plunged down, like the river running
beside it. If anything, it seemed to be getting darker.

The room is as small and uncomfortable as my intern's room in
Schwarzach. If it's the roar of the river that's unbearable there,
here it's the silence. At my request, the landlady took down the
curtains. (It's always like that with me: I don't like having
curtains in rooms that frighten me.) The landlady is disgusting to
me. It's the same disgust I felt when I was a child and had to vomit
outside the open doors of the slaughterhouse. If she were dead I
would, today, feel no disgust--dead bodies on the dissecting table
never remind me of live bodies--but she's alive, and living in a
moldy ancient reek of inn kitchens. Apparently she likes me, though,
because she lugged my suitcase upstairs, and offered to bring me
breakfast in bed every morning, which is absolutely at variance with
her normal practice. "The painter's an exception," she said. He was
another long-stay guest, and long-stay guests enjoyed certain
privileges. Even though, as far as innkeepers were concerned, they
were "more trouble than they were worth." How had I happened to wind
up at her inn? "By chance," I said. I wanted to recuperate quickly,
and return home, where a mountain of work was waiting for me. She
seemed understanding. I told her my name and showed her my passport.

So far I haven't seen anyone but the landlady, even though I heard a
lot of noise in the inn in the interval. At lunchtime, when I stayed
in my room, I asked the landlady about the painter, and she said he
was in the forest. "He's almost always in the forest," she said. He
wouldn't be back before supper. Was I acquainted with the painter?
she asked. "No," I said. Silently standing in the doorway, she seemed
to pose an urgent question, as woman to man. I was startled,
and—without a word, though not without an edge of nausea—refused
her offer.

Weng is the most dismal place I have ever seen. Far more dismal than
in the assistant doctor's description. Doctor Strauch had spoken
about it in the sort of veiled terms one might use to describe a
dangerous path to a friend who has to go there. The assistant stuck
to intimations. He tied me more and more tightly to the task with
invisible ropes, creating an unbearable tension between him and me,
while I felt the arguments he remorselessly advanced against me like
nails being driven into my brain. He did at least manage not to
irritate me. Confined himself rigidly to points I had to observe. I
really was frightened by this landscape, in particular this one spot,
which is populated by small, fully grown people whom one can
certainly call cretins. No taller than five feet on average, begotten
in drunkenness, they pass in and out through cracks in the walls and
corridors. They seem typical of this valley.

Weng is at a considerable elevation, but still stuck at the bottom of
a gorge. It's impossible to get out up the cliff walls. The only way
out is by train. It's so ugly that it's characterful; far prettier
landscapes have no character. Everyone there has tipsy children's
voices, scraped away to a high C, which they drill into you as you
pass by. Jab into you. Jab from the shadows, I have to say, because
in truth I have only seen shadows of people so far, human shadows, in
poverty and in a dank tremor of frenzy. And those voices, jabbing at
me out of the shadows, first of all confused me, and then drove me
faster on my way. But these realizations were nonetheless sober ones;
they didn't depress me. Actually all I felt was annoyance, because it
was all so incredibly inhospitable. On top of everything, I had to
lug my cardboard suitcase, with its contents jumbling together. The
way up to Weng from the train station, where the industrial park is
and where the big power plant is being built, can only be covered on
foot. Five kilometers, which can't be shortened in any way, least of
all in this season. Barking, howling dogs everywhere. I could imagine
people being driven mad in the long run, if they were compelled to
experience uninterruptedly the sort of thing I had to experience on
the way up to Weng, and in Weng itself, if they weren't distracted by
their work or by pleasure or other appropriate activities, as for
instance whores, or church, or drinking, or all three at once. What
brings a man like the painter Strauch to such a place, and to such a
place at such a time, that it must be like a repeated slap in the

My assignment is highly confidential, and I think it was deliberately
entrusted to me suddenly, from one day to the next. The assistant
must have spent some time nursing the idea of charging me with the
observation of his brother. And why me? Why not one of the others,
interns like myself? Because I often came to him with difficult
questions, and the others didn't? He specifically told me on no
account to arouse the least suspicion in the painter Strauch that
there had been any communication between himself, the surgeon Strauch
his brother, and myself. That's why I am also to say, if asked, that
I am studying law, so as to divert attention from medicine. The
assistant paid for my travel and board. He gave me a sum of money
that seemed ample to him to cover everything. He demands precise
observation of his brother, nothing more. Description of his
behavior, of the course of his typical day; information about his
opinions, intentions, expressions, judgments. A report on his walk.
On his way of gesticulating, flying off the handle, "keeping people
at bay." On the way he handled his walking stick. "Watch the way my
brother holds his stick, I want a precise description of it."

It's twenty years since the surgeon last saw the painter. Twelve
years since their last letters. The painter describes the
relationship as hostile. "Even so, as a doctor, I will make an
effort," said the assistant. For which he needed my help. My
observations would be extremely useful to him, more than anything he
had yet undertaken. "My brother," he told me, "is unmarried, as I am.
He lives, as they say, in his head. But he's terminally confused.
Haunted by vice, shame, awe, reproach, examples—my brother is a
walker, a man in fear. And a misanthrope."

This assignment is a private initiative on the part of the assistant,
but I am to view it as part of my apprenticeship in Schwarzach. It's
the first time that observation has presented itself to me as work.

I had intended to take with me Koltz on diseases of the brain,
divided into "hyper-activity" and "lesions" of the brain, but in the
end I didn't. Instead I took along a book of Henry James's, which I
had started in Schwarzach.

At four o'clock I left the inn. In the sudden massive quiet I was
seized by a feeling of unease. My sensation—of having put on the
room like a straitjacket, and now needing to take it off—made me
charge down the stairs. I went into the public bar. When, after
several shouts, no one came, I went outside. I stumbled over a chunk
of ice, picked myself up, and found an objective: a tree stump some
twenty yards away. There I stopped. Now I could see lots of similar
stumps sticking out of the snow, as if shredded by shelling, dozens
and dozens of them. It occurred to me that, sitting on my bed for a
couple of hours, I had been asleep. My arrival and the new setting
had taken it out of me. Must be the Föhn, I thought. Then I saw a man
emerging from the piece of forest a hundred yards ahead of me:
undoubtedly it was the painter Strauch. All I could see of him was a
torso; his legs were concealed in deep snowdrifts. I was struck by
his big black hat. Reluctantly, as it appeared to me, the painter
made his way from one stump to the next. Propped himself on his
stick, and then pushed off with it, as if he were drover, stick, and
animal bound for the slaughterhouse, all at the same time. But such
an impression faded immediately, and I was left with the question of
how to get to him as quickly and correctly as I could. What should I
say to him? I thought. Do I go up to him and ask him a question, in
other words, do I follow the traditional method of asking about the
time or the place? Yes? No? For a while I vacillated. I decided I
would cut him off.

"I'm looking for the inn," I said. And that was it. He scrutinized
me, because my sudden appearance was more alarming than inspiring of
confidence—and took me with him. He was a long-term resident at the
inn, he said. Anyone coming to stay in Weng had to be either an
eccentric or mistaken. Anyone looking for a holiday. "In that inn?"
It wasn't possible to be so callow as to fail to see immediately that
that was absurd. "In this area?" Such a thing could only occur to a
fool. "Or a prospective suicide." He asked me who I was, what I was
studying, because surely I was "still studying" something or other,
and I answered, as if it were the most natural thing in the world:
"Law." That was enough for him. "You go on ahead. I'm an old man," he
said. The way he looked frightened me for long moments, forcing me
back into myself, the way I saw him the first time, so helpless.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Meet the Author

Thomas Bernhard was born in Holland in 1931 and grew up in Austria. His interest in music and theater led him to study at the Akademie Mozarteum in Salzburg. He published nine novels, an autobiography, one volume of poetry, four collections of short stories, and six volumes of plays. He died in Austria in 1989.

From the Hardcover edition.

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