I was pleased to encounter David Orr’s essay [“Poetry And, Of, and About,” February 2011] focused on Poetry of the Law, the anthology I co-edited with David Kader. Since Orr makes such telling use of Frost’s “Two Tramps in Mud Time,” he might have noted a recent and remarkable appearance of that poem in a legal context.
In June 2009, Supreme Court Justice David Souter retired to his home in New Hampshire. To mark the occasion, Chief Justice John Roberts read a letter signed by the other members of the Court. “We understand your desire,” the justices said, “to trade white marble for White Mountains, and to return to your land ‘of easy wind and downy flake’”—quoting, of course, from “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.”
Souter responded, “You have quoted the poet, and I will too, in words that set out the ideal of the life engaged, ‘where love and need are one.’ That phrase accounts for the finest moments of my life on this Court.”
This exchange—as graceful as some poetic colloquy between high officials of the Tang dynasty—may or may not say something about the law as a particularly literary profession. At least it seems a small but heartening sign of poetry’s persistent appeal in the world beyond the university—even, sometimes, at the highest reaches of power in American life.