“No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader,” Robert Frost admonished. He was talking about the “clarification of life” that poetry brings, and you don’t see clearly through tears. Also, being a stoic New Englander, Frost was temperamentally disinclined to emotional display, even in the face of extreme tragedy, of which his poetry has no lack. Instead of crying, the boy who loses his hand to a buzz saw in “Out, Out” —  gives a rueful laugh of shocked disbelief. And then he dies. Nobody in the family cries either: “And they, since they / Were not the one dead, turned to their affairs.”

Another reason for the no tears rule is that reticence tends to increase rather than diminish pathos, which is to say, less is more. The boy doing a man’s job in “Out, Out —,” denied even a half hour of childish leisure… More…

[I]s it not the case that the older one becomes the more life reveals itself to be deceptive, the smarter one becomes, the more ways one learns to help himself, the worse off he is, the more one suffers. A small child is completely helpless and yet thrives. I remember once having seen a nursemaid on the street pushing a baby carriage in which there were two children. The one, just barely a year old, had fallen asleep and lay in the carriage dead to the world. The other was a little girl around two years old, chubby in short sleeves just like a little woman. She had pushed herself forward in the carriage and easily took up two thirds of the space. The smaller child lay next to her as if it were a package the woman had brought with her. With an admirable egoism, she appeared not to… More…