Wednesday, November 19, 2014

2014 TBR Reading Challenge: Poetry of Robert Frost

As part of Wendy Crutcher's 2014 TBR Challenge, here are my comments on Robert Frost edited by Gary D. Schmidt and illustrated by Henri Sorensen.

It has been decades since I last wrote critically about poetry. So this commentary is not meant to be read as a literary criticism of Frost's work or even as an authoritative reading of his poems. This is merely a case of "ooh, look how cool I find this and why" sort of thing.

Frost liked to introduce readers to his poetry with his poem The Pasture. In it, he invites a friend or a stranger walking by into his pasture just as he wants to invite the reader into his world of imagination.

   I'm going out to clean the pasture spring;
   I'll only stop to rake the leaves away
   (And wait to watch the water clear, I may)
   I sha'n't be gone long.—You come too.

I was a fey young 'un wet behind the ears when I was first introduced to Frost's poems in school. I still remember my first poem and the marveling tone of our language teacher as she recited it from memory.

   The woods are lovely, dark, and deep,
   But I have promises to keep,
   And miles to go before I sleep,
   And miles to go before I sleep.

Who can forget the majesty of the imagery behind Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening? One recitation, and I was in love. This poem, unfortunately, is not part of this collection.

However, my other favorite, The Road Not Taken, is included here. The thing that always strikes me about Frost is the sparseness of his choice of words. Some poets are flowery and use similes and metaphors to illustrate their points; Frost, on the other hand, goes for simplicity in thought and word and comes away with something profound.

   I shall be telling this with a sigh
   Somewhere ages and ages hence:
   Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
   I took the one less traveled by,
   And that has made all the difference.

What a mundane little thing like arriving at a fork in the path in the woods one autumn evening and choosing to go down one and not the other to spark off a serious thought about life's choices and not always choosing the easiest or known path, but choosing the right path for that moment in time.

In this folio collection, the poems are divided by seasons. The other autumn poem I liked was In Hardwood Groves, wherein he talks about how things have to fall down before they can rise up again. In going down, they give succor to the flowers that are going to rise up from beneath. And when new leaves rise up on the trees, they provide shade to the dancing flowers beneath.

Many of Frost's poems are about going out for walks and writing about what he sees and what he feels about what he sees. In Good Hours, he talks about his one winter evening walk when he walked past cottages in the village full of life being lived behind well-lit windows.

   I had the sound of a violin;
   I had a glimpse through curtain laces
   Of youthful forms and youthful faces.

As I read this, I also wondered whether Frost was lonely. Whether on that cold winter evening, he felt like an outsider in the dark, while in the glow of light and fire, families lived and rejoiced.

To Frost, walking was his chief source of inspiration. So he ends the springtime poem To The Thawing Wind by urging the strong southwester wind to scatter his written work to propel him outside to seek new inspiration. But before that end, he writes with surpassing beauty of what he'd like the storm to do in banishing winter.

   Come with rain, O loud Southwester!
   Give the buried flower a dream;
   Make the settled snowbank steam;
   Find the brown beneath the white;
   But whate're you do tonight,
   Bathe my window, make it flow,
   Melt it as the ice will go;

Who would have the imagination to write a poem about a telegraph pole? I mean, really. That's about as blah as you can think of. And yet, Frost turns it into a thing to marvel at. He calls it a resurrected tree that had been cut down but stood stalwart again, a barkless specter. He talks about how this tree carries these wires on its shoulders, wires that lead off to faraway places and carries news of exotic events. This is An Encounter.

   "You here?" I said. "Where aren't you nowadays?
   And what's the news you carry—if you know?
   And tell me where you're off for—Montreal?
   Me? I'm not off for anywhere at all.
   Sometimes I wander out of beaten ways
   Half looking for the orchid Calypso."