Monday, February 27, 2012

Poetry: Read More/Blog More -- Robert Frost

Regular Rumination is hosting a regular poetry event, Poetry: Read More/Blog More.  The premise is simple--write about poetry once a month.  

My class recently finished reading S.E. Hinton's, The Outsiders which features a poem by Robert Frost, so I thought he would be a good place to start.  Here's Ponyboy Curtis's favorite poem:

Nature's first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf's a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.

Robert Frost has really grown on me over the years.  Obviously he speaks to young people; he spoke to then 16-year-old S.E. Hinton enough for her to build much of her novel around his poem.  The thing with Robert Frost is that he looks so much simpler than he really is.  For years I concentrated on the last two lines of this poem, the glory of dawn subsides to the ordinary day, it's wonderous explosion of color a memory.  This year I looked at these lines: "Then leaf subsides to leaf/So Eden sank to grief."  Leaf subsides to leaf.  One thing leads to another.  Things go on in their ordinary way. What's more ordinary than a leaf?  And this is how paradise is lost.  One little thing after another in a way so ordinary you don't even notice it until it's over.  Man.  That's good.  Was that there all these years?

I used to use "Dust of Snow" with my students.

The way a crow 
Shook down on me
The dust of snow
From a hemlock tree

Has given my heart
A change of mood
And saved some part
Of a day I had rued. 

Four lines of four words each.  32 words doing a lot of work.  A crow in a hemlock tree.  Should we read this as a sign of death to come, something forboding.  But it doesn't hurt the speaker of the poem at all.  It shakes snow down on him, like it's playing a joke.  A joke he appreciates.  We assume the change of mood is a good one.  How much power does that final word have?  Rued?  Rue is a word associated with threats and curses, "You'll rue the day...."  It's also an herb.  But put it with hemlock.  What does that mean?

One night, many years ago, I was walking in San Francisco's Jackson Square.  Too early for the movie I was going to, I was in a foul mood after a long, frustrating day.  It was approaching sunset when the parrots arrived.  There's a flock of red-headed conures who live in San Francisco.  They spend the day feasting in the palm trees along Dolores Street and the nights safely tucked in among the leaves of Jackson Square.  That night, their arrival saved some part of a day I had rued.  I still remember them, but I've no idea what the movie was.

Mr. Frost's most famous work is probably "The Road Not Taken" which concerns choosing which path to take when faced with a fork in the road.  It's the final stanza that concerns me today:

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.

For years I thought the speaker had made the right choice.  He took the road less traveled, went his own way and was the better for it.  Triumph of the individual; don't follow the crowd; be true to yourself. But none of that is in the poem.  All the speaker says it that taking the road less traveled has made all the difference, not that it was the right choice.  

What are we to make of the sigh in the first line of the stanza? What does the sigh mean?  He doesn't say what kind of sigh it is nor offer a clue to it's motivation.   What does it mean that the speaker is still young as he refers to ages and ages hence?  

All this time I thought I was reading Robert Frost, when he was reading me.

Stay gold, Ponyboy.


Jeane said...

i like robert frost, although its been a while since i sat and read his poetry. i've seen that parrot flock! used to live in san francisco and I watched the conures quite a bit.

Serena said...

And to write with such subtle power that is Frost is one of my dreams as a poet. Wishing I had more time to hone my poems to even come within a football field's length of Frost is a dream.

Thanks for sharing these! These are some of my favorites

Gavin said...

Beautiful post, James. So glad you are joining in!

C.B. James said...

Jeane, I love the conures. How you seend the documentary about them, The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill? It's very entertaining.

Serena, You're welcome. I really do appreciate Robert Frost the more I spend time with his poems.

Gavin, Thank you. I'm not sure that I'll be in every month, but I do hope to do four or five more post at least.

interpolations said...

Wonderful. If you ever riff on After Apple Picking, please let me know. Cheers, K

Mr. Brame said...

Nice one.

Jenners said...

I love all of these poems and hearing your thoughts on them. It is interesting how we make some assumptions that aren't actually there.

The first poem reminds me of a Baby Einstein video that my son used to watch (well, blankly stare at sometimes) . This was the poem they used for the color yellow. It was just so lovely how the lady on the video read it.

Carole said...

this is my favorite poem.

Jeane said...

Yes, it's very good. I've also got the book on my shelf, a great read too!

Lu @ Regular Rumination said...

I agree with you 100%. For a long time, I would groan and whine when we were assigned to read Robert Frost, but for once we weren't assigned The Road Not Taken and I realized how complex and beautiful his poetry can really be. And now? Now you have gone and made me realize that even that poem I've read dozens of times could have a completely different meaning than I've always assumed. Thank you for that. And thank you for participating this month!