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34. The Poetry of Robert Frost

Just couldn't stop once I started. Frost and Dickinson are two of the colors that mix to brown mud in my own verse attempts, the only two I consistently recognize there - but what can I say, I love them. They're what poetry is for me, when I try to touch it, though I'm closer to Stevens and Shelley in what I believe. Frost and Dickinson aren't quite about belief - how and where to take things. They're makers of experience; they bring the poles of inside and outside together, something explodes, and they ask isn't it just like that, isn't that just where they would really explode, where they made them explode in our heads. They're both ridiculously tactile. But I don't want to bring them too close together: Frost is a good child of Emerson, Thoreau, and Robinson when he forgets to forget to be, and does have his own distinct vision, including prescriptive elements. Dickinson does too, though phrased still more thoroughgoingly in negative terms, but is even more often being bad off in the woods.

But I wanted to distinguish them, so I'd better. Texture, then - with Dickinson we feel the textures she bounces off, at the same time the ones she finds she's herself made of in that contact. But Frost spreads the elements thick, he unrolls the ground, blows a sky, slaps up fire between his hands to sow some stars, digs down to water. Every poem gets its own bit of world. And put them together you feel you've been everywhere, or at least all up and down a lifetime in a little state. You also have to read him in bulk to get suspicious enough to see how much he's up to.

I forgot this unforgettable phrase, maybe the one rammed fullest with Frost: "The saddest thing in life / Is that the best thing in it should be courage."

How right is that.
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And just because I love it, esp. stanza 4:


The Soul has Bandaged moments -
When too appalled to stir -
She feels some ghastly Fright come up
And stop to look at her -

Salute her - with long fingers -
Caress her freezing hair -
Sip, Goblin, from the very lips
The Lover - hovered - o'er -
Unworthy, that a thought so mean
Accost a Theme - so - fair -

The soul has moments of Escape -
When bursting all the doors -
She dances like a Bomb, abroad,
And swings upon the Hours,

As do the Bee - delirious borne -
Long Dungeoned from his Rose -
Touch Liberty - then know no more,
But Noon, and Paradise -

The Soul's retaken moments -
When, Felon led along,
With shackles on the plumed feet,
And staples, in the Song,

The Horror welcomes her, again,
These, are not brayed of Tongue -
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Oh dear:

I dwell in Possibility -
A fairer House than Prose -
More numerous of Windows -
Superior - for Doors -

Of Chambers as the Cedars -
Impregnable of Eye -
and for an Everlasting Roof
The Gambrels of the Sky -

Of Visitors - the fairest -
For Occupation - This -
The spreading wide my narrow Hands
To gather Paradise -



And "One need not be a Chamber - to be Haunted" ... and there's plenty of bits of imaginary architecture in others - planks giving way, floorboards in brains, households under graves.
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960

The Heart has narrow Banks
It measures like the Sea
In mighty - unremitting Bass
And Blue monotony

Till Hurricane bisect
And as itself discerns
It's insufficient Area
The Heart convulsive learns

That Calm is but a Wall
Of Unattempted Gauze
An instant's Push demolishes
A Questioning - dissolves.
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Maybe alluding to the lights again? I think I need to see the auroras. (I have a dim memory of my father making me stand on the lawn and watch some distant smudgy horizon laser show in early childhood. Not much makes it to Ohio.)

?. Behind Me — dips Eternity —
Before Me — Immortality —
Myself — the Term between —
Death but the Drift of Eastern Gray,
Dissolving into Dawn away,
Before the West begin —

'Tis Kingdoms — afterward — they say —
In perfect — pauseless Monarchy —
Whose Prince — is Son of None —
Himself — His Dateless Dynasty —
Himself — Himself diversify —
In Duplicate divine —

'Tis Miracle before Me — then —
'Tis Miracle behind — between —
A Crescent in the Sea —
With Midnight to the North of Her —
And Midnight to the South of Her —
And Maelstrom — in the Sky —
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I hallucinate something of a sequence to these ones:

1. At least – to pray – is left – is left –
Oh Jesus – in the Air –
I know not which thy chamber is –
I’m knocking – everywhere –

Thou settest Earthquake in the South –
And Malestrom, in the Sea –
Say, Jesus Christ of Nazareth –
Hast thou no Arm for Me?


2. My period had come for Prayer –
No other Art – would do –
My Tactics missed a rudiment –
Creator – Was it you?

God grows above – so those who pray
Horizons – must ascend –
And so I stepped upon the North
To see the Curious Friend –

His House was not – no sign had He –
By Chimney – nor by Door –
Could I infer his Residence –
Vast Prairies of Air

Unbroken by a Settler –
Were all that I could see –
Infinitude – Had’st Thou no Face
That I might look on Thee?

The Silence condescended –
Creation stopped – for Me –
But awed beyond my errand –
I worshipped – did not “pray” –


3a. Like Eyes that looked on Wastes –
Incredulous of Ought
But Blank – and steady Wilderness –
Diversified by Night –

Just Infinites of Nought –
As far as it could see –
So looked the face I looked upon –
So looked itself – on Me –

I offered it no Help –
Because the Cause was Mine –
The Misery a Compact
As hopeless – as divine –

Neither - would be absolved –
Neither would be a Queen
Without the Other – Therefore –
We perish – tho’ We reign –


3b. I saw no Way — The Heavens were stitched —
I felt the Columns close —
The Earth reversed her Hemispheres —
I touched the Universe —

And back it slid — and I alone —
A Speck upon a Ball —
Went out upon Circumference —
Beyond the Dip of Bell —

3a and 3b because you could read either as being before the other: is she addressing the auroraless sky, in 3a, or is this blank the closed columns, the thing behind the sky revealed during auroras?
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Especially since:

Aurora is the effort
Of the Celestial Face
Unconsciousness of Perfectness
To simulate, to Us.

Straightened: an aurora is the effort of the celestial face to simulate its unconsciousness of its perfection to us. Every Emily exhale is an irony, so don't be sure that doesn't mean one of its possible opposites, Godlovers.

But anyway it fits the poem before. The face in the North showed itself to her, but in such a way that her desire to respond to it personally (by praying) rather than with awe (presumably what prayerless worship's like?) is simply destroyed. The aurora is God's proof to us that he does not exist, but that something more astonishing does.
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Could this, too, be an aurora poem then?

My period had come for Prayer -
No other Art - would do -
My Tactics missed a rudiment -
Creator - Was it you?

God grows above - so those who pray
Horizons - must ascend -
And so I stepped upon the North
To see this Curious Friend -

His House was not - no sign had He -
By Chimney - nor by Door
Could I infer his Residence -
Vast Prairies of Air

Unbroken by a Settler -
Were all that I could see -
Infinitude - Had'st Thou no Face
That I might look on Thee?

The Silence condescended -
Creation stopped - for Me -
But awed beyond my errand -
I worshipped - did not "pray" -


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This Dickinson:

I saw no Way -- The Heavens were stitched --
I felt the Columns close --
The Earth reversed her Hemispheres -- [massy earth and sphered skies are riven]
I touched the Universe --

And back it slid -- and I alone --
A Speck upon a Ball --
Went out upon Circumference --
Beyond the Dip of Bell --

I discovered that there is no way forward. The sky was a cohesive material and not a route to freedom. Even the lesser routes to freedom started to be blocked off by the material limitations imposed by space and time. The sudden knowledge that no external escape is possible revolutionized my relation to the universe, as though the whole planet had been stood on end. I found I knew my place in it. It was like touching the real world for the first time.

But that world slid away, leaving me alone and worldless, except for this now so little ball-shaped world, next to which I was tinier still, so tiny as to seem a speck. And where was this ballbound speck now? It had rushed away from the true world to some distant point measuring out as far back as space can go, so far back that [words failing] the movement had perhaps left any realm of comparison with images of physical recession, such as that of the curve of a churchbell from near horizontal to near vertical [or could this be the dip of its curved motion as it's wrung?].
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...strength alone though of the Muses born
is like a fallen angel: trees uptorn,
Darkness, and worms, and shrouds, and sepulchres
Delight it; for it feeds upon the burrs,
And thorns of life; forgetting the great end
Of poesy, that it should be a friend
To soothe the cares, and lift the thoughts of man.


I wonder if this spurred Dickinson to write poems specifically about arboreal uptear and darkness and worms and shrouds and sepulchres.

As for this:

Where is thy misty pestilence to creep
Into the dwellings, through the door crannies
Of all mock lyrists, large self-worshippers
And careless Hectorers in proud bad verse?
Though I breathe death with them it will be life
To see them sprawl before me into graves.


A misty pestilence sure got Byron, as well as his kid and a couple of Shelley's; but for the second part, the curse might seem to have redounded--with the cursed even getting to miswrite Keats' epitaph.

Fall of Hyperion was published right when Dickinson started writing. New work by your favorite poet will get your close attention, and these passages fed the thoughts that became her tomb poem, I think. As did, perhaps, the "loading rifts with ore": with Shelley following the advice a year or so on. At any rate she'd appreciate the conceit.
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I died for Beauty — but was scarce
Adjusted in the Tomb
When One who died for Truth, was lain
In an adjoining room —

He questioned softly "Why I failed"?
"For Beauty", I replied —
"And I — for Truth — Themself are One —
We Brethren, are", He said —

And so, as Kinsmen, met a Night — We talked between the Rooms —
Until the Moss had reached our lips —
And covered up — our names —

I can't possibly be the first to have noticed that this is clearly a tribute to Keats and Shelley. Keats ("load your rifts with ore") dies for beauty in the sense of dying while still living for it, Shelley likewise truth. Keats is, what, a year in the ground at Rome's Protestant Cemetery when Shelley is buried nearby. They don't recognize each other at first, being dead and in the dark--and personality is somewhat less important there. Shelley politely quotes Keats' own poem to him when he realizes who he's with--Dickinson knows what an influence Hymn to Intellectual Beauty had on Keats' Odes, clearly. They talk till their names are covered up, lips stifled, meaning: their poetry is in dialogue, our memories of them intertwined, until that time when they shall be forgotten. See Westminster Abbey, the plaques joined by a flourish, above Shakespeare's bust. As for the "why they failed," see perhaps Browning's Childe Roland.

Kinsmen met a night.

Dickinson's heart is more with Keats, hence her speaking his part.

Bloom links Strange Meeting to a passage in Revolt of Islam. I can't remember the details, perhaps Dickinson's working off that too.

The teacher had some other explanation. I had to shut my mouth because it's an invasion to go into all that.

(See Mamet's The Edge, last line, for a differently ironic twist on dying "for" something.)

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