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Took a break the other day to read around in the Contemporary volume of the Norton Modern Poetry set, to see what I maybe don't know I don't know. The only one that stood out as more than momentarily moving in a couple hours of random flipping was one I knew already:

Sundays too my father got up early
and put his clothes on in the blueblack cold,
then with cracked hands that ached
from labor in the weekday weather made
banked fires blaze. No one ever thanked him.

I'd wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking.
When the rooms were warm, he'd call,
and slowly I would rise and dress,
fearing the chronic angers of that house,

Speaking indifferently to him,
who had driven out the cold
and polished my good shoes as well.
What did I know, what did I know
of love's austere and lonely offices?


No idea how I felt about that one before four years ago (what did I know? - maybe one iteration expresses a real confusion) past that I remember it well, but I can't not see it as perfect now. Seeing the poetry of old in your own old days, the sadness that all days are old twinned with the wonder that all days are poetry - but all of that as background to or extrapolation from the more personal thing. Pure Empsonian pastoral, a sickening stomach fall of unhappy realization made just supportible by its immediately enabling something else, something badly missed your whole life until then, to fall into place.

Frost's great "Tuft of Flowers" is behind this, but the modifications are all improvements. It's closer in.
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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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That poem of his somebody found in 2006:


War Thoughts at Home, Robert Frost

On the back side of the house
Where it wears no paint to the weather
And so shows most its age,
Suddenly blue jays rage
And flash in blue feather.

It is late in an afternoon
More grey with snow to fall
Than white with fallen snow
When it is blue jay and crow
Or no bird at all.

So someone heeds from within
This flurry of bird war,
And rising from her chair
A little bent over with care
Not to scatter on the floor

The sewing in her lap
Comes to the window to see.
At sight of her dim face
The birds all cease for a space
And cling close in a tree.

And one says to the rest
"We must just watch our chance
And escape one by one —
Though the fight is no more done
Than the war is in France."

Than the war is in France!
She thinks of a winter camp
Where soldiers for France are made.
She draws down the window shade
And it glows with an early lamp.

On that old side of the house
The uneven sheds stretch back
Shed behind shed in train
Like cars that long have lain
Dead on a side track.

January 1918
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"Birches" = absurdly packed. Best I can do:

1. Its reply to Shelley: Death comes to us in life, there's nothing there to seek. There is a point to leaving the world, but only to get away from its lashings and considerations for a moment. The colors are something our lives give to ice's drabness, not to eternity's radiance: eternity, producing freezing rain, is probably just a dark cloud.

2. The demiurge: Truth says it's just the weight of bad moments that bends what starts out facing heaven down toward the earth. Frost likes to think it's a boy swinging it down for the hell of it, because he's free to, and free from awareness of whether this is in the interest of the tree (precurses "The End of March" - and perhaps "Auroras"?). He once did the same thing himself, though his birches were only birches; the demiurge boy's include people.

The demiurge is a god of this world, since heaven is only a revolving door, a brief escape permitted by consciousness. The demiurge cripples consciousnesses incidentally, unconsciously; it might just be like the weather, or it might be conscious, itself (of other things), hence the source of our own consciousness as a parent, maybe our one parent, somehow like us, but is not conscious of us - see "Design."

3. Poetry: Frost wants to do it again, too, but with a difference. Passively, as a tree, he wants to touch both earth and heaven in alternation, and not be stuck facing either, so he'd like some boy to climb and swing him, but not conquer him into a bent position. Actively, as a boy, he'd like to visit heaven by climbing a tree, but only to leave the earth for just a moment, the tapering tree bending to set him back down when he gets too high. He doesn't want to just run sideways through the forest, running into its obstacles - twigs, cobwebs. How are we both trees and boys? Boys can climb and swing - as Frost once could, now wishes to. We are boys when we're empowered - in the past, imagination, maybe when writing a poem. Having a boy climb us is more like reading one: Frost's can draw the uselessly heaven-inclined down toward love. By climbing one (entering the headspace of the healthy and young?) he can leave his world of love and pain for a moment. An interchange of painless aloofness and loving involvement is the best; not Shelleyan escape into death, not being frozen to your knees by life, though Frost seems aware these are the two inevitable fates, that going back and forth is itself a daydream, not a Truth.

A poem can do something to you that the world should have but either couldn't or didn't know it should have. Or a poem is just the notion that such a thing might happen - the kind of daydream that you have while running through the woods. But the world would give us such nice daydreams, if it could or knew it should.

4. Sex: There's some impotence hints here, corroborated by some of his other poems of the WW1 period, e.g. "After Apple-Picking." I'm not usually into that kind of reading, but it seems unavoidable, and Frost really does invite you to read his poems in terms of one another. He was obviously writing out of several overlapping personal crises. If impotence wasn't one of them, it was at least enough of a fear or metaphor to pierce or worm inside his imagery.

5. The demiurge's laugh is innocent.

6. And maybe: A poem is a thought of a world where his power is wielded by consciousness like ours; a thought not always present in the verses, presumably, but implied by them - if a poem speaks of terrible, true things, it is a terror from the perspective of that world of better thought. What is sympathy but the confirmation that something better can be kept in mind, some rival truth has been veered from?

The active/passive, boy/tree interchange is astonishing. He's as obsessively into the matter/consciousness (can matter be conscious, and if so what's matter? has consciousness concocted matter, and if so what's anything? if each is a thing distinct, which flooding through the gates of which other is the stuff of our time?) questions as Kafka.

Earth is the place for love, but only the unearthly can inhabit it. How do we both stay and go? The place is right, but the time is neither right nor wrong.
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In Frost's next to last notebook, so written I guess in his eighties:

[Someone:] I demand to speak with God

[Someone else:] What is your business with God

S: I couldn't explain that to anybody but God

E: There is not God

S: So much the better perhaps. Because that rules out half my business. If there is no God there can be no future life. The present life is all I should have to worry about.

E: There is no future life. Are you worried about the present life.

S: Even more so because there is no future life to defer to. I see all salvation limited to here and now. Happiness cannot be put off. I must ask to see the highest authority at once.

E: You aren't mocking the saints are you?

S: Saints No! those bare-faced church introductions. Who introduced them to the church? Nobody but themselves. Let me see the highest authority there is on

[Breaks off]
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The Demiurge's Laugh, Robert Frost

about science.

It was far in the sameness of the wood;
I was running with joy on the Demon's trail,
Though I knew what I hunted was no true god.
It was just as the light was beginning to fail
That I suddenly heard—all I needed to hear:
It has lasted me many and many a year.

The sound was behind me instead of before,
A sleepy sound, but mocking half,
As of one who utterly couldn't care.
The Demon arose from his wallow to laugh,
Brushing the dirt from his eye as he went;
And well I knew what the Demon meant.

I shall not forget how his laugh rang out.
I felt as a fool to have been so caught,
And checked my steps to make pretence
It was something among the leaves I sought
(Though doubtful whether he stayed to see).
Thereafter I sat me against a tree.


Design, Frost

I found a dimpled spider, fat and white,
On a white heal-all, holding up a moth
Like a white piece of rigid satin cloth --
Assorted characters of death and blight
Mixed ready to begin the morning right,
Like the ingredients of a witches' broth --
A snow-drop spider, a flower like a froth,
And dead wings carried like a paper kite.

What had that flower to do with being white,
The wayside blue and innocent heal-all?
What brought the kindred spider to that height,
Then steered the white moth thither in the night?
What but design of darkness to appall?--
If design govern in a thing so small.
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In my many musings on literary folks' argument over Shelley I totally forgot this response to him:

The Lost Follower, Robert Frost

As I have known them passionate and fine
The gold for which they leave the golden line
Of lyric is a golden light divine,
Never the gold of darkness from a mine.

The spirit plays us strange religious pranks
To whatsoever god we owe the thanks.
No one has ever failed the poet ranks
To link a chain of money-metal banks.

The loss to song, the danger of defection
Is always in the opposite direction.
Some turn in sheer, in Shelleyan dejection
To try if one more popular election

Will give us by short cut the final stage
That poetry with all its golden rage
For beauty on the illuminated page
Has failed to bring I mean the Golden Age.

And if this may not be (and nothing's sure),
At least to live ungolden with the poor,
Enduring what the ungolden must endure.
This has been poetry's great anti-lure.

The muse mourns one who went to his retreat
Long since in some abysmal city street,
The bride who shared the crust he broke to eat
As grave as he about the world's defeat.

With such it has proved dangerous as friend
Even in a playful moment to contend
That the millennium to which you bend
In longing is not at a progress-end

By grace of state-manipulated pelf,
Or politics of Ghibelline or Guelph,
But right beside you book-like on a shelf,
Or even better god-like in yourself.

He trusts my love too well to deign reply.
But there is in the sadness of his eye,
Something about a kingdom in the sky
(As yet unbrought to earth) he means to try.



Rather, a response to Browning's "The Lost Leader"--itself an anxious moderation of Shelley's "To Wordsworth"--but clearly starring Shelley, at least as example. Interesting how Stevens, who writes against utopianism even more unfortunately, because less sympathetically, than the amused Frost, defends Shelley from this kind of charge in the long poem (and frequently anti-Marxist rant) "Owl's Clover"--and this passage from a letter explaining it:

The astral and Shelleyan lights are not going to alter the structure of nature. Apples will always be apples, and whoever is a ploughman hereafter will be what the ploughman has always been. For all that, the astral and Shelleyan will have transformed the world.
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Wilbur: One evening in the late 1940's I asked Frost whether he was fond of Beddoes, and he said he was; but he said so with what seemed to be a warning glitter in his eye, and I did not pursue the subject.
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Borges:

The second time--"And miles to go before I sleep"--we are made to feel that the miles are not only in space but in time, and that "sleep" means "die" or "rest." Had the poet said so in so many words, he would have been far less effective. Because, as I understand it, anything suggested is far more effective than anything laid down. Perhaps the human mind has a tendency to deny a statement. Remember what Emerson said: arguments convince nobody. They convince nobody because they are presented as arguments. Then we look at them, we weigh them, we turn them over, and we decide against them.

But when something is merely said or--better still--hinted at, there is a kind of hospitality in our imagination. We are ready to accept it.

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