Tag Archives: Robert Frost

Thoughts on “A Late Walk” by Robert Frost

Vincent Van Gogh

When I go up through the mowing field,
The headless aftermath,
Smooth-laid like thatch with the heavy dew,
Half closes the garden path.

And when I come to the garden ground,
The whir of sober birds
Up from the tangle of withered weeds
Is sadder than any words.

A tree beside the wall stands bare,
But a leaf that lingered brown,
Disturbed, I doubt not, by my thought,
Comes softly rattling down.

I end not far from my going forth
By picking the faded blue
Of the last remaining aster flower
To carry again to you.

In this poem, Frost uses autumn as a symbol for impending death. It appears that someone close to him is nearing the end of his or her life, and this imminent death is cause for Frost to reflect on his own mortality.

In addition to the ABCB rhyming scheme, Frost incorporates alliteration, which works nicely. The phrases “garden ground,” “withered weeds,” “leaf that lingered,” and “disturbed, I doubt not” instill a somber musicality to the poem that evokes a feeling of inner reflection.

I have often walked alone in the fall, smelling the dead leaves and listening to the wind rustling the bare branches of trees. At these times, I am very aware of the fragility of life, along with the promise of spring and rebirth.

It is the promise of rebirth that offers a ray of hope in this otherwise sad poem. Frost uses the aster flower as a symbol for spring and rebirth. Death is just part of the cycle of life, but the cycle continues and from death comes new growth.

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“A Winter Eden” by Robert Frost

Claude Monet

Claude Monet

A winter garden in an alder swamp,
Where conies now come out to sun and romp,
As near a paradise as it can be
And not melt snow or start a dormant tree.

It lifts existence on a plane of snow
One level higher than the earth below,
One level nearer heaven overhead,
And last year’s berries shining scarlet red.

It lifts a gaunt luxuriating beast
Where he can stretch and hold his highest feat
On some wild apple tree’s young tender bark,
What well may prove the year’s high girdle mark.

So near to paradise all pairing ends:
Here loveless birds now flock as winter friends,
Content with bud-inspecting. They presume
To say which buds are leaf and which are bloom.

A feather-hammer gives a double knock.
This Eden day is done at two o’clock.
An hour of winter day might seem too short
To make it worth life’s while to wake and sport.

This poem is about the place of winter in the cycle of the seasons, and how winter symbolizes the point in the cycle of life that marks the transition to rebirth.

We generally imagine Eden as a lush green paradise; but here, Frost presents us with a version of Eden that is stark white, lacking in rich verdure. But as one looks closer, the seeds of life become apparent. Images of buds and berries abound, all symbols of rebirth.

I had to look up what conies are, and learned that they are rabbits. This immediately reinforced the rebirth imagery for me, since rabbits are often used as symbols for birth and fertility, and associated with spring.

I suppose it is no coincidence that I read this poem after listening to a guided meditation about rebirth today. As we are now officially in winter and moving toward the end of a challenging year, I look forward to a symbolic rebirth in the spring. In the meantime, I will nurture the seeds of light and enjoy the beauty of winter.

Thanks for stopping by, and may you have a blessed holiday season.

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“Ghost House” by Robert Frost

Image Source: Princeton Landing News

Image Source: Princeton Landing News

I dwell in a lonely house I know
That vanished many a summer ago,
And left no trace but the cellar walls,
And a cellar in which the daylight falls
And the purple-stemmed wild raspberries grow.

O’er ruined fences the grape-vines shield
The woods come back to the mowing field;
The orchard tree has grown one copse
Of new wood and old where the woodpecker chops;
The footpath down to the well is healed.

I dwell with a strangely aching heart
In that vanished abode there far apart
On that disused and forgotten road
That has no dust-bath now for the toad.
Night comes; the black bats tumble and dart;

The whippoorwill is coming to shout
And hush and cluck and flutter about:
I hear him begin far enough away
Full many a time to say his say
Before he arrives to say it out.

It is under the small, dim, summer star.
I know not who these mute folk are
Who share the unlit place with me—
Those stones out under the low-limbed tree
Doubtless bear names that the mosses mar.

They are tireless folk, but slow and sad—
Though two, close-keeping, are lass and lad,—
With none among them that ever sings,
And yet, in view of how many things,
As sweet companions as might be had.

This poem drips melancholy from each stanza. I get the impression of a man in his later years, who is basically living in the past. His life is nothing but the ruined remnants of what he was in his youth. The images of the raspberry growing in the ruins of what was once the cellar (a symbol for the foundation upon which his life was once built) is particularly poignant. While the raspberries are delicious summer berries, representing the sweetness of his youth, the brambles on which the berries grow are full of thorns, and the vines are like painful memories, sharp and prickly, entwined in his brain.

Several types of birds appear in the poem, and each one symbolizes a part of his memory. The woodpecker is the constant tapping, tapping, tapping of his past, reminding him of what is lost. The bats are the memories which haunt him at night, fluttering through his dreams. The other birds—whippoorwill, hush, and cluck—symbolize the happier memories of his childhood, calling back to him.

I feel there is a larger overarching theme here. Nature reclaims all that is created. The house is reclaimed by nature, overgrown and reduced to little more than a crumbling foundation. Likewise, the man knows that nature is about to reclaim him, and like the house, all that will remain of him will be an old, crumbling, neglected gravestone, covered with brambles.

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“It is Almost the Year Two Thousand” by Robert Frost

RobertFrost

So it’s New Year’s Day, 2016, and I needed to start the year off right with a blog post. So I skimmed through the tables of contents in a few of my poetry books, looking for something appropriate. This one by Frost caught my attention.

To start the world of old
We had one age of gold
Not labored out of mines,
And some say there are signs
The second such has come,
The true Millennium,
The final golden glow
To end it. And if so
(And science ought to know)
We may well raise our heads
From weeding garden beds
And annotating books
To watch this end de luxe.

Although the Millennium has passed without all the crazy predictions coming true, and without Y2K computer glitches causing a global economic disaster, I cannot help but wonder if there was still a subtle shift in human consciousness, the beginning of a new age. As Frost points out, the golden age of humanity is past. So what now? What is this “true Millennium”? I feel, personally, that it is the final stage in the evolution of human consciousness which is now beginning to take shape.

As I look back at the year 2015, and as you do the same, I think we can all agree that the one word that sums things up is change, on myriad levels. Not all of this change has been pleasant or comfortable, but change seldom is. Change seems to be occurring more rapidly than it did in years past. We could debate the reasons for increased change, but we cannot deny it. And my feeling is that the causes are less important than the change itself, and for me, I need to embrace this change.

While I will continue to weed my garden bed (which I see as a symbol for working on my own personal growth) and also continue annotating books (learning and seeking knowledge), I will also make sure I take time to pause and “watch this end de luxe.” I’m not sure what humanity’s final age will look like, or whether this is really is the final stage, but I do think we live in an incredibly amazing age, and I am endlessly awed by the things I see happening in the world around me every day.

May the New Year bring you many blessings, and may you be a part of the change that is taking place.

Cheers!

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“October” by Robert Frost

Source: Wikipedia

Source: Wikipedia

O hushed October morning mild,
Thy leaves have ripened to the fall;
Tomorrow’s wind, if it be wild,
Should waste them all.
The crows above the forest call;
Tomorrow they may form and go.
O hushed October morning mild,
Begin the hours of this day slow.
Make the day seem to us less brief.
Hearts not averse to being beguiled,
Beguile us in the way you know.
Release one leaf at break of day;
At noon release another leaf;
One from our trees, one far away.
Retard the sun with gentle mist;
Enchant the land with amethyst.
Slow, slow!
For the grapes’ sake, if they were all,
Whose leaves already are burnt with frost,
Whose clustered fruit must else be lost—
For the grapes’ sake along the wall.

This is a gorgeous poem that draws on images of autumn as a metaphor for growing old. If one considers the seasons as symbolic of the cycle of human life (spring/birth, summer/youth, fall/maturity, winter/old age and death), then it is clear that the speaker in this poem is in the later stages of maturity and sensing the closeness of death, represented by the leaves beginning to fall from the trees. Once the leave are all gone, that symbolizes the time of death before the cycle begins again.

He entreats the leaves to fall slowly, “for the grapes’ sake.” I see the grapes as a metaphor for his children. Fruit is a frequent symbol for offspring, such as in God’s instruction to be fruitful. Anyway, the poem’s speaker is not ready to leave his children. He still feels connected to them, they are still part of his vine. It’s possible he feels they have not ripened or reached maturity.

The image of amethyst caught my attention, and I related to it, since I am already seeing the leaves around my home getting tinged with purple. Anyway, something told me to do a quick search on some of the meanings and properties of amethyst and I found something very interesting. The word amethyst comes from Greek mythology and is connected to Bacchus and grapes.

The name Amethyst derives from the Greek word ametusthos, meaning “not intoxicated,” and comes from an ancient legend. The wine god Bacchus, angry over an insult and determined to avenge himself decreed the first person he should meet would be devoured by his tigers. The unfortunate mortal happened to be a beautiful maiden named Amethyst on her way to worship at the shrine of Diana. As the ferocious beasts sprang, she sought the protection of the goddess and was saved by being turned into a clear, white crystal. Bacchus, regretting his cruelty, poured the juice of his grapes over the stone as an offering, giving the gem its lovely purple hue.

(Source: Crystal Vaults)

I really liked how this myth ties into the poem. It adds a whole other level of interpretation which I find moving.

Thanks for stopping by, and I hope that your autumn days are full of beauty and inspiration.

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“Into My Own” by Robert Frost

BanyanTree

One of my wishes is that those dark trees,
So old and firm they scarcely show the breeze,
Were not, as ’twere, the merest mask of gloom,
But stretched away unto the edge of doom.

I should not be withheld but that some day
Into their vastness I should steal away,
Fearless of ever finding open land,
Or highway where the slow wheel pours the sand.

I do not see why I should e’er turn back,
Or those should not set forth upon my track
To overtake me, who should miss me here
And long to know if still I held them dear.

They would not find me changed from him they knew—
Only more sure of all I thought was true.

I read this sonnet three times this morning, and each time I read it I liked it more. This poem works for me on so many levels, and the fact that it was the first poem in Frost’s first book (A Boy’s Will) makes it all the more impressive.

On the surface, we have a young man who longs to set out on his own and travel his own path in the world. The trees symbolize his present life, rooted as it were in the place where he lives. But he longs to venture into the woods, to get lost in the world beyond his present life. I could not help thinking about Chris McCandless in “Into the Wild” by Jon Krakauer. This is the archetypal American feeling of freedom to lose oneself in the wilderness, to seek one’s true self in nature. It’s why we relate to Huckleberry Finn.

But I see another level of symbolism in this poem, something deeper, more spiritual and psychological. This poem serves as a metaphor for the inner search for one’s true spiritual self. On this level, the trees become symbols for our established beliefs, rooted deep in our consciousness, obscuring the deeper forests of the subconscious mind that lay beyond the threshold of the woods. The speaker now wants to delve deep into his soul and search for his essence. He knows innately that this inner self is his true nature, and that discovering that part of himself will not change him into something different, but will only unveil who he really is.

They would not find me changed from him they knew—
Only more sure of all I thought was true.

The more I read Robert Frost, the more I appreciate his genius. This poem is a great example of how great a poet he was.

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“Christmas Trees (A Christmas Circular Letter)” by Robert Frost

Our holiday tree - 2014

Our holiday tree – 2014

Although this is a somewhat lengthy poem, I feel it is worth including here.

The city had withdrawn into itself
And left at last the country to the country;
When between whirls of snow not come to lie
And whirls of foliage not yet laid, there drove
A stranger to our yard, who looked the city,
Yet did in country fashion in that there
He sat and waited till he drew us out
A-buttoning coats to ask him who he was.
He proved to be the city come again
To look for something it had left behind
And could not do without and keep its Christmas.
He asked if I would sell my Christmas trees;
My woods—the young fir balsams like a place
Where houses all are churches and have spires.
I hadn’t thought of them as Christmas Trees.
I doubt if I was tempted for a moment
To sell them off their feet to go in cars
And leave the slope behind the house all bare,
Where the sun shines now no warmer than the moon.
I’d hate to have them know it if I was.
Yet more I’d hate to hold my trees except
As others hold theirs or refuse for them,
Beyond the time of profitable growth,
The trial by market everything must come to.
I dallied so much with the thought of selling.
Then whether from mistaken courtesy
And fear of seeming short of speech, or whether
From hope of hearing good of what was mine, I said,
“There aren’t enough to be worth while.”
“I could soon tell how many they would cut,
You let me look them over.”

“You could look.
But don’t expect I’m going to let you have them.”
Pasture they spring in, some in clumps too close
That lop each other of boughs, but not a few
Quite solitary and having equal boughs
All round and round. The latter he nodded “Yes” to,
Or paused to say beneath some lovelier one,
With a buyer’s moderation, “That would do.”
I thought so too, but wasn’t there to say so.
We climbed the pasture on the south, crossed over,
And came down on the north. He said, “A thousand.”

“A thousand Christmas trees!—at what apiece?”

He felt some need of softening that to me:
“A thousand trees would come to thirty dollars.”

Then I was certain I had never meant
To let him have them. Never show surprise!
But thirty dollars seemed so small beside
The extent of pasture I should strip, three cents
(For that was all they figured out apiece),
Three cents so small beside the dollar friends
I should be writing to within the hour
Would pay in cities for good trees like those,
Regular vestry-trees whole Sunday Schools
Could hang enough on to pick off enough.
A thousand Christmas trees I didn’t know I had!
Worth three cents more to give away than sell,
As may be shown by a simple calculation.
Too bad I couldn’t lay one in a letter.
I can’t help wishing I could send you one,
In wishing you herewith a Merry Christmas.

As I read this, I couldn’t help feeling so very grateful that I live in a place where I can purchase a single tree from a local farmer who grew it himself. I had to order and pay for the tree in advance, then pick a date when I would meet the farmer. When the day came to pick up the tree, the farmer told me it had been cut that morning. The smell of the fresh pine filled the inside of my station wagon and brought back memories of Christmases as a child.

This poem made me feel a little sad for the people who live in congested places and are out of touch with nature and her cycles. I thought about the exploitation of rural folk and the consumerism that has come to define our society, a consumerism that culminates at this time of the year. And again, I felt grateful and fortunate that I live in a place where I can buy locally grown food directly from a farmer, where I can purchase handmade items from artisans who are my neighbors. I don’t mind spending a little extra for these things. For me, it’s worth it.

The last image that haunted me from this poem was the farmer’s vision of his hills stripped bare for the sake of a pittance. For me, this time of the year symbolizes the promise of rebirth, of light overcoming the dominant darkness. The evergreen tree is a living symbol of this rebirth, surviving through the dark, cold winter, promising the green growth of spring. I suspect that Frost also considered this when he included the subtitle, “A Christmas Circular Letter.” The Christmas Tree symbolizes the circle of life that is renewed after the winter months. The lights represent the warmth and sunlight that will coax the plants from the soil. The round ornaments symbolize the circle of the year and the seasons, as well as the fruits which will reappear in the warmer months.

May you and yours have a blessed holiday and New Year!

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