My rating: 5 of 5 stars
April is National Poetry Month and, in honor of that fact, I have decided to re-read (or at least skim) and review some of my favorites. For me, that always starts with Robert Frost.
I discovered the poetry of Robert Frost, as I discovered so many things, in college. In my Speech class, one of my assignments required me to deliver a speech including favorite poems. I didn't really have favorite poems. As I searched my memory for what I might use, I remembered the inauguration of John F. Kennedy several years before. The school that I attended at the time had gathered all of the students into the auditorium in assembly and played the inauguration for us on television. Thus, I saw the poet with the shock of white hair, on that snow-covered day, delivering his poem as part of the ceremony. And, all those years later, I had an epiphany. I thought, "Ah ha! I'll do Robert Frost."
But, of course, I didn't really know much about Robert Frost and I didn't have a favorite poem of his, so I had to do a little research.
It didn't take long for me to feel a connection with his poetry. I found that it was based on rural themes and was about ordinary people, two things that were very familiar to me, having grown up in the country on a farm. Moreover, it was written in a deceptively simple manner, in vernacular that was easily understood. The settings of his poems were mostly in New England and I had grown up in the South, but it all felt very comfortable and homey to me.
That was when I first read Complete Poems of Robert Frost. I have returned to it many, many times in the years since. My book's cover and pages have water stains and there are teeth marks from a long-dead dog who took a liking to it and gnawed away one corner of the hardback. There are post-it notes stuck throughout the book, marking favorite poems. It is a book that has been loved almost to death but still it hangs together, even if in fragile condition.
There are many favorites among the poems of this book, but I return again and again to two; one because it reminds me of my own childhood when I was a rider of tree saplings and the other because it states so very simply much of what I believe.
The first one is Birches. It describes a boy swinging on birches that had been bent down by ice storms. It speaks of the joy which he derives from this simple act, this boy "too far from town to learn baseball, whose only play was what he found himself." The poet admits that he, too, was once a "swinger of birches." And the poem ends:
I'd like to get away from earth awhile
And then come back to it and begin over.
May no fate willfully misunderstand me
And half grant what I wish and snatch me away
Not to return. Earth's the right place for love:
I don't know where it's likely to go better.
I'd like to go by climbing a birch tree,
And climb black branches up a snow-white trunk
Toward heaven, till the tree could bear no more,
But dipped its top and set me down again.
That would be good both going and coming back.
One could do worse than be a swinger of birches.
The other poem that means a lot to me, especially since I've become a habitat gardener is The Tuft of Flowers. It describes the poet going to turn grass that has been mowed for hay and seeing a butterfly flitting here and there searching for some remembered stand of flowers, now gone. As he watches the butterfly, it draws his eye to a patch of flowers the scythe had spared.
A leaping tongue of bloom the scythe had spared
Beside a reedy brook the scythe had bared.
The mower in the dew had loved them thus,
By leaving them to flourish, not for us,
Nor yet to draw one thought of ours to him,
But from sheer morning gladness at the brim.
The butterfly and I had lit upon,
Nevertheless, a message from the dawn...
And as the poem ends, the poet feels a kinship with the mower, "a spirit kindred to my own." He had previously felt alone in the field but now he sees that we are all in this together - the mower, the turner of the grass, the butterfly, and in silent conversation with the mower who has now moved on, he says:
"Men work together, I told him from the heart,
Whether they work together or apart."
A deceptively simple poem with a deeper meaning for those who take the time to find that "tuft of flowers." That was Robert Frost. That's why I love his poems.
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