Monday, March 21, 2011

Robert Frost "takes up life simply with the small tasks" (Accidental Poetry Month, Part 12)

You can pass your eyes over a Robert Frost poem pretty easily, but it takes a lot of focus and concentration to really read it. Here's one which I've passed my eyes over many times over many years.

The poem below is from Frost's first book, A Boy's Will (1915), which, I was told by a teacher in college, contains (along with his second book, North of Boston, also 1915) his best work; my professor said that Frost's quality went sharply downhill after that. I have no idea if this is the critical consensus or just one outlier's opinion. Some of my favorite Frost poems are from his first two books; but I like a lot of others, too. (Do I like a vast majority of the ones I've really read? Or is it that I only bother to really read the ones I like? I'm not sure.)

In the table of contents to A Boy's Will, Frost includes a one-line description (?) of each poem; the poem below is described as "He takes up life simply with the small tasks." (The question mark is because, if they're descriptions, then in at least some cases they are misleading in the extreme -- deliberately so, I can only assume -- making the term a very odd one to apply.)


There was never a sound beside the wood but one,
And that was my long scythe whispering to the ground.
What was it it whispered? I knew not well myself;
Perhaps it was something about the heat of the sun,
Something, perhaps, about the lack of sound—
And that was why it whispered and did not speak.
It was no dream of the gift of idle hours,
Or easy gold at the hand of fay or elf:
Anything more than the truth would have seemed too weak
To the earnest love that laid the swale in rows,
Not without feeble-pointed spikes of flowers
(Pale orchises), and scared a bright green snake.
The fact is the sweetest dream that labor knows.
My long scythe whispered and left the hay to make.

-- Robert Frost

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