Wednesday, March 26, 2014

To Warm the Frozen Swamp as Best It Could with the Slow Smokeless Burning of Decay, or: Born One-Hundred Forty Years Ago Today, Eighty-Nine Today


Robert Frost

She is as in a field a silken tent
At midday when a sunny summer breeze
Has dried the dew and all its ropes relent
So that in guys it gently sways at east,
And its supporting central cedar pole,
That is its pinnacle to heavenward
And signifies the sureness of the soul,
Seems to owe naught to any single cord,
But strictly held by none, is loosely bound
By countless silken ties of love and thought
To every thing on earth the compass round,
And only by one's going slightly taut
In the capriciousness of summer air
Is of the slightest bondage made aware.

Frost was born 140 years ago today. I was stupid about Frost until I met Tony Hecht, who told me I was stupid about Frost and then proved it. Pierre Boulez is 89 today.

New tag added, Dead Blegsylvania, because Blegsylvania be dead, the blogrolls static.

Hecht called Frost's The Wood-Pile Frost's equivalent of bleggalgazing, though Hecht may not have used that particular word.


Robert Frost

Out walking in the frozen swamp one gray day,
I paused and said, 'I will turn back from here.
No, I will go on farther—and we shall see.'
The hard snow held me, save where now and then
One foot went through. The view was all in lines
Straight up and down of tall slim trees
Too much alike to mark or name a place by
So as to say for certain I was here
Or somewhere else: I was just far from home.
A small bird flew before me. He was careful
To put a tree between us when he lighted,
And say no word to tell me who he was
Who was so foolish as to think what he thought.
He thought that I was after him for a feather—
The white one in his tail; like one who takes
Everything said as personal to himself.
One flight out sideways would have undeceived him.
And then there was a pile of wood for which
I forgot him and let his little fear
Carry him off the way I might have gone,
Without so much as wishing him good-night.
He went behind it to make his last stand.
It was a cord of maple, cut and split
And piled—and measured, four by four by eight.
And not another like it could I see.
No runner tracks in this year's snow looped near it.
And it was older sure than this year's cutting,
Or even last year's or the year's before.
The wood was gray and the bark warping off it
And the pile somewhat sunken. Clematis
Had wound strings round and round it like a bundle.
What held it though on one side was a tree
Still growing, and on one a stake and prop,
These latter about to fall. I thought that only
Someone who lived in turning to fresh tasks
Could so forget his handiwork on which
He spent himself, the labor of his ax,
And leave it there far from a useful fireplace
To warm the frozen swamp as best it could
With the slow smokeless burning of decay.


  1. Wait! Isn't all poetry the equivalent of bleggalgazing?

    1. Yes! but some more than others.

      Hecht taught that this was Frost's defining poem about his poetry, his canon, his legacy, and the worth of canons and legacies. Maybe Hecht was right, maybe not, but I can't read it without thinking it is.

  2. when i was a schoolboy way back when they had us memorize robert frost poems (not these) - he was still alive then

    are there any still-living or recently dead poets of the latter half of the twentieth century whom the children are being asked to memorize today?