Friday, April 27, 2012

This was no playhouse but a house in earnest.

I cannot believe that April (and thus, National Poetry Month) is almost over. It flew by me so quickly that I haven't had a chance to catch my breath.

Whew. I will try to get the rest of the poems up in the next few days.

Here's Amaryllis's request: "Directive," by Robert Frost. She writes,

Why I like it: the simple language that conveys ideas that aren't simple at all. (I had more to say, but I won't push my luck this time.)

Amaryllis (and others), feel free to say more in the comments!

Robert Frost

Back out of all this now too much for us,
Back in a time made simple by the loss
Of detail, burned, dissolved, and broken off
Like graveyard marble sculpture in the weather, 
There is a house that is no more a house
Upon a farm that is no more a farm
And in a town that is no more a town.
The road there, if you'll let a guide direct you
Who only has at heart your getting lost, 
May seem as if it should have been a quarry—
Great monolithic knees the former town
Long since gave up pretense of keeping covered.
And there's a story in a book about it:
Besides the wear of iron wagon wheels
The ledges show lines ruled southeast-northwest,
The chisel work of an enormous Glacier
That braced his feet against the Arctic Pole.
You must not mind a certain coolness from him
Still said to haunt this side of Panther Mountain.
Nor need you mind the serial ordeal
Of being watched from forty cellar holes
As if by eye pairs out of forty firkins.
As for the woods' excitement over you
That sends light rustle rushes to their leaves,
Charge that to upstart inexperience.
Where were they all not twenty years ago? 
They think too much of having shaded out
A few old pecker-fretted apple trees.
Make yourself up a cheering song of how
Someone's road home from work this once was,
Who may be just ahead of you on foot
Or creaking with a buggy load of grain.
The height of the adventure is the height
Of country where two village cultures faded
Into each other. Both of them are lost.
And if you're lost enough to find yourself
By now, pull in your ladder road behind you
And put a sign up CLOSED to all but me.
Then make yourself at home. The only field
Now left's no bigger than a harness gall.
First there's the children's house of make-believe,
Some shattered dishes underneath a pine,
The playthings in the playhouse of the children.
Weep for what little things could make them glad.
Then for the house that is no more a house,
But only a belilaced cellar hole,
Now slowly closing like a dent in dough.
This was no playhouse but a house in earnest.
Your destination and your destiny's
A brook that was the water of the house,
Cold as a spring as yet so near its source,
Too lofty and original to rage.
(We know the valley streams that when aroused
Will leave their tatters hung on barb and thorn.)
I have kept hidden in the instep arch
Of an old cedar at the waterside
A broken drinking goblet like the Grail
Under a spell so the wrong ones can't find it,
So can't get saved, as Saint Mark says they mustn't.
(I stole the goblet from the children's playhouse.)
Here are your waters and your watering place.
Drink and be whole again beyond confusion.

1 comment:

  1. What, April's over already? Well, this is a poem about the passage of time. And, if we're to judge by those lilacs, its particular slice of time must be April.
    When lilacs last in the dooryard bloomed...
    In the dooryard fronting an old farm-house near the white-wash’d palings,
    Stands the lilac-bush tall-growing with heart-shaped leaves of rich green,
    With many a pointed blossom rising delicate, with the perfume strong I love,
    With every leaf a miracle

    But Whitman's America is gone, like Lincoln himself, like Frost's lost towns, like all the past.

    I like the way the poem can be read as either about a journey into a personal past, or a cultural one, or both. One's own childhood, or a supposedly more innocent past era, seem appealing to those who are worn out with the "too much for us" of modern life. Yet neither childhood nor the past looked simple at the time; we've just forgotten the details. We're our own unreliable guides on that road going backward.

    And nature outlives us all. People and towns are nothing to the glacier that wrote the rocks and is still sending its cold winds down the mountains.

    Neither the children's playhouse nor the house in earnest can be lived in forever. But beyond both of them-- farther back in time, farther forward on this journey-- maybe something "lofty and original," source and end, can still be found.

    We can't go back to the simplicity of early childhood, or believe exactly as our ancestors believed, or lose our selves in an insentient natural world. Maybe that broken cup is a mockery and a travesty.

    But maybe, as another poet put it, These fragments I have shored against my ruin. Maybe, if we're our own unreliable guides, we're also the only ones who can retrieve that broken shard of our past selves and make of it a holy grail.

    Maybe it's still possible to
    Drink and be whole again beyond confusion.

    Eh, I'm waffling here. And in another day, it'll be time to bring out the May poems.