Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Our Dear Friend Robert Frost (as my English teacher would call him)

I'll be honest: I was not expecting to love Robert Frost. Before I was assigned to read him for my class, I had never really read any of his poetry, but I was quite familiar with the oft-quoted "Road Not Taken" poem. I wasn't particularly impressed by that poem, either, because everyone who ever quoted it seemed to assign a quaint little moral to it (aka "we shouldn't follow everyone else, we should take our own unique path," etc.). And, although this is not a bad moral, I don't like poems that have obvious morals. So that made me think that Robert Frost himself was quaint.

But I should have known better than to listen to all those quoters. Robert Frost is not quaint at all. He's not didactic and his poems don't parade around One Very Specific Moral. (Also, my teacher informed me that Frost actually wrote "The Road Not Taken" to be ironic. I have a feeling that every time that poem gets quoted in church, he rolls in his grave...with laughter.)

Robert Frost is...beautiful. Epic. Fascinating. Intriguing. Melodious. Incredible. And I feel ashamed that I ever underrated him so abominably.

His poetry is the kind I can hardly help but read aloud, savoring the meter and the language without needing to stop and try to decipher anything. The poems are deep but not deep. They have meter that is not meter.

Maybe this is too high of praise, but I would say that Robert Frost is the ultimate modern poet, at least for me. He doesn't feel the rebellious need to completely drop every convention, ever. He understands the value of form, but he doesn't let it limit him. His poems have volumes of meaning, and yet, they don't need it; they're beautiful without it. Basically, unlike so many other poets, Frost finds a way to avoid choosing between two good things (tradition or originality? meaning or aesthetic?); he manages to create harmony among all the good things that poetry can have.

I love that I'll read one of his poems, not even trying to garner any meaning from it, just enjoying it and figuring that later, if I need to, I'll go back and pick it apart for a while until a find a meaning (like I do with most poetry)...but then I discover that there's no need, because a meaning--not the meaning, mind you, but a meaning--simply jumps out at me, simply, easily. But not because it's the One Obvious Moral. It's like the poetry has some sort of secret communication with my heart and mind, and all I need to do is direct my eyes toward the words, and the communication will just create itself, no poking or prodding necessary. I just know what the poem means to me; or at least, one thing that it could mean to me. In years to come, I'll probably read the poems again and again, a different meaning jumping out at me each time.

If you haven't read Frost, you need to. Right now. I'll help you by quoting two, which are very short and absolutely lovely:

Fire and Ice (this one, I had also heard before)

Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I've tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.

Aaah! The rhyming and rhythm itself is so beautiful and so genius...not to mention the content of the poem... (And do I detect irony? Perhaps some stifled laughter on the part of the author?) Here's another:

Nothing Gold Can Stay

Nature's first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf's a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.

Oh, Mr. Frost. I just love you.

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