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Mountain Interval by Robert Frost 
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I'd like to step back for just a moment. DWill happened to mention to me that he'd been puzzling over the opening line to The Road Not Taken. Here's the line:

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood

The oddity that captured his attention was two roads diverging. At first, I agreed that it was odd indeed and could two roads diverge? It is now several days later and it has occurred to me that yes, two roads can diverge. It happens when two roads join together for awhile and then split back apart. In the Northern Virginia area I can think of several roads that come together and then diverge (Rt 50 & 17; Rt 7 & 15 -- good ol' Leesburg bypass; Rt 15 & 340).



Fri Feb 20, 2009 11:15 pm
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Thanks, DWill, for your comments about the traits of the oven bird. They add so much to my reading of the poem. I reread Ode to a Nightingale, and today I like to see The Oven Bird as Frost's attempt to write his version of Nightingale, a New England, early 20th century version. Instead of the expansive ode form, we get the compressed sonnet. In place of the high-nested nightingale whose singing invites the poet escape from the cares of the world, we get the earth-nesting oven bird, whose song constantly reminds the poet of mortality and decline. A perfect muse for the cold-eyed, warm-hearted Frost. And here, in the final four lines of the sonnet, so artfully setting off the first 10 lines, we get the dense, laconic, gnomic, rugged, paradoxical, and utterly memorable language that's so characteristic of him. That message of endurance and reconciliation to the difficulties of life seems to me to be Frost's strong and confident response to Keats's confused and despairing stance at the end of the Ode. Frost's poem then seems to sound the same theme as Faulkner's novels of this time and the next few years (which, interestingly, take the directly opposite formal approach, of wild prolixity).

"Bond and Free" seems to work through the same theme of reconciliation to the world's difficulties and limitations, and appears to be of a piece with the witty, metaphysical style of "Meeting and Passing."

I haven't read "Birches" in about 30 years. What a privilege and joy to re-encounter this poem. I can't get over the abundance of it; it teems with fabulous lines and sections, any one of which another poet would have gladly died to have written, and they just keep coming, one after the other, all in a single work. I know poets who would give anything to be able to write something as fine in all aspects--in terms of form, voice, theme, and imagery--as lines 7 through 13 alone. And yet there are pages more of this quality, in the very same poem. And there are several other poems in this book alone of this quality.

The wonderful craft: the long form is so carefully wrought, that it feels eminently casual, while it harbors jewel after jewel. The imagery of the birch-stand the morning after the rain, so remarkably vivid; and it's complimented by bravura onomatopoeia the likes of which I've never see elsewhere in English. The adroit use of assonance throughout, the fine use of line endings and enjambment: it's a remarkable display of formal skill.

As DWill wrote, the poem is all on the surface, and yet it still carries extraordinary depth and power. Frost seems to move effortlessly from the literal to the metaphorical, and it always works here. In the birch-stand description, how he moves seamlessly from literal description to the metaphors and similes of the crystal, the broken glass, the inner dome of heaven, and the girls drying their hair. And so the poem seems repeatedly to enact its theme, of poetry as affording a temporary escape from the world and then a gentle reentry. And I see, again, in "Birches" the theme of reconciliation to the world that characterizes The Oven Bird, Bond and Free, and Hyla Brook.



Sat Feb 21, 2009 1:16 am
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Beautiful and immensely helpful post, Richards1000, thank you. As I read through the poems you touch upon in your post, I had a sense, a glimmer of what you articulate so clearly in your post.



Sat Feb 21, 2009 9:10 am
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Great point--these poems being about reconciliation with a world that often can't satisfy our soaring imagination. But that offers an opportunity for a stoic imaginativeness that I think Frost embodies. Good parallel between "The Oven Bird" and "Ode to a Nightingale," where Keats tries to effect the escape from process that Frost doesn't open up to in "The Oven Bird," solid New Englander that he is. It's interesting that Keats answers Frost's question, "What to make of a diminished thing," in "To Autumn," in which the year is not slipping away from its glory but just coming into it as summer ends. Keats uses "twittering swallows" as symbols of the season in place of Frost's raucous oven bird.

It's difficult for me to explain the effect of the lines from Birches "Earth's the right place for love:/I don't know where it's likely to go better." They put a lump in the throat. I also love the understatement in the New England mode of the last lines: "That would be good both going and coming back./One could do worse than be a swinger of birches."



Sat Feb 21, 2009 9:28 am
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HELLOoooo out there. Interest and energy seems to have faded. I'd like to see if I can get it going again. I believe we were at Pea Bush, Putting in the Seed, and And a Time to Talk.



Sat Feb 28, 2009 2:36 pm
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Quick note on Pea Brush: Interesting at the end of the poem that the cut birch, meant to give a hand up to the peas is what is holding down or obstructing the growth of the Trillium.


Putting in the Seed
My own impression of this poems is a matching up of human life to the rhythms of nature and of expressing an appreciation for the majesty of life itself -- pushing up through the dirt (like Adam from the clay).

I copied this from a website:

Robert Frost’s “Putting in the Seed” is an Elizabethan sonnet. It consists of three quatrains and a couplet. The rime-scheme, however, departs somewhat from the Elizabethan. Instead of ABABCDCDEFEFGG, Frost’s rime scheme is ABABABABCDCDEE.



Last edited by Saffron on Mon Mar 02, 2009 9:20 pm, edited 1 time in total.



Sat Feb 28, 2009 3:15 pm
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And while I wait for someone to come along to the discussion, might as well keep moving. The cow in apple Time is an amusing little poem. The cow in the orchard brought to mind Eve in the garden.



Sun Mar 01, 2009 6:20 am
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Saffron wrote:
I'd like to step back for just a moment. DWill happened to mention to me that he'd been puzzling over the opening line to The Road Not Taken. Here's the line:

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood

The oddity that captured his attention was two roads diverging. At first, I agreed that it was odd indeed and could two roads diverge? It is now several days later and it has occurred to me that yes, two roads can diverge. It happens when two roads join together for awhile and then split back apart. In the Northern Virginia area I can think of several roads that come together and then diverge (Rt 50 & 17; Rt 7 & 15 -- good ol' Leesburg bypass; Rt 15 & 340).

To quote you again, "By George, I think you've got it!" I could have used this solution when I couldn't sleep.



Mon Mar 02, 2009 8:48 pm
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Reading "An Encounter," I thought of our Tom Hood. The reason is a discussion we've been having about what--and when--allusions signify. When you read this poem, the imagery suggesting Christ is not hard to pick out: looking up toward heaven, hanging on a hook, and the resurrected tree. Tom might think this perverse, but I don't think Frost means to go there; I think this is more by way of word play or metaphor, where dead wood of the tree is resurrected as something that looks alive. Frost's desire is to contrast his wayward impracticality with a "specter" of a more efficent yet mindless and meaningless mode that is taking over the world. However, I will entertain a suggestion that Frost is getting mileage from the allusion to Calypso ("Half looking for the orchid Calypso"), the nymph who kept Odysseus on her island, Ogygia, for seven years. Tom might give me partial credit.

"Range-Finding" is a queer poem in that it might be a sonnet, has 14 lines anyway, but has a very unusual rhyme scheme, and as far as I see, has no real octave and sestet structure. It starts with a 3-line overview of what happened, followed by a 5-line closer look at the dead flower, followed by 6 lines revisiting the spider web. Doesn't the sestet almost always present a resolution, contrast, or at least a definite turn in the sonnet? I see the last 6 lines as simply completing the detailed portrait begun in line 4.

This may be wrong. But this is such an interesting poem. Is it that the rifle will soon be turned on a person, and the shooter is first finding his range so he can be more sure of killing the enemy? Against this ghastly possibility, we have the "natural" reaction to the violence. It is almost comic, but definitely shows the utter unconcern of nature with this totally unnatural act. It might also be suggesting the innocence of nature.

What a charming little horror story "The Hill Wife" is. It does show the range of Frost--more than some might think. All is not well in the Garden. Eve is quietly going crazy, and when she does, the husband finally takes notice, but too late.
Sudden and swift and light as that
The ties gave,
And he learned of finalities
Besides the grave.



Mon Mar 02, 2009 9:13 pm
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DWill wrote:
What a charming little horror story "The Hill Wife" is. It does show the range of Frost--more than some might think. All is not well in the Garden. Eve is quietly going crazy, and when she does, the husband finally takes notice, but too late.
Sudden and swift and light as that
The ties gave,
And he learned of finalities
Besides the grave.


I've been thinking about this poem for weeks and am still not sure what I think. Charming? I guess. After reading it twice, the main impression I have is of how loneliness and feelings of isolation impact a person. I've been searching around online to see what others have thought about it -- lots of unusual ideas. Of course there is always someone who thinks it is all about sex. This time I think not. The best hint I've gotten is to read each of the five poems as separate entities, see what each has to say about the three themes (love, fear, & loneliness) and how they inform/reflect on the wife. I will do this very thing and get back to you. Anyone want to join me?



Thu Mar 12, 2009 6:52 pm
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LONELINESS
(Her Word)

One ought not to have to care
So much as you and I
Care when the birds come round the house
To seem to say good-bye;

Or care so much when they come back 5
With whatever it is they sing;
The truth being we are as much
Too glad for the one thing

As we are too sad for the other here—
With birds that fill their breasts 10
But with each other and themselves
And their built or driven nests.

Emptiness -- empty nest. The couples relationship is vapid, so much so that they must turn to the world outside, away from each other for reminders of vitality. The Hill Wife is aware of what is lacking. Her longing is expressed in the opening line of the poem. She says:
"One ought not to have to care"



Thu Mar 12, 2009 6:57 pm
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Here is the next poem in the Hill Wife sequence.

HOUSE FEAR

Always—I tell you this they learned—
Always at night when they returned
To the lonely house from far away 15
To lamps unlighted and fire gone gray,
They learned to rattle the lock and key
To give whatever might chance to be
Warning and time to be off in flight:
And preferring the out- to the in-door night, 20
They learned to leave the house-door wide
Until they had lit the lamp inside.


I like this set of lines. For me it perfectly captures the fear I experienced as a child, going upstairs in our house that was not finished yet. or of our empty house when no one else was about. Frost is painting a picture of a couple so estranged from each other that they can not take courage and strength from each other - let alone comfort and companionship. Just think how different the poem might read if there was a sense of two against the world. Isolation breads fear and even paranoia.



Fri Mar 13, 2009 8:20 am
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THE SMILE
(Her Word)

I didn’t like the way he went away.
That smile! It never came of being gay.
Still he smiled—did you see him?—I was sure! 25
Perhaps because we gave him only bread
And the wretch knew from that that we were poor.
Perhaps because he let us give instead
Of seizing from us as he might have seized.
Perhaps he mocked at us for being wed, 30
Or being very young (and he was pleased
To have a vision of us old and dead).
I wonder how far down the road he’s got.
He’s watching from the woods as like as not.

I think the Hill Wife's response to the vagabond illustrates that she has become paranoid. I suppose maybe Frost is simply showing her to be a mean spirited person....anybody have any ideas?



Fri Mar 13, 2009 8:29 am
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(Note: My use of "charming" to desribe this series was sarcastic.)"House Fear" seems to present a reaction natural to most people; at least, I can see myself thinking this way in the same situation. Maybe this is here to represent a first, mild stage of fear that eventually will become exaggerated.

HOUSE FEAR

Always—I tell you this they learned—
Always at night when they returned
To the lonely house from far away 15
To lamps unlighted and fire gone gray,
They learned to rattle the lock and key
To give whatever might chance to be
Warning and time to be off in flight:
And preferring the out- to the in-door night, 20
They learned to leave the house-door wide
Until they had lit the lamp inside.

In the next one, we can see more of the progression toward an abnormal state of mind, brought on probably by a combination of the wife's fragile, sensitive nature and the environment in which she finds herself.

THE SMILE
(Her Word)

I didn’t like the way he went away.
That smile! It never came of being gay.
Still he smiled—did you see him?—I was sure! 25
Perhaps because we gave him only bread
And the wretch knew from that that we were poor.
Perhaps because he let us give instead
Of seizing from us as he might have seized.
Perhaps he mocked at us for being wed, 30
Or being very young (and he was pleased
To have a vision of us old and dead).
I wonder how far down the road he’s got.
He’s watching from the woods as like as not.

In the next, the natural world is coming to represent a dark, sinister force. I like to contrast this with Frost's other poem about a tree by the bedroom window, called "Window Tree."

THE OFT-REPEATED DREAM

She had no saying dark enough 35
For the dark pine that kept
Forever trying the window-latch
Of the room where they slept.

The tireless but ineffectual hands
That with every futile pass 40
Made the great tree seem as a little bird
Before the mystery of glass!

It never had been inside the room,
And only one of the two
Was afraid in an oft-repeated dream 45
Of what the tree might do.

This is a speechless series of poems, I mean in the sense that the people do not speak, even to themselves, which seems unusual. There should be some direct expression of their emotion, but that there isn't is probably intentional on Frost's part, because the absence of emotional expression may be the cause of the wife's madness. I'm assuming that madness is what Frost is suggesting. The wife might just be giving her silent husband the heave-ho, but the last several words, "finalities/Besides the grave," make me think that's not it. Sorry for hogging the rest of the poems, by the way. I'm sure there is more to say about them.

THE IMPULSE

It was too lonely for her there,
And too wild,
And since there were but two of them,
And no child, 50

And work was little in the house,
She was free,
And followed where he furrowed field,
Or felled tree.

She rested on a log and tossed 55
The fresh chips,
With a song only to herself
On her lips.

And once she went to break a bough
Of black alder. 60
She strayed so far she scarcely heard
When he called her—

And didn’t answer—didn’t speak—
Or return.
She stood, and then she ran and hid 65
In the fern.

He never found her, though he looked
Everywhere,
And he asked at her mother’s house
Was she there. 70

Sudden and swift and light as that
The ties gave,
And he learned of finalities
Besides the grave.



Fri Mar 13, 2009 8:54 am
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DWill wrote:
In the next, the natural world is coming to represent a dark, sinister force. I like to contrast this with Frost's other poem about a tree by the bedroom window, called "Window Tree."


Nice! I like thinking about both poems together.

Quote:
THE OFT-REPEATED DREAM

She had no saying dark enough 35
For the dark pine that kept
Forever trying the window-latch
Of the room where they slept.


Living under a very large magnolia that taps to come in each time we have a windy night, I can appreciate these lines and how Frost may have come to write them.

Quote:
This is a speechless series of poems, I mean in the sense that the people do not speak, even to themselves, which seems unusual. There should be some direct expression of their emotion, but that there isn't is probably intentional on Frost's part, because the absence of emotional expression may be the cause of the wife's madness. I'm assuming that madness is what Frost is suggesting. The wife might just be giving her silent husband the heave-ho, but the last several words, "finalities/Besides the grave," make me think that's not it. Sorry for hogging the rest of the poems, by the way. I'm sure there is more to say about them.


I agree that it is odd the characters never speak for themselves. It is a portrait that Frost has painted for us. I also think that it is the silence that is implicated in the wife's madness. The support for this idea is that the poem begins with "Loneliness (Her word)" And again Frost reinforce this with these lines from "The Impulse"

It was too lonely for her there,
And too wild,
And since there were but two of them,
And no child,

Clearly the Hill Wife feels isolated and lonely and is driven mad and I also concur with DWill's thinking, that she does him in. There are many stories captured in the diaries of frontier women during the 1800s of the deadly consequences of isolation and loneliness.

To DWill: Glad you chimed in! It was getting a bit lonely discussing this poem with myself -- oh dear, did I really say lonely? :D

To all: please excuse all the spelling problems my computer is having a great deal of difficulty this morning. I will come back to edit them out as soon as my computer is working again.



Fri Mar 13, 2009 9:23 am
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