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Mountain Interval by Robert Frost 
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Post Re: An Old Man's Winter Night
richards1000 wrote:
Read "An Old Man's Winter Night" for the first time tonight. I think it's a very lovely poem. It has a transcendent feel to me, in the last lines, like Larkin's "High Windows" or Whitman's "The Sleepers" or Joyce's "The Dead": after this vivid, detailed scene of confinement and heart-rending loneliness and dead-locked down to the ground imagery and sounds, in the end the old man's spirit expands outward, filling the whole countryside.

What a fine appreciation of this poem, and of Frost, you have. I like the way Frost manages to inhabit this old man's being, too. I sometimes think of resemblances between Frost and Wm. Wordsworth, though there are sharp differences as well. Wordworth happens to have a poem called "The Old Cumberland Beggar" that shows his ability to give us the quality of the old beggar's perceptions and emotions. I thought I'd quote a bit of the poem, which is quite a bit longer than Frost's.

He travels on, a solitary Man;
His age has no companion. On the ground
His eyes are turned, and, as he moves along
'They' move along the ground; and, evermore,
Instead of common and habitual sight
Of fields with rural works, of hill and dale,
And the blue sky, one little span of earth 50
Is all his prospect. Thus, from day to day,
Bow-bent, his eyes for ever on the ground,
He plies his weary journey; seeing still,
And seldom knowing that he sees, some straw,
Some scattered leaf, or marks which, in one track,
The nails of cart or chariot-wheel have left
Impressed on the white road,--in the same line,
At distance still the same. Poor Traveller!
His staff trails with him; scarcely do his feet
Disturb the summer dust; he is so still 60
In look and motion, that the cottage curs,
Ere he has passed the door, will turn away,
Weary of barking at him. Boys and girls,
The vacant and the busy, maids and youths,
And urchins newly breeched--all pass him by:
Him even the slow-paced waggon leaves behind.

What is very different about this poem, as you can see if you read the whole, is its social observation. Wordsworth was more of a social critic and moralizer than Frost. He tells us that this old man, whom some utilitarians might deem useless, has an important function in improving the affections and humanity of others. They see his plight and reflect on life's vicissitudes; they realize their own advantages and are reminded to think kindlier of those less fortunate, even though, as in this passage, they may just pass him by. This is the poem in which a line occurs that was made more famous, probably, by Keats' use of it in one of his marvellous letters: "we have all of us one human heart."



Wed Feb 18, 2009 8:33 am
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Post 
"Telephone" anyone? I just read it -- delightful. It reminds me of a line from the Carole King song, "You Got a Friend".

Quote:
You just call out my name
And you know wherever I am
I'll come runnin' to see you again



I was poking around online for what others have to say about this poem. I came across a comment that rang true for me. I was already thinking the poem captures those relationships in which the two people are so in sync (please excuse my poor spelling. I am too tired already tonight to make it right and anyway, Andrew Jackson, the 7th president of the USA said, "It is a damn poor mind indeed which can't think of at least two ways to spell any word.") that they finish each others sentences. The comment noted this and went further to say the poem captures the strong feeling between two people -- one wanted to see the other so badly that he/she just came to him/her unbidden.



Wed Feb 18, 2009 8:05 pm
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Next comes Hyla Brook. This is just the poem for me today. The last line does it all.

"We love the things we love for what they are."

Frost wonderfully captures the ever changing nature of life in the images he creates of the brook through a year. He also demonstrates a deep understanding of how when we love we attending to details and love those details. I remember once thinking I wanted to memorize the shape of the toes and even the toe nails of the man I was in love with at the time. I think to some extent love is about finding pleasure and joy in all the glorious details of what ever or it is we love.



Wed Feb 18, 2009 8:43 pm
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Saffron wrote:
I am too tired already tonight to make it right and anyway, Andrew Jackson, the 7th president of the USA said, "It is a damn poor mind indeed which can't think of at least two ways to spell any word.")

That's a good one, I like it.



Thu Feb 19, 2009 11:20 am
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Saffron wrote:
Next comes Hyla Brook. This is just the poem for me today. The last line does it all.

"We love the things we love for what they are."


As I read over my own post and the poem again this morning, it brings to mind a favorite line from Mary Oliver's Wild Geese -- don't know why I didn't think of it straight away.

You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves



Last edited by Saffron on Thu Feb 19, 2009 11:39 am, edited 1 time in total.



Thu Feb 19, 2009 11:34 am
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Saffron wrote:
Next comes Hyla Brook. This is just the poem for me today. The last line does it all.
"We love the things we love for what they are."

For me, Frost is the poet for strong endings. He can be epigrammatic.

"Like ghost of sleigh bells in a ghost of snow." What a kick it must be for a poet to find a line like that. The peepers of spring really do sound like faint jingling bells. Like Keats in "To Autumn," he says this scene is not the usual one celebrated in poems: "This as it will be seen is other far/Than with brooks taken otherwhere in song." The last line's interest comes from the fact that this "what they are" is not defined by the impression they give us at any particular time, but by the contrasting states we see in succession, always bearing previous and future states in mind. So this shifting state is "what they are." It sounds like the statement of a realist, but is in fact an endorsement of imagination.



Last edited by DWill on Thu Feb 19, 2009 1:08 pm, edited 1 time in total.



Thu Feb 19, 2009 11:37 am
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Post 
On Telephone
Quote:
The comment noted this and went further to say the poem captures the strong feeling between two people -- one wanted to see the other so badly that he/she just came to him/her unbidden.


I've often wondered about this and thought that the truth is more than when two people have strong feelings they are always thinking about each other and always wanting to see each other and so it appears this way, that their minds are in tune. An illusion of love is this feeling of being connected, of being soulmates.

Carole Kings's 'You've Got a Friend' is one of my favourites.



Thu Feb 19, 2009 12:47 pm
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Post 
Quote:
......the fact that this "what they are" is not defined by the impression they give us at any particular time, but by the contrasting states we see in succession, always bearing previous and future states in mind. So this shifting state is "what they are." It sounds like the statement of a realist, but is in fact an endorsement of imagination.


Frost wonderfully captures the ever changing nature of life in the images think to some extent love is about finding pleasure and joy in all the glorious details of what ever or it is we love.


Thanks, DWill. I was thinking about this line, loving things for what they are, and what it meant. What things are in any one moment is part of total sum of what they are, past, present, future.



Thu Feb 19, 2009 1:00 pm
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Post 
Saffron wrote:
In the Home Stretch is a surprise to me -- a bit of short story. I am not finished with it yet and not quite sure what to make of it yet. I very much like the opening lines and the image they create.

He creates these compressed lyrics like "A Patch of Snow" as well as the lengthier poems that are indeed like short stories--and does both extremely well. I don't care for "Christmas Trees," but not every poem can be a "hit." In terms of total lines, I believe these story poems may comprise the bulk of Frost's production.

Richards100 illuminated this poem for us. Frost makes a domestic drama out of ordinary materials, but the words they speak are heightened as they might be in a play. These are two ordinary people, but there is philosophy here:

You're searching, Joe,
For things that don't exist; I mean beginnings.
Ends and beginnings--there are no such things.
There are only middles.

And even a little weirdness, as when the wife says, "The stove is not [new], and you are not to me,/Nor I to you." The husband replies, "Perhaps you never were?" This is not the everyday, trivial conversation between husband and wife.

Wordsworth's great ambition was to write the poetry of the human heart, using just such common materials as Frost uses here. Only he couldn't do it. Frost shows us that he can.



Thu Feb 19, 2009 5:14 pm
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"Meeting and Passing" I had never noticed much before, but it fascinates me. I could use some help with this enigimatic poem. The only thing I think I know about it is that these two now are together, and the man is looking back at an early event in their relationship. Saffron would be a good one for this.

We come to "The Oven Bird"--uh-oh. I didn't realize before we began talking about the poem on this forum (this great forum, I should add), that it appears to be one of Frost's most commented-on poems. One analysis that Saffron posted quite bamboozled me. The humble title bird stands as a symbol of many kinds for readers. It helps to know a few facts with many of Frost's poems. He respected facts, after all, as a New Englander (even if not native). The oven bird "sings" in summer, unlike most other birds. Its song is a loud "teacher, teacher, teacher," not musical at all, not a lot more melodious than a crow's. It builds its nest, out of mud and twigs in the shape of a dutch oven, on the ground or on a low structure like a fence post.

A little in the manner of "Hyla Brook," Frost picks out a subject that is "other far" from birds "taken otherwhere in song" (Hyla Brook, l. 13-14).
The oven bird is a "singer," but his main musical quality is that he is "Loud." His "song" seems to echo off the solid tree trunks, making them sound "again," after the symphony of bird song in the spring. The bird begins to give the score in terms of items that show how far from the prime of the year we are now, in lines 4-10. I assume that it is his voice, the tiresome screech, that reminds us that we're losing what was fresh and having to settle now for the worn-out and dying. This bird "would cease and be as other birds," that is, not sing during this time past the prime, but of course the oven bird does not really sing at all; his harsh voice is more like a question posed, and he has a purpose, which is to ask us "What to make of a diminished thing."

That might be a fair reading close to the literal level. That level satisfies me. I don't need to go beyond that to seek meanings in terms of Frost's life or perhaps the Bible ("that other fall we name the fall.") But being 56 years old, I do look at the question in line 14 as pretty relevant to aging.



Thu Feb 19, 2009 7:44 pm
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Quote:
"Meeting and Passing" I had never noticed much before, but it fascinates me. I could use some help with this enigimatic poem. The only thing I think I know about it is that these two now are together, and the man is looking back at an early event in their relationship. Saffron would be a good one for this.


The smallest of meetings, when it is someone special to you, takes on the greatest meaning. The last lines, where they will each be walking in each other footsteps and seeing the things the other looked at shortly before, becomes special. This goes back to what Saffron was talking about before when we are so attuned to someone else we feel they hear us calling. With love, seeing the same sights, touching the same items, walking the same steps, as the one we love becomes something beyond itself.



Thu Feb 19, 2009 7:58 pm
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DWill wrote:
"Meeting and Passing" I had never noticed much before, but it fascinates me. I could use some help with this enigmatic poem. The only thing I think I know about it is that these two now are together, and the man is looking back at an early event in their relationship. Saffron would be a good one for this.


It seems to me that Frost has sketched a moment from the falling in love part of the relationship and the beginning of couplehood. She smiles at the ground because she is not ready or does not want to give away her feelings by meeting his eyes. Not meeting his eyes also keeps the passions in check (what do you suppose would happen if you held someones eye with sex on your mind and the feelings were mutual). I think it captures that uncertainty that you feel when you are not sure if the feelings are reciprocal or the same degree of intensity. More than 1 and less than 2 is a couple -- wouldn't you say?


Realiz wrote:
when we are so attuned to someone else we feel they hear us calling. With love, seeing the same sights, touching the same items, walking the same steps, as the one we love becomes something beyond itself.


And what Realiz says too.



Last edited by Saffron on Fri Feb 20, 2009 9:21 am, edited 1 time in total.



Thu Feb 19, 2009 8:22 pm
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Reflecting on the poems so far, the two reoccurring themes are the nature of love and aging. I see that Birches is coming up!

p.s. I just looked to see how old Frost was when this collection was published; 42.



Thu Feb 19, 2009 8:36 pm
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Thanks to realiz and Saffron for your help with "Meeting and Passing." It doesn't seem well known, but it has to be one of his best, don't you think? How brilliant is "Your parasol/Pointed the decimal off with one deep thrust."?

Yes, "Birches." I think Saffron thought this may be his most well known poem, and maybe it is. (Though just having looked at The Top 500 Poems I see it is #236, well after a number of his others. But the poem is relatively long, and length may influence which poems get anthologized, which is the basis for the ranking in the Top 500 book.)

This one I'd bet is another of Frost's that is supposed to be about something other than what it says on the surface. The way I read it, I really can't think so. It seems that Frost tells us what else the poem may be about, right in the poem itself. There is the description of the ice-covered birches themselves (actually my favorite part), followed by the poet's fanciful and more alluring idea of why the birches are bent, followed by the poet's statement that he, too, was once a swinger of birches, but this time in a metaphorical sense. It's all complete. That's my view and I'm stickin' with it. Have you heard the claim that all of Frost's poems are really about death? Don't believe it. ;-)



Fri Feb 20, 2009 9:45 am
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DWill wrote:
That's my view and I'm stickin' with it. Have you heard the claim that all of Frost's poems are really about death? Don't believe it. ;-)


Neither do I. I also think sometimes people make more of a thing than there is to be made. And DWill, I wonder what made you think I thought "Birches" was his most popular? I only meant to express excitement. I like the poem and it reminds me of the 2 large, graceful birches that stood in the front yard of my girlhood home. I particularly liked those trees; the papery white bark and the pendulous seeds things (Staminate aments) and the almost heart shaped leaves. They turn bright yellow in the fall -- at the time my favorite color. The two trees were damaged by an ice storm and now only one is left standing.



Fri Feb 20, 2009 10:05 pm
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