Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Reluctance

Melissa reminded me of this poem last year and I've had it on my mind all season long.  I tend to be melodramatic (inside my own head) (or do I mean melancholic?) anyway, and it only gets worse when the seasons change.  I was watching my little bears and birdies running around in this short-lived liquid-gold light, feeling like I could watch them running right out of childhood before my very eyes.  I felt so contented and yet so sad at the same time: "Why does it all have to go so quickly?"  That flash of brilliance before the sunset in winter is so short!  If you turn your back you'll miss it---and I have too many days where I do turn my back, busy with futures and unknowns and perceived immediacies, too distracted for the actual immediacy of the moment.

I like the way Frost puts it, though, with his usual brevity.  This is more than the usual "enjoy-what-you-have-while-you-have-it" chiding; he fully acknowledges the loss that accompanies a change of season.  But yet he reminds us that when we cling to the past, we aren't really preserving a colorful, living reality---we're clinging to a dead world, to something that is actually already gone.  I can't help but sense some religious angst here as well---the man "descending" back to earth like a fallen God, the allusion to Christ's "it is finished," the subordination of grace to the cold hard hand of reason.  But I think for me the poem is more of a reminder that accepting the end of something is also acknowledging a beginning.  No need to cling to the dry stalks of things gone when there are new things preparing to emerge, gestating under the seemingly dead surfaces.  Better to "yield," as Frost says, to the natural progression of things.  I don't think "the heart still aching to seek"  needs to STOP seeking---but it must learn where to seek, and that's in the future, not the past.

Reluctance
Out through the fields and the woods
And over the walls I have wended;
I have climbed the hills of view
And looked at the world, and descended;
I have come by the highway home,
And lo, it is ended.

The leaves are all dead on the ground,
Save those that the oak is keeping
To ravel them one by one
And let them go scraping and creeping
Out over the crusted snow,
When others are sleeping.

And the dead leaves lie huddled and still,
No longer blown hither and thither;
The last lone aster is gone;
The flowers of the witch hazel wither;
The heart is still aching to seek,
But the feet question "Whither?"

Ah, when to the heart of man
Was it ever less than a treason
To go with the drift of things,
To yield with a grace to reason,
And bow and accept the end
Of a love or a season?

Robert Frost

3 comments:

  1. This is my favorite Frost poem. I always wondered why it doesn't get more press. I'm so glad you like it too. Your thoughts about it/around it are spot on.

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  2. Oh, this is going to be one of those answers I end up copying and pasting into my journal; I can feel it. First of all, I have to laugh. When Frost wrote his first thing to hit public consumption, he was hailed as a genius, I am told by professors who actually might have been alive when it happened. But then - Here came Leaves of Grass, which went on forever and - let's just say there are folks who would roll, laughing, in their graves at your "with his usual brevity."

    But I do understand not only what you're writing, but how this feels. Always, change has done this thing to me, only made sharper and more poignant as I gave birth to new life and fell in love with it, and time started to slide out from under me like I was headed downhill in a sand-slide.

    It's this two sided feeling of being in the moment, but having the sense of the moment's immediate decay - like those shots of Indian Jones running across a bridge, and every plank falling into the chasm the moment his foot leaves it. And knowing that these children, who you love so well just as they are - loving them in every moment's discovery and growth and size and shape - will by those very things be someone else tomorrow.

    I find that even with my desperate photographing of the time, what I'm left with is not really a preservation, only a collection of hints as to what went before. And the oddness of realizing that the only visual memories I have of the time are remembering the photographs I took.

    I find your observations about the fallen God interesting. I'm not sure I would have read it quite that way - but maybe it's the same thing with different reference. I have been at the top of spiritual hills - not often - only to have to descend for the mundane necessity of living, and in doing so, losing that sense of pure rightness in the universe.

    I think we seek too often in the past. But how can we help it when our purest service and love was connected to our little children? I will tell you that growing past that time is odd. Empty nest and all that - the loss of constant social intercourse, teaching, herding - you are suddenly a very GOOD sheepdog who has been relieved of the job. But who is still left with the inner imperative - if not to shepherd, to create on a significant, meaningful scale.

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  3. K--yes, I love that--"will by those very things be someone different tomorrow." That's just what I was trying to say too.

    Leaves of Grass, though--that was Whitman, right? I always thought he was a bit more pretentious than Frost. Not as restrained.

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