Saturday, December 13, 2008
It’s getting into that desolate time of year—frozen ground, morning fog, dry yellow grass in the pastures mixed with the snow. Tho I’m someone who tempramentally craves a mediterranean climate, I’ll admit there are some charms to early winter: afternoons in a warm house watching a snowfall, & watching the winter birds flock to the feeders amongst the flakes: juncos & chickadees, & cassin’s finches (the latter invariably throng our feeders during snowstorms); for all that, there’s a starkness & harshness to the winter landscape that also puts one in mind of a larger starkness & harshness: lonliness, isolation, a bleakness at heart. Winter can be all these things at once—beautiful & desolate, charming & disturbing.
One learns these things living in a northern clime. As we all know, poet Robert Frost lived in New England & got firsthand exposure to this. I don’t care what Mark Twain said about the coldest winter he ever spent being “a summer in San Francisco”—the coldest winter I ever spent was a winter in Burlington, VT when the thermometer didn’t break zero for days at a time & I was working on a crew clearing cross-country ski trails for the Winooski Valley Park District.
But Frost’s poems also acknowledge the elegance of winter, & one’s delight in that. I’ve always admired this week’s poem, “Desert Places” because it mixes bleak imagery & dark thoughts with more light-hearted gestures. In some folks’ hands, this combination wouldn’t work, but I think he pulls it off masterfully—of course, I once had a class of under-graduates at University of Virginia disagree with me rather heartily on this subject, so “to each his own,” I guess.
Hope y’all enjoy this poem, tho (speaking of southern universities). Oh, & check out the Frost pic: proving that he wasn’t a crotchety codger of 60-something his entire life….
Snow falling and night falling fast, oh, fast
In a field I looked into going past,
And the ground almost covered smooth in snow,
But a few weeds and stubble showing last.
The woods around it have it--it is theirs.
All animals are smothered in their lairs.
I am too absent-spirited to count;
The loneliness includes me unawares.
And lonely as it is that loneliness
Will be more lonely ere it will be less—
A blanker whiteness of benighted snow
With no expression, nothing to express.
They cannot scare me with their empty spaces
Between stars—on stars where no human race is.
I have it in me so much nearer home
To scare myself with my own desert places.
A Further Range
© 1936 Robert Frost