Wednesday, March 9, 2011

True Tales of Frost and Fear

So a couple years back, a friend had posed a question.  Their child was assigned the task of reading Robert Frost's "Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening" and to write a short description of what they thought the poem was about.  To this they would also add the opinions of a few other adults and so as a nominal adult I and others were queried.  Seriousness was not required and was arguably actively discouraged, at least by the parent.

Presented with this ponderable, I thought about it and came to the conclusion that 1) I know nothing about poetry and 2) I may be the only person in the world who found something vaguely creepy lurking in the text. (By which I don't mean simple death, which many seem to think it's about but is only creepy if its done right.)  From there I decided that the poem was in fact a remnant of lost history, a dark tale struggling amidst tangled weeds and swirling bubbles to break through the poetic surface, and attempted to reconstruct the truth once buried in its meter.

What reminded me of this year's old pointless exercise? I'm not sure. Possibly a random neuron firing with the memory of Coach McGuirk proclaiming that cursing is "like poetry. Robert Frost, stopping by the woods on a snowy f<bleep>ing evening."

Regardless, documented here is my entirely unhelpful response to that child's query-by-proxy.  Despite my natural itch to scrub and polish it before putting it back on the mantle I affix it here unedited straight from the Sent Mail folder.  This is The True Tale of The Woods and the Snowy Evening.

A lot of people don't realize that like so many of the great poets, Frost often wove the legends and stories of his day into his work. Virtually nobody today remembers that story though, the poem is almost all that remains....

These woods are his, I think I understand that now. His house rests innocently back in the village, but his *home* is out here. I watch the snow falling, covering up so much, but it's never enough. Part of me is grateful I won’t see what’s still underneath come Spring.

The horse is clearly nervous. I don’t blame him. Out here in the open, between the forest and the frozen lake, the snow obscures the worst of it, but we know what it tries to hide, can smell it when the breeze shifts the wrong way. We’d both rather be locked behind stout walls and doors tonight, but tonight is all we have left. “The longest night of the year”, Father Callas said, “the only time he sleeps. The only time anyone can get close enough.” At least, I think that’s what he said. His words were ragged and bubbly near the end.

The horse twitches nervously. The faint clanking of his harness feels louder than anything I’ve ever heard. Well, almost anything, I remind myself. A swish of movement makes me spin around in such a panic I nearly slip from the saddle, but it’s just the wind in the branches and the shifting snow. He’s asleep, I tell myself. Almost everyone is now.

I force myself to urge the horse forward, deeper into the dark. If I let myself forget, just for a moment, the dark beauty of the woods almost soothes me, and I wish I could just rest a little while, but I have promises to keep. The last requests of too many dirty, surrendered faces pleading from shadows and cracked windows. Father Callas’s last sacrament, two barrels of good dry powder, shift insistently against my legs. There are still miles to go, but I’ve got a short fuse and a shorter prayer, and then I can sleep too.

No comments:

Post a Comment