Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Poem of the Month - "The Wood-pile"

Talking of motivation--and I believe we were--because of this poem, I went back to school and completed my bachelors degree at age 32 or something like that. I have returned to the poem again and again over the years, and it always impels me to reflect and to look at things I've started and abandoned for some reason or other. I read it to my freshman arts class at Berea college back in the early 90s. They (predictably) tolerated my whim until I got to the last bit--which they really responded to. Maybe some of the greatest last lines in the history of poetry.

Robert Frost (1874–1963). North of Boston. 1915.

16. The Wood-pile

OUT walking in the frozen swamp one grey day
I paused and said, “I will turn back from here.
No, I will go on farther—and we shall see.”
The hard snow held me, save where now and then
One foot went down. The view was all in lines
Straight up and down of tall slim trees
Too much alike to mark or name a place by
So as to say for certain I was here
Or somewhere else: I was just far from home.
A small bird flew before me. He was careful
To put a tree between us when he lighted,
And say no word to tell me who he was
Who was so foolish as to think what he thought.
He thought that I was after him for a feather—
The white one in his tail; like one who takes
Everything said as personal to himself.
One flight out sideways would have undeceived him.
And then there was a pile of wood for which
I forgot him and let his little fear
Carry him off the way I might have gone,
Without so much as wishing him good-night.
He went behind it to make his last stand.
It was a cord of maple, cut and split
And piled—and measured, four by four by eight.
And not another like it could I see.
No runner tracks in this year’s snow looped near it.
And it was older sure than this year’s cutting,
Or even last year’s or the year’s before.
The wood was grey and the bark warping off it
And the pile somewhat sunken. Clematis
Had wound strings round and round it like a bundle.
What held it though on one side was a tree
Still growing, and on one a stake and prop,
These latter about to fall. I thought that only
Someone who lived in turning to fresh tasks
Could so forget his handiwork on which
He spent himself, the labour of his axe,
And leave it there far from a useful fireplace
To warm the frozen swamp as best it could
With the slow smokeless burning of decay.


POD said...

I have been guilty of starting and stopping both projects, classes, diets, books etc.
I usually manage to eat all my food though, oh, and wine etc. Funny thing - that.

That is the first time I've read that poem. Beautiful.

Melissa said...

It makes me cry every time!

And then I go finish something. That's art you can USE.

Crabby McSlacker said...

Thank you for sharing that!

And how cool is it that a poem got you back in school?

Note to self: must read more poetry!

POD said...

I have been showing folks I know your artwork. I used to work for a Trompe-l'œil artist so I know good art when I see it. (haha, like to think that anyway.) I had to quit him because he was insane. I was going to have to cut off his ear and send it to someone soon!

I loved those kittens and the piece you did of the girl. I showed them to Chris's daughter who is a very good artist at age 16 and she was quite impressed with your ability as am I.

Sbanfnyc said...

I think you and I have read this poem every year since we got married.

Sure is a good one.