The pastoral philosopher

While a picture is worth a thousand words, no painting or photograph can quite achieve the pictures that Robert Frost (1874—1963) paints with his words on the canvases of our mind. Using simple metaphors and a casual conversational style, he brings to us the sights and sounds of his native New England area. But beneath the beautiful imagery lie words much deeper, more profound. Poetry, that describes a simple moment frozen in time (a few leaves clinging to an otherwise bare tree in the poem A Boundless Moment) while at other times, expresses a whole gamut of human emotions and experiences (in poems like Stopping By Woods On A Snowy Evening and The Road Not Taken). Bringing something profound to a seemingly simple moment, giving the reader a chance to see nature in a new light and to see the beauty in the emotions it evokes — this is what makes Frost’s poetry special to me. The ability to see the extraordinary even in the ordinary.

Despite the idyllic, laid back and detached atmosphere that his poems create at times, there is also a modern and real-world context to his work, apparent in poems like Mending Wall, perhaps most famous for the line that has become an aphorism on international relations — Good fences make good neighbors, a line often quoted with the assumption that the poet supported this thought. In reality, as the poem shows, he questions it. He asks — Why do they make good neighbors? An interesting paradox, as walls create a sense of security, but they exist because of an absence of it, to begin with.

Biased that I am, its difficult for me to pick just one poem to showcase the magic of his words. Here is one titled Reluctance, that remains one of my favorites. A poem that talks about resignation, acceptance and our unwillingness for it. Makes you think.. Why do we strive to aim higher than our past experience indicates we are capable of? Is it the drive to do better, or are we in a way, deluded about our own capabilities? Or is it simply a reluctance to give up?


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?

The words of the last verse say it the best — yielding simply because it is the reasonable and practical thing to do, is cheating oneself. The unwillingness to given in to things just as they are, the belief in ourselves that doesn’t let us just bow down and accept, but instead makes us fight against the odds, isn’t that really what the human spirit is all about?

6 thoughts on “The pastoral philosopher

  1. ABetterFool

    I doubt if that’s human spirit. I thought that’s the spirit of a warrior. We are peace lovers, right? and the warrior in us is dead long back to show any signs of revival. What? you don’t agree. May be you are not one of us. And I am just reasoning my survival, not to raise any flags in this dead brain.

  2. Tafosi

    The heart is still aching to seek,
    But the feet question ‘Whither?’

    - Fantastic. How true – in all aspects of life. In any case thank you for this posting, since it has aroused my curiosity in his writings. Of course he is from New England. This place can move anybody to poetry.

  3. Paddy

    This reminds me of the lyrics from the song “Waqt Ne Kiyaa” in “Kagaz Ke Phool” :
    jaaenge kahaaN puuchhataa nahiin
    chal paDe magar raastaa nahiin
    kyaa talaash hai kuchh pataa nahiin
    bun rahe hain dil Kvaab dam-ba-dam
    I am sure Guru Dutt turned in his grave and Kaifi Azmi would have flinched at this but life has its moments :-)

  4. Hawkeye

    You brought back some old memories of English Lit in School and Plus 2…

    “The Road not taken” is my favorite. The last few lines have always had an impact on me.

    Two roads diverged in a wood, and I-
    I took the one less traveled by,
    And that has made all the difference.

    Its the same theme as “Reluctance”; only this time he makes a choice and goes against the grain.

  5. Jupe

    Woww, u had me literally eating words outta the screen.. Frost is one of my favoritest poets..The way he wrote about woods, fire, ice, snows where he describes nature in all its splendour and beauty is simply awesome.. My favorite though remains Stopping by the woods..Great post Megs :-)

  6. Megha

    [ABetterFool] I think there lies a warrior within every human. No matter how peace loving, the fight within us always remains. Its what stops us from getting complacent. Just my thoughts..

    [Tafosi] Ah yes! The New England area can make even a non-poet spout verse. On a related note, Frost’s farm in Derry, NH and the Frost trail in Ripton, VT are places worthy of a visit. Sitting on the stone bench, looking over the mountains, knowing this is exactly where he sat and wrote poems like Reluctance.. is a very humbling and uplifting experience.

    [Paddy] You have quoted one of my favorite verses out of one of my favorite songs. S D Burman, Kaifi Azmi and Geeta Dutt come together to create magic. Indeed sometimes, it is the journeys whose destination is unknown that are the most beautiful.

    [Hawkeye] The Road Not Taken is a wonderful poem indeed. A classic about choices and the willingness to step away from the pack. My personal favorite remains Stopping By Woods On A Snowy Evening. The imagery of his words — ‘The only other sound’s the sweep of easy wind and downy flake‘, coupled with the philosophical end — ‘And miles to go before I sleep‘ makes this a classic. Sure brings back memories of English literature in high school :)

    [Jupe] Thank you! Glad you liked the post. Yes, Frost is a magician with his words. I share your opinion on Stopping by Woods.. See my response to Hawkeye above :)

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