Merry Christmas

December 24, 2011

A long poem for what I hope is a peaceful, restful holiday.

 

Christmas Trees

by Robert Frost

 

A Christmas Circular Letter

 

 

The city had withdrawn into itself

And left at last the country to the country;

When between whirls of snow not come to lie

And whirls of foliage not yet laid, there drove

A stranger to our yard, who looked the city,

Yet did in country fashion in that there

He sat and waited till he drew us out

A-buttoning coats to ask him who he was.

He proved to be the city come again

To look for something it had left behind

And could not do without and keep its Christmas.

He asked if I would sell my Christmas trees;

My woods—the young fir balsams like a place

Where houses all are churches and have spires.

I hadn’t thought of them as Christmas Trees.

I doubt if I was tempted for a moment

To sell them off their feet to go in cars

And leave the slope behind the house all bare,

Where the sun shines now no warmer than the moon.

I’d hate to have them know it if I was.

Yet more I’d hate to hold my trees except

As others hold theirs or refuse for them,

Beyond the time of profitable growth,

The trial by market everything must come to.

I dallied so much with the thought of selling.

Then whether from mistaken courtesy

And fear of seeming short of speech, or whether

From hope of hearing good of what was mine,

I said, “There aren’t enough to be worth while.”

 

“I could soon tell how many they would cut,

You let me look them over.”

 

“You could look.

But don’t expect I’m going to let you have them.”

Pasture they spring in, some in clumps too close

That lop each other of boughs, but not a few

Quite solitary and having equal boughs

All round and round. The latter he nodded “Yes” to,

Or paused to say beneath some lovelier one,

With a buyer’s moderation, “That would do.”

I thought so too, but wasn’t there to say so.

We climbed the pasture on the south, crossed over,

And came down on the north.

 

He said, “A thousand.”

“A thousand Christmas trees!—at what apiece?”

He felt some need of softening that to me:

“A thousand trees would come to thirty dollars.”

 

Then I was certain I had never meant

To let him have them. Never show surprise!

But thirty dollars seemed so small beside

The extent of pasture I should strip, three cents

(For that was all they figured out apiece),

Three cents so small beside the dollar friends

I should be writing to within the hour

Would pay in cities for good trees like those,

Regular vestry-trees whole Sunday Schools

Could hang enough on to pick off enough.

A thousand Christmas trees I didn’t know I had!

Worth three cents more to give away than sell,

As may be shown by a simple calculation.

Too bad I couldn’t lay one in a letter.

I can’t help wishing I could send you one,

In wishing you herewith a Merry Christmas.

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Tricksters

February 27, 2010

This started out as a post on my third TBR challenge book, Thornton Wilder’s Bridge of San Luis Rey. Since then I’ve read more things, and two of them fit in with what I wanted to say about Wilder.

When I was in school, a poetry professor showed me that maybe Robert Frost’s poetry wasn’t as straightforward as we tend to believe…that maybe he was a bit of a trickster, what with his down-home-y feel but complex ideas. And that sometimes complex ideas might be best articulated through play.

The Bridge of San Luis Rey is another seemingly straightforward book. It’s about a priest who’s trying to determine the effects of the will of God in the world, and what it would mean to live a moral life, and so he examines the lives of 5 people who died in a sudden accident (a bridge collapse), thinking that he’ll find some philosophy of life.  And, the book seems to suggest, love is the most important part of life.

Then, however, I got to the afterword, which involved some biographical sketching and quotation from Wilder’s personal writings. He says that sometimes he felt the book “is a barely concealed anatomy of despair”; that “a modern man cannot be happy; he is a conflict, whether he likes it or not”; and that “self-reproach is the first and the continuing state of the soul. And it is the way we go about assuaging that reproach that makes us do anything valuable”.  So maybe the book isn’t as simple as it seems. I’ll have to reread, soon.

I appreciated reading Wilder’s more philosophical ideas; I like reading authors as thinkers. So, as I’ve said, I enjoyed Don McKay’s Vis A Vis immensely. And it concludes with an idea of metaphor, as an idea of earnest play:

“…let’s also take in the pure pizzazz of the metaphorical act releasing another micro-quantum of wild figuration into the body of language – that tiny, shocking, necessary invasion; that saving of language from itself.”

At first, when this post was just about Wilder, and more about Frost, I was going to call it ‘American Tricksters’. But I’ve been reading Canadian for a little while. Lorna Crozier’s recent memoir, Small Beneath the Sky, was another literary endeavor that seemed to me to be the site of some earnest play. At times philosophical prose-poetry (if such a thing exists, or if it’s just poetic prose) and at times more typically memoir-ish, I enjoyed the interplay (there’s that word again) of the various parts, and how each influenced and gave more impact to the other. Literary tricks are serious business.