STOPPING BY THE WOODS – Part 5

frost-grave(The stage is pretty much as it was before. The lights come up slowly to reveal John sitting at the table, with a book in hand. The easel to the far right has a placard that now says “Swinging on Birches.” To the left, a second easel has a blowup photo of Frost as an old man.)

                                               

(John reads.)                                        

 

The Road Not Taken

 

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,

And sorry I could not travel both

And be one traveler, long I stood

And looked down one as far as I could

To where it bent in the undergrowth;

 

Then took the other, as just as fair,

And having perhaps the better claim,

Because it was grassy and wanted wear;

Though as for that, the passing there

Had worn them really about the same,

 

And both that morning, equally lay

In leaves no step had trodden black.

Oh, I kept the first for another day!

Yet knowing how way leads on to way,

I doubted if I should ever come back.

 

I shall be telling this with a sigh

Somewhere ages and ages hence:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference. 

 

(John stands up and continues reading.)
   

Mending Wall

 

Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,

That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it

And spills the upper boulders in the sun,

And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.

The work of hunters is another thing:

I have come after them and made repair

Where they have left not one stone on a stone,

But they would have the rabbit out of hiding,

To please the yelping dogs. The gaps I mean,

No one has seen them made or heard them made,

But at spring mending-time we find them there.

I let my neighbor know beyond the hill;

And on a day we meet to walk the line

And set the wall between us once again.

We keep the wall between us as we go.

To each the boulders that have fallen to each.

And some are loves and some so nearly balls

We have to use a spell to make them balance:

“Stay where you are until our backs are turned!”

We wear our fingers rough with handling them.

Oh, just another kind of outdoor game,

One on a side. it comes to little more:

There where it is we do not need the wall:

He is all pine and I am apple orchard.

My apple trees will never get across

And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him.

He only says, “Good fences make good neighbors.”

Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder

If I could put a notion in his head:

Why do they make good neighbors? Isn’t it

Where there are cows? But here there are no cows.

Before I built a wall I’d ask to know

What I was walling in or walling out,

And to whom I was like to give offense.

Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,

That wants it down.” I could say, “Elves” to him,

But it’s not elves exactly, and I’d rather

He said it for himself. I see him there,

Bringing a stone grasped firmly by the top

In each hand, like an old-stone savage armed.

He moves in darkness as it seems to me,

Not of woods only and the shade of trees.

He will not go behind his father’s saying,

And he likes having thought of it so well

He says again, “Good fences make good neighbors.”

 

(John comments to the audience.)

 

A close look at the first poem shows that both paths are equally traveled—he says “Though as for that, the passing there / Had worn them really about the same.” But who cares. There is that dramatic opposition and each of us has probably felt at a fork in the road at one time or another and we like to think we took the challenging one, the one that made us the individuals we are today. Can’t you just see Frost picturing some grandfather telling his grandchildren, “I took the road less traveled,” while knowing he was really doing a little posturing in front of them. Frost thought he was that maverick, that rugged individualist. In regard to his poetry he was actually pretty traditional. He was a “rugged traditionalist.”  

 

But “Mending Wall” took on some interesting historical significance. Toward the end of his life, September of 1962 to be exact, Frost agreed to go to Russia for the State Department as sort of a cultural good will ambassador. In Moscow he was greeted by a delegation of young Russian writers who liked the fiercely independent quality of his work and his humanism. Later, at a public reading outside of Leningrad, the auditorium was crowded and the audience responded warmly. He recited from memory many of his classic poems including “Mending Wall.” The applause was thunderous. 

A few days after he became ill. Nikita Khrushchev sent his personal physician and later visited the poet himself. That may have been Frost’s personal agenda all along. Meeting Khrushchev had come to seem a test of some kind. Frost was both thrilled and nervous. And what subject did the American bring up when they did confront one another? The Berlin Wall.  

With stunning audacity, Frost proposed reuniting East and West Berlin, a suggestion that provoked Khrushchev into a defensive position. Frost asserted that the unstable arrangement could provoke a world war. Frost reminded Khruschev that both the United States and the Soviet Union had a common European ancestry, with certain cultural values that were shared, as opposed to those of China and even Africa. Both agreed that there should be more talking and less name calling between the two super powers.“

 

My apple trees will never get across

And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him.

He only says, “Good fences make good neighbors.”

Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder

If I could put a notion in his head:

Why do they make good neighbors? Isn’t it

Where there are cows? But here there are no cows.

Before I built a wall I’d ask to know

What I was walling in or walling out.

 

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One thought on “STOPPING BY THE WOODS – Part 5

  1. Your commentary is a little thin. I would only add that Frost was characteristically cagey when Mending Wall was too closely associated with Russian and American relations. Although the aptness of the poem is obvious, he resisted the analogy. He was never a good political poet and I suspect he recognized the limitations such poetry almost always possesses. But he wasn’t about to pass up the recognition that a trip to Russia would bring with it. He went and, getting to near the political sun, was well-singed.

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