Frost in the Rain

view from the parking deck

view from a parking deck near campus

Evening classes at GSU were canceled today, due to all the rain we’ve had in metro Atlanta. On my way home I drove through inches of rain pooling on the surface of the highway. The cars in front of me sent fountains of water out from under their tires, and some drivers had their hazard lights on. Most people used their heads and drove slowly, but blue police sirens flashed every mile or so from accidents. It’s scary enough driving on Atlanta highways without having to worry about hydroplaning.

We’re still reading Robert Frost in my American Poetry class. For the test the professor is going to give us eight quotes. From the quotes we have to identify the poem, and then write an essay in which we illustrate everything we know about the poem in question. I’m going to read the poems, internalize them, and let fate take care of the rest.

We’ve been having bad weather in Atlanta for a half a week now. Last Thursday, just as the professor was reading Frost’s poem Once by The Pacific (West Running Brook, 1928), a storm swept in. As I looked out the window, Frost’s lines narrated what I saw:

The clouds were low and hairy in the skies

like locks blown forward in the gleam of eyes.

According to the professor, one day when Frost and his mother were on the beach in San Francisco, a huge storm hit the coast. The event terrified Frost, and stayed with him all his life. He started writing the poem when he was 18, at Dartmouth, but didn’t finish it until he was much older. The two lines I’ve quoted above are the only two that remain from his original poem. He certainly was a clever 18-year-old to have come up with the image of the hairy clouds and the locks blowing forward.

But we missed our class tonight. That means another week of Frost after this one, unless Dr. S decides to excise of few poems from the list. Next up is Edna St. Vincent Millay.

Moon Collage

An excerpt from “The Death of the Hired Man” by Robert Frost, from his collection North of Boston (1915).

Part of a moon was falling down the west,
Dragging the whole sky with it to the hills.
Its light poured softly in her lap. She saw
And spread her apron to it. She put out her hand
Among the harp-like morning-glory strings,
Taut with the dew from garden bed to eaves,
As if she played unheard the tenderness
That wrought on him beside her in the night.
“Warren,” she said, “he has come home to die:
You needn’t be afraid he’ll leave you this time.”

Julie Buffaloe Yoder has a beautiful, unique image of the moon in her poem “Illusions.” Visit her blog, The Buffaloe Pen, to read it.

Week in Review

Rickshaw, a photo I took in Great Barrington, MA

Rickshaw, a photo I took in Great Barrington, MA

There’s a fine line between excitement and anxiety – adrenalin can either make us soar, or gnaw at our innards. Now that I have week one under my belt, I’m feeling more like embracing the challenges rather than wanting to take a road trip and never come back. Thanks to all of you who’ve encouraged me. It means a lot.

I’d say the hardest part of this new venture is the commute. For the week of conferences and meetings I took MARTA, our transit system in Atlanta, but the trip took over an hour… .  I’ve decided to be one of the lazy polluters and drive into town, which takes only 30 minutes, and even less in the early morning before rush hour. I intend to record the poems we’re studying so I can listen to them during the ride. At least I drive a subcompact. Let’s hope the Hummers out there don’t squash me. Such brutes.

My English Composition class is full of polite, eager young men and women. On the second day I had them do a free-write in which they introduced themselves to the class as a sandwich. I wrote right along with them, which was fun. They’re each going to keep a blog for the class, and we also will have discussion forums. Lots of writing for all of us.

My literature course is  20th-Century American Poetry with Dr. Leon Stokesbury, a highly-regarded scholar and poet who knows his stuff. We’re reading Robert Frost first, a poet whose work almost all Americans have read starting in grade school. The beauty of Frost’s poems is their multiple layers – he truly was a genius. The professor told us that “Frost loved to play the role of the genius poet, the taciturn New England codger.” He said, “undergraduates loved it when Frost would contradict their professors. Frost told the students that when he wrote about mowing hay, that’s all the poem was about, it was right there on the surface.” But anyone who has read Mowing or any of his other great poems knows Frost’s claim isn’t true.

It’s obvious I’m going to learn a lot about writing in the poetry workshop. The professor, David Bottoms, has written several volumes of poetry, and is the founding editor of Five Points, a longstanding literature and art magazine. He guides us into a careful, critical reading of the poems, and maintains a respectful but honest tone. And he’s not afraid of giving praise where it’s due. I submitted a brand-new prose poem, and as soon as the copies circled the table I wanted to snatch them back. It’s my very first poetry workshop in a formal setting. I wanted to say, ‘wait, it’s just a joke! I have much better poems than that one, really!’ Too late. I’ll let you know how it goes after they’ve given me their feedback.

The other hard part of going ‘back to school’ is my age. Usually I don’t think about the number of years I’ve spent on the planet, and if I do, I’m extremely grateful for almost all of them, but when I see that some of my classmates were born the year I graduated college, I start to wonder what the hell I’m doing there. Is there something ridiculous about a middle-aged woman wanting to ‘be a poet?’ Isn’t poetry supposed to begin with the passion and longing of youth? Doesn’t narcissism prod the earliest of poems, and if so, what does that say about me? I just keep going back to the thought that I want to spend the rest of my life doing what I love. Like Polly in the film “I’ve Heard the Mermaids Singing,” I do it for the kicks.

This poem breaks my heart

Nothing Gold Can Stay

Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.

— Robert Frost

This poem breaks my heart. I thought of it today because the first forsythia shrubs are in bloom, and I’ve seen some daffodils and crocuses making their way out of the earth. Nothing gold can stay.

My husband is from New England, Robert Frost’s birthplace, and studied Frost’s poems in school. This poem has always been his favorite, and he has it memorized. But even though the lines grab a hold of me, a part of me wants to rebel against the meaning. It’s the same part of me that rebels against my husband’s more realistic view of life. And realistic really isn’t the word. I don’t want to say pessimistic or negative either. But his world view is less hopeful than mine.

Maybe that’s because I quit my teaching job and he’s still slugging it out in corporate America every day. That battle can take the wind out of anyone’s sails. But what gives me hope is not the idea that the gold really can stay. I know the forsythias will lose their buttery petals. The daffodils will brown.

The reason I accept the dying of the things around me has to do with the nature of my inner life. Like most people, I have days when taking the dog out yet again seems like an insurmountable chore, when I ask myself if I can bear to fold one more load of laundry. And it gets worse. Even if nothing bad has happened I’ll start imagining possible tragedies, like my husband having a car accident driving home on the highway in the rain. I’ll work myself into a frenzy of fear.

But that’s where my hope lies. If nothing gold can stay, nothing shriveled and wretched stays either. The dying of the gold gives us hope that our garbage may one day flower. Of course this acceptance is a daily one. Each day I find my edge, and try to balance there.