Wednesday, August 13, 2008


I discovered Robert Frost’s poetry my senior year in high school. One of my best girlfriend’s boyfriend was a college freshman, and studied Frost’s poetry. He showed her a poem he particularly liked (Nothing Gold Can Stay) and she in turn shared it with me. I remember the moment clearly; it was the beginning of a life-long love of Frost’s work.

After that chance meeting, I went on to read a lot of Frost’s poems, and found many more that moved me. I committed about half a dozen or so of the shorter ones to memory, so I always have them with me. As the decades have passed, I have continued to go over them in my head, usually once a year or so. Sometimes I write them down again, correct any words or phrases that may have drifted away from the original. It’s one of the most pleasant things I do for myself. Also from time to time I take up a book of his poems and read ones I haven’t memorized, and enjoy those old favorites as well. I love Frost’s way of looking at and thinking about the natural world, and all it’s inhabitants; his wry commentaries on human nature and activity. I also admire the effortless unobtrusive way he handles rhyme.

Recently, I was leafing through my copy of the Complete Poems when I came across one particular poem I’ve been reading since I was in my twenties. As Frost’s poems go, I’ve always found it a bit more difficult to follow. I’d get pieces of it, enjoy a phrase here and there, but I always knew the whole thing was somehow eluding me. Looking at it now, I think it was just because I wasn’t giving it enough time. But perhaps ‘the time it took’ was just spread out over many years. Anyway, a few days ago, I suddenly understood, I simply got it. I can say I know this poem now. You may read it and get it immediately, and wonder what the difficulty was for me. Looking at it now, I wonder, too – it seems so simple in retrospect. However, I don’t begrudge myself the time it took, and I like that this poem held back its mystery for me the way it did. It’s like having a quirky friend. You can’t quite explain what it is about them you like, then one day you get an insight into who they really are, and then you like them even more. That friend for me is Frost’s poem, “The Silken Tent.” I always knew this poem was about love, but…somehow I would lose the thread as I made my way through it, looking for the punctuation guideposts, following the pronouns, yet always getting lost at the turn of a phrase. This is English of a slightly different era, it has its own cadence even above that of the poem itself, more like a song. Then just the other day, I identified the secret that it had been keeping for so long: this poem is really one long breathless and breathlessly beautiful sentence. Today I Googled it, and discovered it is also written in sonnet form. I suppose I could have solved the mystery a long time ago by going to the library. Or taking a class, but I wouldn’t change how everything unfolded for the world.

The Silken Tent

She is as in a field a silken tent
At midday when the sunny summer breeze
Has dried the dew and all its ropes relent,
So that in guys it gently sways at ease,
And its supporting central cedar pole,
That is its pinnacle to heavenward
And signifies the sureness of the soul,
Seems to owe naught to any single cord,
But strictly held by none, is loosely bound
By countless silken ties of love and thought
To everything on earth the compass round,
And only by one's going slightly taut
In the capriciousness of summer air
Is of the slightest bondage made aware.

About the photos – this is a good place to mention something about the photos on this blog. All of the Skywatch and One Single Impression photos are and always will be my own, but the rest will come from a variety of sources. Some will be mine, some will be from friends, or from Wikimedia and Creative Commons; others will be stock photos. I was working on a project not long ago that required a short subscription to Shutterstock, and while I had the subscription, I was already planning to start up this blog, so I downloaded a number of photos to use here, subjects I would never have access to otherwise. Many readers have commented on the photos here, so I felt this was important to point this out.

Photo in this post: This is a Shutterstock photo. Having written a number of pattern poems myself, I was intrigued by this little scrap, but I don’t know anything about its origin or the meaning behind it. I just thought it was a lovely image, and fit in with this post.


Kathiesbirds said...

Nice narrative. I like the way you think about things and that you can enjoy the time it took for the mystery to unfold. I like Frost's poetry as well and though I have "The complete Works" also, I have yet to becoem as familiar with it as you are. I like "Snowy Evening," one of his best known. Perhaps I should take the road less travelled instead...

magiceye said...

beautiful narrative.. love the flow in your writing..

Bob Dylan said...

This post takes me back to poetry I used to read. Thinking I have to take more time for it now.

a friend of mine wrote pattern poems some years back, I saved the ones she sent me. Sounds like a Miranda July assignment here, to take a scrap of paper and make a pattern with words.

SandyCarlson said...

I enjoyed reading this. It is a wonderful insight into a reader and writer's relationship with an author. I could identify with the idea that giving a poem time can take years.

Frost was my buddy in high school. I also memorized him so he'd be around all the time. My favorite enigma then was "To Earthward."

Thanks for this very beautiful post.

bobbie said...

A very lovely post.
When I read a post and want to comment, I usually form the first words of that comment before I ever reach this little box. I did that today, and then read Kathie's words. "I like the way you think..." That is exactly what I was about to say. In fact, I find it true with most of your posts. I read your words, and silently am saying, "Oh, yes".

Sydney said...

I also like the way you think!,
You continue to teach me so much
And as in the poem unfolding itself to you over a number of years, so have you, to me..
At some point I'd like to see this blog published, and then I could carry it around with me
Tangible, you know ...
Thanks Deb for so many new ways of seeing things!

Geraldine said...

What a talent. I love Robert Frost too...

"the woods are lovely, dark and deep. he has kept his promise, he has earned his sleep...."

hope I got that right!

me ann my camera said...

" I committed about half a dozen or so of the shorter ones to memory, so I always have them with me."
This line reminds me so much of previous decades. I wonder if students still memorize lines of poetry today? I hope so, for it is so wonderful to have such a treasure house within one's memory to draw upon. My husband is an admirer of Frost, as am I also, but it is he who can bring forth treasured lines at a moment, shouting through the trails and pathways when inspired by some particular sight.

We have been away these past few days and while wandering separately through a large flea market of 900 vendors plus, while comparing notes later, we discovered we had both picked up and browsed through a copy of Bliss Carman's, 'Wildflowers'. Poetry is wonderful.