Thursday, May 26, 2011

Wind Revisited: "The Sound Of The Trees"

As an addendum to my recent post containing three brief poems about the wind, here is a poem by Robert Frost on the same topic, but with a twist. 

          The Sound of the Trees

I wonder about the trees.
Why do we wish to bear
Forever the noise of these
More than another noise
So close to our dwelling place?
We suffer them by the day
Till we lose all measure of pace,
And fixity in our joys,
And acquire a listening air.
They are that that talks of going
But never gets away;
And that talks no less for knowing,
As it grows wiser and older,
That now it means to stay.
My feet tug at the floor
And my head sways to my shoulder
Sometimes when I watch trees sway,
From the window or the door.
I shall set forth for somewhere,
I shall make the reckless choice
Some day when they are in voice
And tossing so as to scare
The white clouds over them on.
I shall have less to say,
But I shall be gone.

Robert Frost, Mountain Interval (1916).

Frost played with this dream of escape more than once -- the best-known instance being "Into My Own," the first poem in his first book (A Boy's Will):  "I should not be withheld but that some day/Into their vastness I should steal away,/Fearless of ever finding open land."  Of course, Frost knows that this is an idle daydream, and that escape is not in the cards.

Not surprisingly, Edward Thomas shared the same daydream, and at times he sounds like Frost (or Frost sounds like Thomas).  These are the opening lines of Thomas's "Early One Morning":

Early one morning in May I set out,
And nobody I knew was about.
        I'm bound away for ever,
        Away somewhere, away for ever.

In a letter to Eleanor Farjeon enclosing a draft of the poem, Thomas stated that the poem was "a sober set of verses to the tune of 'Rio Grande', but I doubt if they can be sung."  (Eleanor Farjeon, Edward Thomas: The Last Four Years (1958), page 199.)  "Rio Grande" is a sea shanty, and Thomas included it in his anthology The Pocket Book of Poems and Songs for the Open Air (1907).

                                                    Charles Ginner
                "Through a Cottage Window, Shipley, Sussex" (c. 1930)


Brian McMahon said...

Terry Eagleton in his 'How to Read a Poem' (Blackwell, 2007) also looks at Frost's frustrated dreams of escape.

He says, of 'Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening', "The speaker is caught between continuing on his way in businesslike fashion and staying put to relish the sight of the snow... Perhaps it is not surprising that Frost, who was both a poet and a farmer, should feel a tension between an aesthetic and an instrumental attitude to nature. The poem may be about how he would like simply to be a poet, savouring the sounds and textures of things, but can't afford to do so."

Incidentally Eagleton's book is highly recommended. It is classified as literary criticism yet manages to be clearly written and often humourous. Eagleton carries his immense learning lightly.

Stephen Pentz said...

Mr. McMahon: thank you very much for your thoughts, and for the reference to Eagleton. I have read a few articles and essays by him, but I haven't seen that particular book. I'll have to track it down. Thanks again.