Thursday, November 22, 2012

"A Leaf Treader"

As I have noted before, "wistful" and "bittersweet" are the feelings that I associate with autumn.  But autumn never makes me feel down in the dumps.  Yes, there is that ever-present background whisper that sounds something like "mortality."  But, with beauty predominating, why pay it any mind?

In the following poem by Robert Frost, autumn's leaves take on a more threatening aspect.  The whisper is more insistent:  "an invitation to grief." But, as is so often the case with Frost, a suspicion arises that he is pulling our leg.  Or is he?

                            James McIntosh Patrick, "City Garden" (1979)

                              A Leaf Treader

I have been treading on leaves all day until I am autumn-tired.
God knows all the color and form of leaves I have trodden on and mired.
Perhaps I have put forth too much strength and been too fierce from fear.
I have safely trodden underfoot the leaves of another year.

All summer long they were overhead, more lifted up than I.
To come to their final place in earth they had to pass me by.
All summer long I thought I heard them threatening under their breath.
And when they came it seemed with a will to carry me with them to death.

They spoke to the fugitive in my heart as if it were leaf to leaf.
They tapped at my eyelids and touched my lips with an invitation to grief.
But it was no reason I had to go because they had to go.
Now up my knee to keep on top of another year of snow.

Robert Frost, A Further Range (1936).

A nice companion piece to "A Leaf Treader" is Frost's "In Hardwood Groves," which I have posted previously.  The poem regards autumn with more equanimity.  Here is its second stanza:

Before the leaves can mount again
To fill the trees with another shade,
They must go down past things coming up.
They must go down into the dark decayed.

Robert Frost, Collected Poems (1930).

                          James McIntosh Patrick, "A City Garden" (1940)

6 comments:

Arthur Lynas said...

Hello, Mr. Pentz,
I've been following your blog for a few months now with increasing pleasure. I love particularly the balance between the poetry and the wonderful paintings mostly unknown to me. I am from Glasgow myself and still live there, and it is a delight for me to recognise the city in today's posts. Thank you so much - a joy!
Arthur Lynas

literarytaste said...

Mischievous I would say. As if he is reminding us that part of his gift is to remind us, the gift less, that there is nothing he cannot touch and transform. Almost an insult. Which throws a whole different light on the calling of the poet.

Stephen Pentz said...

Mr Lynas: thank you very much for your kind words. I'm happy that you found your way here.

And thank you indeed for identifying the location of the paintings! I've often wondered where the gardens were located, and now I know -- thanks to you.

Please stop by again.

Stephen Pentz said...

literarytaste: that is a fine way of putting it. From his point of view, the joke is sometimes on us, isn't it? He wrote more than a few poems that can easily be interpreted in opposite fashions: "Neither Out Far Nor In Deep" and "The Road Not Taken" are two of the most obvious examples.

As always, thanks for visiting and for your thoughts.

Bovey Belle said...

The more I read of Robert Frost, the more I like. The 2nd extract strikes me as a statement entirely without guile - almost childlike in its simplicity and I find myself thinking, why didn't I think of that!

Being very much a novice to understanding poetry (indeed - a shade of the childlike in my simplicity!!), I find the syntax of the final lines in the first poem rather scrambled, or is that just me? As if he had run out of patience in the composition and short-changed us, the readers.

Stephen Pentz said...

Bovey Belle: thank you for your thoughts on the poems. I agree with you about "In Hardwood Groves": it is a fine example of Frost being direct and to the point -- but still with art, of course.

As for the end of "A Leaf Treader," I see what you mean. However, as you might expect, Frost never did anything without intent -- and guile. Hence, any confusion you may feel is probably part of his plan.

With respect to the final line (which does seem a bit odd to me), it may help to know that, when it was originally printed in The American Mercury magazine in 1935, it read: "Now up, my knee, to keep on top of another year of snow." However, Frost took the commas out when it was published in book form. So we have to assume that the effect was intended.

Thank you for stopping by again.