by Robert Frost
"It should be of the pleasure of a poem itself to tell how it can. The figure a poem makes. It begins in delight and ends in wisdom." - Robert Frost, "The Figure a Poem Makes"
In 1923 Robert Frost published his Selected Poems in the spring followed by this collection in November. The following year he was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for it. In addition to the titular poem this collection includes the famous "Fire and Ice", a short poem with resonance from Dante and others.
One of my favorites is "The Onset" that seems an appropriate poem to meditate upon as spring approaches. I think we can see a hint of Dante again in this poem with "the dark woods", and there is also the symbolism of winter coming, of snow falling, a beautiful imagery that a time will descend upon us where our lives are dull, tragic, painful or lonely. Yet in the second stanza hope appears with the recognition that "winter death has never tried the earth but it has failed:". By the end of the poem the transition from death to life is complete when one contrasts the white of "the gathered snow" at night to the living white of the birch tree and hope in family life symbolized by "a clump of houses" and the spiritual life of the church.
Always the same, when on a fated night
At last the gathered snow lets down as white
As may be in dark woods, and with a song
It shall not make again all winter long
Of hissing on the yet uncovered ground,
I almost stumble looking up and round,
As one who overtaken by the end
Gives up his errand, and lets death descend
Upon him where he is, with nothing done
To evil, no important triumph won,
More than if life had never been begun.
Yet all the precedent is on my side:
I know that winter death has never tried
The earth but it has failed: the snow may heap
In long storms an undrifted four feet deep
As measured again maple, birch, and oak,
It cannot check the peeper's silver croak;
And I shall see the snow all go down hill
In water of a slender April rill
That flashes tail through last year's withered brake
And dead weeds, like a disappearing snake.
Nothing will be left white but here a birch,
And there a clump of houses with a church.
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