The Poets – A Series

Robert Lee Frost (1874-1963)

Robert Frost. Arguably the most celebrated of the poets of his generation. A four-time Pulitzer Prize winner, he was appointed Poet Laureate for Vermont in 1961, in addition to being awarded the Congressional Gold Medal in 1960. The recipient of numerous honours and accolades during his life, in  1961 he was invited to read his poetry at the inauguration of  John F. Kennedy.

The poem “The Road Not Taken” was penned by Frost in 1920. Considered by many to be one of the most misunderstood poems, by at least one account it was a penned to poke fun at a buddy who was often indecisive on road trips ( I know, I know).

The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost

 Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
 Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
 And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
 I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
1928’s Acceptance is a personal favourite.

Acceptance by Robert Frost

When the spent sun throws up its rays on cloud
And goes down burning into the gulf below,
No voice in nature is heard to cry aloud
At what has happened. Birds, at least must know
It is the change to darkness in the sky.
Murmuring something quiet in her breast,
One bird begins to close a faded eye;
Or overtaken too far from his nest,
Hurrying low above the grove, some waif
Swoops just in time to his remembered tree.
At most he thinks or twitters softly, ‘Safe!
Now let the night be dark for all of me.
Let the night bee too dark for me to see
Into the future. Let what will be, be.’

The Lesson for Today , first performed in 1941, became my favourite Frost poem as soon as I read that the last line is inscribed on his gravestone.

Robert Frost headstone

The Lesson for Today by Robert Frost

The last verse is reproduced below:

“I hold your doctrine of Memento Mori.

And were an epitaph to be my story

I’d have a short one ready for my own.

I would have written of me on my stone:

I had a lover’s quarrel with the world.”

For the full text of this poem please see this link.  The Lesson for Today


The Poets – A Series

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882)

The American poet, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, achieved great success and fame as a poet during his lifetime. Although some have criticised his style, his ability to draw the masses to his work during his lifetime is unchallengeable.

The Song of Hiawatha, written in 1855 is one of Longfellow’s most famous works.

The Song of Hiawatha by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Should you ask me, whence these stories?
Whence these legends and traditions,
With the odors of the forest
With the dew and damp of meadows,
With the curling smoke of wigwams,
With the rushing of great rivers,
With their frequent repetitions,
And their wild reverberations
As of thunder in the mountains?
I should answer, I should tell you,
“From the forests and the prairies,
From the great lakes of the Northland,
From the land of the Ojibways,
From the land of the Dacotahs,
From the mountains, moors, and fen-lands
Where the heron, the Shuh-shuh-gah,
Feeds among the reeds and rushes.
I repeat them as I heard them
From the lips of Nawadaha,
The musician, the sweet singer.”
Should you ask where Nawadaha
Found these songs so wild and wayward,
Found these legends and traditions,
I should answer, I should tell you,
“In the bird’s-nests of the forest,
In the lodges of the beaver,
In the hoof-prints of the bison,
In the eyry of the eagle!
“All the wild-fowl sang them to him,
In the moorlands and the fen-lands,
In the melancholy marshes;
Chetowaik, the plover, sang them,
Mahng, the loon, the wild-goose, Wawa,
The blue heron, the Shuh-shuh-gah,
And the grouse, the Mushkodasa!”
If still further you should ask me,
Saying, “Who was Nawadaha?
Tell us of this Nawadaha,”
I should answer your inquiries
Straightway in such words as follow.
“In the vale of Tawasentha,
In the green and silent valley,
By the pleasant water-courses,
Dwelt the singer Nawadaha.
Round about the Indian village
Spread the meadows and the corn-fields,
And beyond them stood the forest,
Stood the groves of singing pine-trees,
Green in Summer, white in Winter,
Ever sighing, ever singing.
“And the pleasant water-courses,
You could trace them through the valley,
By the rushing in the Spring-time,
By the alders in the Summer,
By the white fog in the Autumn,
By the black line in the Winter;
And beside them dwelt the singer,
In the vale of Tawasentha,
In the green and silent valley.
“There he sang of Hiawatha,
Sang the Song of Hiawatha,
Sang his wondrous birth and being,
How he prayed and how be fasted,
How he lived, and toiled, and suffered,
That the tribes of men might prosper,
That he might advance his people!”
Ye who love the haunts of Nature,
Love the sunshine of the meadow,
Love the shadow of the forest,
Love the wind among the branches,
And the rain-shower and the snow-storm,
And the rushing of great rivers
Through their palisades of pine-trees,
And the thunder in the mountains,
Whose innumerable echoes
Flap like eagles in their eyries;–
Listen to these wild traditions,
To this Song of Hiawatha!
Ye who love a nation’s legends,
Love the ballads of a people,
That like voices from afar off
Call to us to pause and listen,
Speak in tones so plain and childlike,
Scarcely can the ear distinguish
Whether they are sung or spoken;–
Listen to this Indian Legend,
To this Song of Hiawatha!
Ye whose hearts are fresh and simple,
Who have faith in God and Nature,
Who believe that in all ages
Every human heart is human,
That in even savage bosoms
There are longings, yearnings, strivings
For the good they comprehend not,
That the feeble hands and helpless,
Groping blindly in the darkness,
Touch God’s right hand in that darkness
And are lifted up and strengthened;–
Listen to this simple story,
To this Song of Hiawatha!
Ye, who sometimes, in your rambles
Through the green lanes of the country,
Where the tangled barberry-bushes
Hang their tufts of crimson berries
Over stone walls gray with mosses,
Pause by some neglected graveyard,
For a while to muse, and ponder
On a half-effaced inscription,
Written with little skill of song-craft,
Homely phrases, but each letter
Full of hope and yet of heart-break,
Full of all the tender pathos
Of the Here and the Hereafter;–
Stay and read this rude inscription,
Read this Song of Hiawatha!

The poem, “The Rainy Day” is not by any means his most famous work, instead it was selected purely to match my dark mood. That after all, is the beauty of poetry.

The Rainy Day  by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

The day is cold, and dark, and dreary;
It rains,and the wind is never weary;
The vine still clings to the mouldering wall,
But at every gust the dead leaves fall,
And the day is dark and dreary.

My life is cold, and dark, and dreary;
It rains,and the wind is never weary;
My thoughts still cling to the mouldering past,
But the hopes of youth fall thick in the blast,
And the days are dark and dreary.

Be still, sad heart, and cease repining;
Behind the clouds is the sun still shining;
Thy fate is the common fate of all,
Into each life some rain must fall,
Some days must be dark and dreary.


The Poets – A Series

I have always admired poets. Ever since I was child. Their command of language. Their wit. Their ability to capture emotion and put it into stunning prose. Their uncanny ability to peer into your mind and bleed your thoughts, emotions, pain onto the page.

I am by no means a scholar of literature. This series is entirely comprised of my personal favourites and others on whom history has bestowed the honour of being considered among the greats. As controversial as that designation is in some cases.

It is truly meant for my own personal enjoyment but if it is of interest to anyone else I will of course be well pleased.


A Dog Has Died by Pablo Neruda

A Dog Has Died by Pablo Neruda

My dog has died.
I buried him in the garden
next to a rusted old machine.

Some day I’ll join him right there,
but now he’s gone with his shaggy coat,
his bad manners and his cold nose,
and I, the materialist, who never believed
in any promised heaven in the sky
for any human being,
I believe in a heaven I’ll never enter.
Yes, I believe in a heaven for all dogdom
where my dog waits for my arrival
waving his fan-like tail in friendship.

Ai, I’ll not speak of sadness here on earth,
of having lost a companion
who was never servile.
His friendship for me, like that of a porcupine
withholding its authority,
was the friendship of a star, aloof,
with no more intimacy than was called for,
with no exaggerations:
he never climbed all over my clothes
filling me full of his hair or his mange,
he never rubbed up against my knee
like other dogs obsessed with sex.

No, my dog used to gaze at me,
paying me the attention I need,
the attention required
to make a vain person like me understand
that, being a dog, he was wasting time,
but, with those eyes so much purer than mine,
he’d keep on gazing at me
with a look that reserved for me alone
all his sweet and shaggy life,
always near me, never troubling me,
and asking nothing.

Ai, how many times have I envied his tail
as we walked together on the shores of the sea
in the lonely winter of Isla Negra
where the wintering birds filled the sky
and my hairy dog was jumping about
full of the voltage of the sea’s movement:
my wandering dog, sniffing away
with his golden tail held high,
face to face with the ocean’s spray.

Joyful, joyful, joyful,
as only dogs know how to be happy
with only the autonomy
of their shameless spirit.

There are no good-byes for my dog who has died,
and we don’t now and never did lie to each other.

So now he’s gone and I buried him,
and that’s all there is to it.

Poetry and Daydreams

When I was a child I would use books to escape any unhappiness.

Long after I had spent hours and hours lost in worlds I had never seen, I would lie down and daydream about an entirely different life. One where I had everything I lacked or thought I lacked in my real life and one which wasn’t quite as cruel as the one I lived in.

I still daydream. Every single day.

I haven’t and probably will never outgrow that habit. Now I think of it less as a bad habit inhibiting my ability to achieve the things I want and more of an essential coping mechanism to wade through the turbulent waters of everyday life. Somewhere in my teens I had read some article that convinced me that daydreaming was keeping me from achieving my dreams and I wasted precious time rueing my  inability to break the habit.

Self help gurus and their mumbo jumbo. Bah humbug.

Now I worry when I feel too broken to daydream.

In a cruel twist of fate, adulthood has taught me that there are days when the spirit is just too broken to escape into anything. Not books, not daydreams, not anything. You have no choice but to feel.

As an adult, I use my memories of all the past hurts that I successfully lived through to cope with unhappiness.

Whenever I feel broken, I no longer attempt to hide from the pain. I allow it to wash over me in waves, knowing full well, that maybe not today, tomorrow, next week or even the week after that but SOMETIME in the future, it will ease. It ALWAYS does. That is the only constant. There are many things in our pasts that we never thought it was possible to recover from.  We are always so sure in the moment, that some wounds will never heal and we will walk around with gaping, fetid sores for the rest of our lives and yet we live, we move on, the sun comes out again, we smile, we laugh, we love, we live.

I read poetry. Poets are so such tragic drama queens.

Always hurting. Always losing something they care about. Always feeling.

Always spot on. Always knowing exactly how you feel even when YOU don’t quite know how you feel. Always in your head. Those damn poets.