Fire and Ice, a Poem by Robert Frost

Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I’ve tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.

Alright, another adventure down the gullet of poetry.

Today, I’m reading Fire and Ice, a creation by Robert Frost, a poet I have always had fond memories of. And that’s not because I think he’s anymore brilliant than his peers in the literature, but because he wrote poems that touch on interesting ideas while remaining accessible to people like myself, who are relatively untrained in reading poetry.

With my first reading, I basically knew what Frost was getting at. With my second, I confirmed that I’m probably correct in my intuitions, but I found that there’s more to unpack in Frost’s meaning.

It seems that Frost was inclined to believe that between greed and hatred, greed would be more likely to bring about the world’s undoing. I agree with this sentiment, as it seems to me that we, as a society, are more forgiving of greed than we are of hatred. Or perhaps it’s more correct to say that greed is the more prevalent of the two, while hatred is by nature more devastating.

Partly to blame, I think, is that our society seems to have more difficulty ascertaining what counts as greed and what does not. As a result, greed run rampant and unchecked, while hatred must bypass more legal and cultural safeguards.

Yet, all that being said, as Frost seems to say, both could do the job, either together or separately.

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It’s all I have to bring today by Emily Dickinson

It’s all I have to bring today—
This, and my heart beside—
This, and my heart, and all the fields—
And all the meadows wide—
Be sure you count—should I forget
Some one the sum could tell—
This, and my heart, and all the Bees
Which in the Clover dwell.

I remember reading a bit of Dickinson for a freshman English class in college. I recall there was quite a bit of head scratching involved. I may have also said some… unsavory things about her as I struggled to get her meaning. Well, I’m just a bit more mature than I was back then. Still scratching my head though.

I do want to share something other than another long winded post basically saying, “I have no idea what I just read”. So, I’m going to cheat a little bit and read up on this poem online. Hopefully, this will give me some ideas on what to look for in poems moving forward.

From what I’m reading, this poem has an A B C B rhyme. Okay. I can see that. And I must concede that it’s nice. Reciting this poem aloud, the words just roll off the tongue. It’s pleasant and lyrical. Some people seem to think this poem is about death. Others disagree and say it’s a poem about a lover and what she has to offer. I don’t have an opinion myself, and somehow I don’t think Emily will be clarifying her meaning on this anytime soon.

It occurs to me that perhaps there’s some significance to the word “Clover” as it’s capitalized. What that significance is, however, I couldn’t say. I’m also considering the possibility that this poem is supposed to be ironic, as the narrator first says she only has two things to bring, but then it turns out there’s actually three – no wait, now four. Is this poem about a woman who can’t settle on what to bring with her to vacation and ends up bringing way too much stuff?

I have no idea what I just read.

Mockingbirds by Mary Oliver

I should really get myself a few poem books (is that what they’re called? “Poem books”?). So far, I’ve just been plugging in variations of “short poem” into Google and picking out the first one that catches my eye. I’ll add that to the list of things to buy when I’m not broke. Anyways, here’s Mockingbirds:

This morning

two mockingbirds

in the green field

were spinning and tossing

 

the white ribbons

of their songs

into the air.

I had nothing

 

better to do

than listen.

Alright, as a novice of poetry, I have quite a few questions. I’m wondering why Oliver chose to break up her lines this way, and why she chose to have two stanzas of four lines followed by one of two. Does it matter? Maybe it doesn’t. Maybe there doesn’t need to be a reason. Maybe the appeal of poetry is that you can do whatever the fuck you want and you don’t need a reason because your readers will make them up for you. If I had to guess though, I suspect she may have wanted to draw attention to the act of listening by abruptly halving the number of lines in that stanza.

I think part of my struggle with poetry comes from the somewhat mechanical way I approach things. I have a tendency to expect a purpose in every word and a reason behind every decision. I get frustrated when I don’t have ready access to these things. That frustration, I believe, is a distraction from the aspects of a poem I can appreciate. Like the word choice in describing this birdsong: “spinning and tossing the white ribbons of their songs into the air”. It’s pretty. Not only that, I think it’s clever how she describes a song with completely visual terms. I’m going to have to try that myself.

This poem seems particularly appropriate for me. It’s like Mary Oliver is telling me, “Shut up. Stop thinking so much. Just listen to the beauty in front of you.”

Noted, Mary. No need to be a dick about it. I got it.

 

You Fit Into Me by Margaret Atwood

Poetry. Ugh. I have never been the greatest fan of poems. To be honest, I often considered myself to be a bit lacking in the necessary subtlety to enjoy them as much as other forms of art. Embarrassingly often, I would get to the end of the poem and think, “Wait, what? What the fuck did I just read?”

Well, I’ve got many, many poems ahead of me, so I’m going to ease myself into this part of the challenge with a short one. A very short one. Here it is:

You fit into me

Like a hook into an eye

A fish hook

An open eye

Upon reading the title, I admit I rolled my eyes a bit. Four lines later (I know, I’m a bit slow), I was pleasantly surprised to find that this isn’t an overly gratuitous piece on love. In fact, it reads more like a diss than anything else. Like something Atwood would say to a lover before splashing a glass of wine in his face. I appreciate how she dedicates the second half of the poem clarifying that it’s a fish hook and that the eye is open, just in case said lover is thinking she’s absolutely smitten with him.