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Range Finding -- Robert Frost

       
(Poem #1036) Range Finding
 The battle rent a cobweb diamond-strung
 And cut a flower beside a ground bird's nest
 Before it stained a single human breast.
 The stricken flower bent double and so hung.
 And still the bird revisited her young.
 A butterfly its fall had dispossessed
 A moment sought in air his flower of rest,
 Then lightly stooped to it and fluttering clung.

 On the bare upland pasture there had spread
 O'ernight 'twixt mullein stalks a wheel of thread
 And straining cables wet with silver dew.
 A sudden passing bullet shook it dry.
 The indwelling spider ran to greet the fly,
 But finding nothing, sullenly withdrew.
-- Robert Frost
The UTEL site has the following note on the poem:
  Frost saved this poem only because Edward Thomas, his friend the English
  poet and the E. T. of the title, "thought it so good a description of No
  Man's Land" (Selected Letters of Robert Frost, ed. Lawrance Thompson [New
  York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 1964], p. 220).

I agree - Frost's particular genius for capturing the *feel* of a place with
a few small but precisely chosen details is very much in evidence here, and
make this a poem well worth preserving.

Reading the poem, I was drawn towards a more literal interpretation of the
phrase "No Man's Land" - this is, indeed, no *Man's* land that Frost
describes, and the bullets are a savage intrusion of his presence into a
realm which holds no place for him. With only the lightest sprinkling of
adjectives, Frost manages to convey an air of pristine tranquility, a bubble
at once fragile and adaptable, and with a strong sense of the microcosmic
that throws it into sharp focus and makes the battle recede, blurry and
nigh-unseen, around its edges.

Of particular note is the word 'sullenly' in the last line. Not only does it
provide a powerfully evocative image with which to wrap the poem up, but, by
its very unexpectedness, forces the reader to first anthropomorphize the
spider, and then, by extension, to go back and do the same for the
participants in the octet's tableau. It seems (although this is reaching
slightly) almost as if the reader is being invited to draw the analogy with
the human noncombatants whose lives are moved in various directions by the
passing war. Again, my personal feeling is that Frost is most rewarding
when the *surface* meaning of his poems is seen as their main focus, so I'll
leave the minute exploration of their hidden depths to others.

-martin

Links:

An extensive biography (and criticism) of Frost is appended to Poem #51

Some notes on the poem:
  http://www.library.utoronto.ca/utel/rp/poems/frost1.html

The current theme:
  Poem #1033, Bret Harte, "What the Bullet sang"
  Poem #1034, Tadeusz Ròzewicz, "Pigtail"
  Poem #1035, Dylan Thomas, "The Hand That Signed The Paper"

Robert Frost poems on Minstrels:
  Poem #51, "The Road Not Taken"
  Poem #170, "The Need of Being Versed in Country Things"
  Poem #155, "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening"
  Poem #336, "A Patch of Old Snow"
  Poem #681, "The Secret Sits"
  Poem #730, "Mending Wall"
  Poem #779, "Fire and Ice"
  Poem #917, "A Considerable Speck"
  Poem #985, "Once by the Pacific"
  Poem #994, "The Gift Outright"
  Poem #1012, "Nothing Gold Can Stay"

(Poem #336, I think, comes closest in feel to today's.)

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