(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.
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.)