Sometimes a buzz saw is just a goddamn buzz saw.
Also: Insane Japanese Miniature Knitting
There was a train derailment south of Trenton last night, which meant that I and all the other Amtrak Keystone commuters “got SEPTA-ed”; we missed our Philadelphia connection, and had to take the local train home. Like many minor hardships, I suppose, it had its bright spots: I talked to several other commuters for the first time. One woman with whom I’ve been on a nodding acquaintance for a year turns out to have a thick French accent!
So I relaxed this morning by going for a run in the morning and taking a later train into work. I’d like to run regularly in the mornings, but I’m going to have to cut down on the amount of time it takes me to get out the door. Today, there was fifteen minutes of sleepy, half-speed moping, in which I slowly dragged on polypro underwear, took long, spiteful looks at the outdoor thermometer, and heaved rueful sighs.
Once out the door with all my electronics strapped on, though, um… it wasn’t much better. Until I warmed up and noticed all the spring buds. All the trees in West Chester are surrounded by a transparent nimbus of bright yellow-green. Except for the Norwegian oaks, which are hazed with maroon. It’s really, really beautiful, and as the sun climbed over the hill, I tried to remember the lines of “Nature’s first green is gold”, without much success. Then, I reached home and looked at the lesser Ranunculus that I gave ZE TREATMENT to over the weekend. It’s still there, but it’s not looking as robust as it was. Its saucy, devil-may-care grin looks a little strained, as though it’s regretting hitting the Mexican cocktail weenies so hard at the beginning of the party.
Anyway, to the point: I looked up the poem, which I now remember is called “Nothing Gold Can Stay”, and found that since I last read Frost ten years ago, my opinion of him has changed. Here’s the page I found from a quick Google search. It’s a little hard to ignore the icons, and the “Catcher in the Rye” discussion questions are ham-handed (Schoolteachers of the world: there are OTHER THEMES IN THE WORLD besides the progression from innocence to experience.) But I read “Nothing Gold Can Stay”, liking it less than I remembered, and then I read “Out, Out-.” Which I really didn’t like at all.
I still like Frost’s strict use of rhyme and meter, especially at a time when blank verse and experimentation were popular. That experimentation was necessary, I guess, but I don’t find it enjoyable. I’ve always liked Frost’s assertion that meaning is found in the tension between a restrictive technique and the pressure of language’s limitless expression. There’s a quote I seem to remember about the meter being the tension in the violin string, or the splutter in the skillet, or something, but I can’t remember it now. If you can find it, I’d be much obliged.
What I didn’t remember about Frost, though, was the heavy payload of Christian-style animistic and fall-of-the-material-world themes. Nature’s first green is gold (but it’s doomed!) Material objects are invested with animistic meaning! Watch out for the buzz-saw, it’s EEEE-VIL!
When I was last reading Frost ten or twelve years ago, I also was freighted with a heavy payload of Christian “the world you see isn’t the real, REAL world” themes, too: spiritual warfare was a big theme in the missions groups I worked with, and in that company it’s natural to invest the material world with some kind of animistic importance. I once asked a pastor if God had an opinion about EVERY choice I made—did god care if I read the Newsweek instead of the Time magazine? Does God care, even a little bit, if I have the rye instead of the pumpernickel? Did each and every one of my choices have a good or bad repercussion?
I eventually managed to slow my spiritual record player down to 33RPM, and I’m now drawn to thinkers and writers that let the material world be what it is (whatever that is.) In his book Young Men and Fire, for example, Norman MacLean does a wonderful job of describing a highly-charged and emotional event—the accidental and avoidable death of thirteen bright young men in a forest fire. MacLean does it in a way that is compassionate, that respects the depth of pain and loss involved, but does not make the fire a parable, nor does he try to tell the story behind the story. The story is the story: what happened, happened, and we can take our own meaning, or no meaning, from it.
And so, back to spring. My own feeling is that nature’s first green is gold, but it doesn’t fade away: it gets stronger incrementally, until one day in early June, spring has turned into a seven hundred pound gorilla sitting on your chest, looking soulfully into your face and breathing hot, muggy breath on you. And sowing lesser ranunculus all over your lawn.
This article from the Atlantic Monthly in 1951 counteracted my new opinion of Frost somewhat, though it seems to have its own Cold War agenda (it mentions strife as a good thing an awful lot, doesn’t it?)