Thursday, February 22, 2007

Why I Almost Never Use Rhyme

This has been almost one of my favorite poems ever since I first read it when I was twelve or thirteen. This poem, along with Frost’s “The Bonfire,” shaped how I write and how I think about content and narrative. But even when I was just a kid dreaming of a life in letters, I understood that how you say something often is as important as what you say. And even as a kid I tripped over the construction at the end of line fifty of this poem (that’s the one that ends the stanza that starts with the woman far away in “black alder”). Now, thirty years later, even though I know about something academic writers might describe as “meta purpose” I still trip over the construction at the end of line fifty.

(Her Word)

One ought not to have to care
So much as you and I
Care when the birds come round the house
To seem to say good-bye;

Or care so much when they come back
With whatever it is they sing;
The truth being we are as much
Too glad for the one thing

As we are too sad for the other here—
With birds that fill their breasts
But with each other and themselves
And their built or driven nests.


Always—I tell you this they learned—
Always at night when they returned
To the lonely house from far away,
To lamps unlighted and fire gone gray,
They learned to rattle the lock and key
To give whatever might chance to be
Warning and time to be off in flight:
And preferring the out- to the in-door night,
They learned to leave the house-door wide
Until they had lit the lamp inside.


She had no saying dark enough
For the dark pine that kept
Forever trying the window-latch
Of the room where they slept.

The tireless but ineffectual hands
That with every futile pass
Made the great tree seem as a little bird
Before the mystery of glass!

It never had been inside the room,
And only one of the two
Was afraid in an oft-repeated dream
Of what the tree might do.


It was too lonely for her there,
And too wild,
And since there were but two of them,
And no child,

And work was little in the house,
She was free,
And followed where he furrowed field,
Or felled tree.

She rested on a log and tossed
The fresh chips,
With a song only to herself
On her lips.

And once she went to break a bough
Of black alder.
She strayed so far she scarcely heard
When he called her—

And didn’t answer—didn’t speak—
Or return.
She stood, and then she ran and hid
In the fern.

He never found her, though he looked
And he asked at her mother’s house
Was she there.

Sudden and swift and light as that
The ties gave,
And he learned of finalities
Besides the grave.

Robert Frost
The Hill Wife

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