Robert Frost and the Versanelle
Introduction: Frost's Versatility
Robert Frost wrote many long poems such as "The Death of the Hired Man," "The Witch of Coos," and "The Mountain," in addition to his short lyrics such as "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening" and "The Road Not Taken."
Frost was also a master of the short, pithy versanelle, for example, his "The Door in the Dark" offers a simple scenario of man fumbling in the dark from room to room but though he was very careful manages to bump his head "so hard / I had my native simile jarred." Such a disruption has to be quite serious for a poet. Another fine example of Frost's versanelle prowess is his "The Armful," dramatizing a man losing his balance and dropping his grocery items. The poet's "Now Close the Windows" offers an emotional glimpse at losing the natural sounds that had wafted through the open window.
"The Door in the Dark"
In going from room to room in the dark,
I reached out blindly to save my face,
But neglected, however lightly, to lace
My fingers and close my arms in an arc.
A slim door got in past my guard,
And hit me a blow in the head so hard
I had my native simile jarred.
So people and things don't pair any more
With what they used to pair with before.
In "The Door in the Dark," through a first person narrative, the speaker offers a snapshot of his experience stumbling and reaching out blindly to save his face, but carelessly neglects to protect his head with his hands and arms. Suddenly, the door got in his way and conked him on his head "so hard" that it affected his ability to think comparatively.
The speaker could no longer match up things and people as he could prior to his cranial wallop. He claims he got his "native simile jarred." Such a distraction discomfited him and no doubt jarred his confidence in poetry creation for a time.
Reading of "The Door in the Dark"
For every parcel I stoop down to seize
I lose some other off my arms and knees,
And the whole pile is slipping, bottles, buns —
Extremes too hard to comprehend at once,
Yet nothing I should care to leave behind.
With all I have to hold with hand and mind
And heart, if need be, I will do my best
To keep their building balanced at my breast.
I crouch down to prevent them as they fall;
Then sit down in the middle of them all.
I had to drop the armful in the road
And try to stack them in a better load.
Again, in "The Armful," the speaker delivers his experience directly in first person. He begins in medias res stooping down to seize a parcel he has dropped, and he says that for every one he retrieves he loses others until there is a whole pile of bottles and buns and other items lying on the ground.
The speaker philosophizes about losing the entire mess of groceries, "all [he has] to hold with hand and mind / And heart, if need be. " But he knows despite his failure to keep from dropping his parcels that "[he] will do [his] best."
So the speaker continues to bend down to try to keep from dropping things, but they fall anyway, and he ends up sitting down in the middle of them. He had to drop the armful in the road, where he sits down and attempt to rearrange them in a manner more conducive to carrying.
Reading of "The Armful"
"Now Close the Windows"
Now close the windows and hush all the fields:
If the trees must, let them silently toss;
No bird is singing now, and if there is,
Be it my loss.
It will be long ere the marshes resume,
I will be long ere the earliest bird:
So close the windows and not hear the wind,
But see all wind-stirred.
In "Now Close the Windows," the speaker is giving a command, but it is obviously to himself he is speaking and addressing the command: he says, "Now close the windows and hush all the fields."
The speaker bemoans the loss of hearing the natural sounds. He will not hear the trees that will only "silently toss." He will miss the birds singing. He reports that it will be a while until he can hear those sounds again, but it is time to close the windows, and he has to reconcile himself to merely seeing the things as they move in the wind.
Reading of "Now Close the Windows"
© 2017 Linda Sue Grimes