Tuesday, April 26, 2011
Day Twenty Six - Life Lines
Over the last decade, actually even further back, there have been numerous public initiatives to increase the visibility and viability of poetry. Some of these attempts were commercialized and rather artificial tries to stave off the oft proclaimed death of poetry. Other attempts rang true because they were natural and encouraged everyone to embrace poetry, not just the upper crust of the poetry world. One of the programs that I would like to bring some attention to is Life Lines through the Academy of American Poets (http://www.poets.org/page.php/prmID/339#rfros). A cross section of accomplished poets and attentive readers of poetry, Life Lines are fun to read and provide many personal connections to poems we know and love, as well as poems we might have never encountered before.
Here's an example of lines from a poem I've previously featured on this blog (Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening by Robert Frost) with the corresponding mini-essay coming from a poet I've previously featured on this blog (B.H. Fairchild):
The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
—from "Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening" by Robert Frost
One night late on my way home from college for Christmas, I was caught in a blizzard without the company of an intelligent guide (I was driving, instead of a horse, a '62 Buick Special). I had passed through the last small town and was halfway between nowhere and Dodge City, Kansas when the road vanished beneath snow and my little car foundered badly. Realizing that no one was going to be passing by until the next day, I got out and started walking. Nothing. Nobody, no thing anywhere. At last the distant light of a farmhouse appeared, the only one, I discovered later, within miles. And if it hadn't been for the family inside that farmhouse, I might simply have frozen to death. As I was walking toward it, I thought of this poem, and I knew that I would be able to keep my promises, and I felt ecstatically liberated. Never have I seen these last lines in "Stopping by Woods" read as liberating rather than duty-bound. So boring for students: oh, this is a little lesson about obligations and responsibility. No time to ski, you've got chores to do before sleep, and you always will, and that's the way life is, suck it up and live with it. But the misunderstanding here is not in the specific explanation; it's in the very attempt at explanation. I hope they continue to teach in high schools the most over taught poem in America; I just wish they would stop explaining it.